Women’s voices speaking with love to the world this Christmas

For a little over a year now, I have been editing a quarterly publication called With Love to the World. It provides short commentaries on the biblical passages offered in the Revised Common Lectionary, which is used by mainstream denominations of the Christian church around the world. The four passages offered each week are read in worship and one or more of them usually form the basis for the sermon in that service of worship. The publication seeks to prepare people to think about the passages in the week before they hear them in Sunday worship.

Recently, I have been working with material submitted by a group of contributors who have been working with the four lectionary passages, and an additional three biblical texts drawn from a recently-created lectionary, known as the Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church. The contributions received form a special all-female issue of With Love to the World. (Well, all female, except for the Editor, yours truly!) This issue covers the seasons of Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, and runs from mid November to mid February.

WLW has historically had more male contributors than females; in some issues, the ratio has been very one-sided. I have been seeking, since beginning as Editor, to have a better balance of gender amongst the contributors. So this issue is an attempt to provide a pendulum swing-to begin to redress the balance by having an all-female list of contributors.

Alongside that, I invited the contributors to “play” a little with the biblical texts offered each week. Amongst the seven passages each week, the four set lectionary readings need to be included; that is the staple of weekly reading for our many thousands of subscribers, and, of course, that is what is read and preached on in those churches which follow the Revised Common Lectionary.

The other three readings for each week come from the work of Professor Wilda C. Gafney, a Hebrew Bible scholar and Episcopal priest in the USA, who both serves in an AME Zion Church and teaches at Brite Divinity School. She has published a series of Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church (Church Publishing, NY, 2021) in which she offers four readings for each week, following the usual pattern of Hebrew Bible, Psalm, Epistle, and Gospel.

The readings seek to offer the people of God “a lectionary centering women’s stories, chosen with womanist and feminist commitments in mind, fram[ing] the presentation of scriptures for proclamation and teaching” (Women’s Lectionary Year A, p.xxi). You can see the work that Prof. Gafney does at https://www.wilgafney.com/womenslectionary/

In a recent interview, published in Christian Century, she explains the theological and hermeneutical aspects of her approach; see https://www.christiancentury.org/article/interview/new-lectionary-centers-women

I’ve been enjoying the challenge, and the refreshing vitality, in the way that she highlights women in the texts, invites readers to imagine God in ways beyond the limited patriarchal understandings, and engages us with the creative imagination for understanding that we all possess.

She writes, “Part of what I want to accomplish is for people to know that even though the Bible is androcentric—parts of it are patriarchal, parts of it are paternalistic, and parts of it are misogynist—it’s possible to frame preaching texts around passages that include women and tell some new stories, while reckoning with how women are treated. If the gospel isn’t good news to the women in the passage, is it still good news? If it’s not good news to those who are enslaved in the passage, is it still good news?”

So, for the cover of this issue, Geraldine Wheeler has contributed a wonderful “Madonna and child”, contextualised to Australia, just as artists of other times and places have contextualised the story for their own settings (see below). Inside, Barbara Allen tells readers about her unusual spiritual discipline of writing haikus during Advent.

To start the series of commentaries, Anne Wright invites us to ponder, “if darkness, death, and despair have been defeated, how shall we live in the kingdom of light?” Continuing during the four weeks of Advent, Anita Monro meditates on “the way of the Womb of Life” as the theme for the season and explores “the responsibility we are given to act in and for” this way; and then Sarah Agnew ponders the paradox of a genealogy in which women “disrupt the male-dominated narrative of ancestry”, yet Mary is silenced and almost written out of the story of the birth of Jesus (Matt 1–2).

During the rather short Christmas season, Monica Melanchthon notes “the enormity of Israel’s need for a mothering God” (Isa 63); she observes how, in the Christmas story, “the divine mother changes grief into consolation” while “Joseph paves the way for a new understanding of masculinity”.

As we enter the season of Epiphany, Janice Mcrandal reflects on how we might read scripture in a way that “avoids simplistic readings and points us to a faith in Jesus that is not tied to idolatrous ideals of masculinity”, drawing from Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza’s critique of kyriarky. Kylie Crabbe then muses about what it might mean to read key biblical texts with an informed understanding of trauma, noting how “foreign occupation, violation, removal from country, and slavery” are narrated in Hebrew Scripture (and in the story of Jesus).

Elaine Ledgerwood follows the lead offered by Wilda Gafney by reading biblical texts, noting that “women’s voices were silenced in the patriarchal society of ancient cultures”, and inviting readers to replace male-focussed language with female-oriented terms; she asks, “what difference does this make for you?”

Reflecting on the image on the cover of the issue, Radhika Sukumar White comments “when a girl birthed the Saviour, they showed the world that the human body is not unclean, but holy, regardless of gender, orientation, ethnicity, and ability”. Alex Sangster concludes the issue with an invitation to “be in comfortable, curious contact with ‘negative’ emotions”, and then to “imagine Jesus holding your hand and saying, ‘you are my Beloved Child’”.

This issue of With Love to the World is now available. It can be ordered as a printed resource for just $24 for a year’s subscription (see http://www.withlovetotheworld.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2020/07/Ordering-and-paying-for-Website-7.vii_.2020.pdf) or it can be accessed on phones and iPads via an App, for a subscription of $24.49 per year (go to the App Store or Google Play).