Over the last month, we have examined femininity in our faith and the church by looking at different women from the Old and New Testament. I tried to choose a variety of women who played a variety of roles. I assumed when I started on this project that finding a variety of women in the Bible would be difficult, but I was pleasantly mistaken with what I found. Even a text that was written largely by and for men in an age where even the names of women were unimportant, there were women throughout the pages that provided answers and models that still hold true today.
The Christian faith can be extremely alienating to women. God is most frequently pictured as an older man with a beard. But that image could not be further from the truth about our faith. God created men and women in God's own image and it would not be incorrect refer to God not only as our Father, but also as our Mother. God, as a spiritual being, is no more man than woman and therefore, does not place a greater value or emphasis on either sex. Although different skills and physical abilities were granted to each, men and women were not created to lead and to be led because of their sex. To believe that men have a greater spirituality because they are men "like God" would be simply wrong.
The reality is that our understanding of God and the pronouns and titles we use for God are limited by human language. We are unable to truly express the reality of God, which is why the Old Testament is more likely to avoid even naming God in the first place our of respect for the greatness that is God! Don't let human error and failings interfere with your relationship with your God. Don't assume that because it was written and filtered by men that the Bible and other Christian teachings have little to offer us as women. God has blessed us with role models who would do great and small things in God's name and will continue to do so. Scripture, the saints, and our own communities are filled with women of faith who would like nothing more than to help you draw closer to God.
As women of faith, it can be difficult to find "modern" role models in the pages of the Bible, particularly the Old Testament. Both Old and New have been used out of context to excuse the poor treatment of women and justify sexist, incorrect beliefs about the differences between men and women. God never intended for our faith to be a form of bondage nor did God intend for women to feel obligated to be obedient or submissive when something is just plain wrong.
Esther is one of those women. We are blessed with a female role model who disregarded cultural expectations and did not wait for her husband, the king, to come to her. Esther risked her life to go to him and plead for her people in an effort to prevent what could have been a genocide of the Jewish people while they were in Persia. Esther trusted in God and was willing to risk her life to do the right thing, even if it wasn't the "womanly" thing to do.
It can be tempting to hide behind our femininity, excusing our behavior or fear with excuses that men have made for us. But by stepping out of her place, Ester was able to save the lives of thousands of people. A true woman of faith knows when it is time to stay quiet and when it is time to take courage and speak up. Even Esther waited until the perfect moment, hosting two banquets rather than one to ensure her husband would listen to her request. We serve God when we listen and courageously follow where we are called, even if it isn't a traditional woman's place.
We serve with courage, like Esther when we:
In many ways, Esther was a traditional woman of her time. There is nothing wrong with fulfilling that role and place. But when trouble knocks, we need to be prepared to arm ourselves in faith and risk our comfort to do the right thing. Esther could have lost her favored position, been imprisoned, or even killed for speaking out against the king. We may rock the boat by stepping up and out, but when God calls for us to take courage, we can count on a greater good waiting for us and those we serve.
Like Esther, Mary's life is not traditional. She was unmarried and pregnant! Yet, she still had the courage to pursue the life God had planned for her. Let us intercede through Mary today for courage like hers and like Esther's. Let us take heart in that bravery, that even if we don't fit the societal standards of a woman surrounded by her children, content in her home, we are following what God has chosen for us. There are many paths available to us, if only we are brave enough to listen and pursue them.