MARY MAGDALENE: A Jewish Woman From Magdala, by Bart D. Ehrman

From Peter, Paul, & Mary Magdalene

To begin with, what do we know about what it meant to be a Jewish woman in first-century Palestine?  This is one of the many topics that scholars have long been interested in and have devoted entire books to.  One of the interesting features of the study of first-century Jewish women is that it has largely been carried out by twentieth-century Christian men.  And why would such people be interested in knowing about women in first-century Judaism?  For many of these modern scholars, as authority Ross Kraemer has noted, there is a personal agenda involved: they have wanted to show the vast superiority of Christianity over Judaism in the treatment of women.

According to the standard stereotype, Jewish women were especially oppressed during the first century, forced to be silent and stay in the home, unable to enter into the public sphere, expected to devote themselves to cooking, cleaning, making and mending clothes, and raising children.  Jesus, however, came to liberate women and so accepted them as his followers and set them free from the constraints of the overbearing Jewish law.

This portrayal, as Kraemer and others have noted, is not a disinterested description of life in the first century.  It is a theologically motivated reconstruction meant to celebrate the salvation that Jesus brings, not just for the afterlife but also for life in the present among all people, men and women.

As with most stereotypes, there are some things that are probably right about this portrayal.  But the picture is seriously skewed in some ways.  For one thing, it is a big mistake to separate Jewish women in the ancient world from non-Jewish women, as if only the former faced strictures on their public (and private) behavior.  For most androcentric cultures – that is, for most cultures – women have had to play second fiddle to men, especially to the men closest to them: their fathers, brothers, and husbands.  That was true of pagans as well as Jews in the first century.  And all cultures, even the most open and liberated, place restrictions, either official or practical, on genders.  When was the last time you saw a female pope in Rome or a woman president in the United States?

It is true that Jewish men in the first century often did not place a high premium on the independent thought and judgment of their female counterparts.  Consider the sayings connected with a Jewish rabbi of first-century Jerusalem, a man named Yose ben Yochanan, who indicated that men should not talk extensively with women (the following account also indicates how his words were sometimes interpreted, by yet other male leaders among Jews):

Yose ben Yochanan of Jerusalem says “don’t talk too much with women.”  He spoke of a man’s wife; all the more so is the rule to be applied to the wife of one’s fellow.  In this regard did the sages say, “So long as a man talks too much with a woman, he (1) brings trouble on himself, (2) wastes time better spent on studying Torah, and (3) ends up an heir of Gehenna.”

Comparable is another passage from ancient Jewish writings, which indicates the conditions under which a woman would not be allowed to receive the payment due to her from her marriage contract, should she be divorced.  These include is she (1) goes out with her hair flowing loose, (2) spins in the marketplace, or (3) talks with just anybody.  Scholars of this literature have concluded that this ruling indicates that there was to be a difference between a woman’s behavior in private (where she can let down her hair, spin, and talk) and in public.  But it is not at all clear that these passages indicate the actual social experience of women in first-century Jewish Palestine.  They may instead represent what certain men wanted women’s behavior to be like.  Certainly it is the case that women of the upper classes could, and often did, have greater freedom of movement and speech than women among the masses.  And wealthy women were in a different camp from the poor.

One of the most surprising archaeological finds of modern times is a set of inscriptions on a Jewish synagogue in the city of Aphrodisias, in Asia Minor.  The inscriptions list the names of the major donors to the synagogue and the names of the synagogue leaders.  What is striking is that a number of the names are women.  The idea that women could not be actively involved in Jewish life and worship in antiquity has been blown apart by this find.  Women in some sections of society were oppressed, just as they are now.  But in others they could be leaders.  Presumably women who wanted to have more freedom of expression and movement would have gravitated, if it was within their means to do so, to those aspects of their culture and to those leaders of their society that could make such freedom possible.

Jesus was not the only one to bring liberation to women of the first century.  But it is clear that his particular preaching would have been attractive to some kinds of women.  Mary Magdalene was one of the women who followed him.  I should stress that she is presented as following Jesus in the company of other women – many other women, according to both Mark and Luke.  Several of these other women are named, for example, Joanna, Susanna, Salome, and someone else named Mary.  This suggests that Mary Magdalene was not Jesus’s special companion and trusted friend, at least not according to the records we have.  These records are, after all, the only things historians have to go on, unless they want to invent historical claims out of thin air to support their points-of-view (for example, that Mary and Jesus made love and had babies).

Both Mark and Luke indicate that Mary Magdalene was from Galilee.  That is the northern part of what is today the land of Israel.  It is also the region Jesus himself was from, as he was raised in the small hamlet of Nazareth.  Nazareth was so small and insignificant that it is not found on any map from the ancient world and is never mentioned in the Hebrew Bible.  It is also not mentioned in the writings of the first-century historian Josephus, who spent a lot of time in Galilee and discusses a lot of its places.  Archaeologists who have dug in Nazareth have concluded that it was remote, isolated, and small.  Possibly two hundred to three hundred people lived there in the days of Jesus.  If he had four brothers, several sisters, a mother, and a father, as the Gospels indicate, then just his immediate nuclear family would have made up a sizable portion of the population.

Some scholars have claimed that the region of Galilee was somehow less Jewish than the southern part of Israel, the region of Judea.  In part this is because there were a couple of large Gentile cities in Galilee: Tiberias and Sepphoris, not too far from Nazareth.  And in part it is because the region is sometimes referred to as “Galilee of the Gentiles.”  Recent studies have demonstrated, however, that outside the two big cities, Jewish customs, culture, and religion dominated the lives of Galilee’s inhabitants.  Jesus himself was thoroughly Jewish in every respect.  So were his followers, including Jewish women such as Mary Magdalene.  They worshiped the Jewish God, kept Jewish customs, observed Jewish law.  Everything about them was Jewish.

We don’t know where or how Mary met Jesus, but it is probably safe to assume that she heard him preaching throughout rural Galilee, as he avoided the cities: Sepphoris, for example, is never even mentioned in the New Testament.  She herself did not come from tiny Nazareth.  Her name, in fact, indicates her home.  She is called Magdalene because she came from Magdala.

Magdala was a much larger place than Nazareth.  We know about it from the writings of Josephus, who with some exaggeration (Josephus does this a lot) indicates that it was a good-sized city surrounded by a large wall, with two grain markets, a major aqueduct for the water needs of the population, a Greek-style theater, and a hippodrome for public races, large enough to seat ten thousand people.  In the archaeological digs undertaken there, none of these structures has been discovered.

The town was located on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee and was best-known for two things: being a major center for the fishing industry – it was especially known for its pickled sardines – and a very large tower.  The word for tower in Aramaic (the language of Jesus, Peter, Mary, and other Jews in the region) is in fact magdala, hence the name of the place itself.  In some ancient sources it is called Migdal Nunya (Tower of Fish).

Eventually, after the days of Mary and Jesus, Magdala came to be known as a kind of luxury resort.  As with most places of that kind, whether Las Vegas today or Corinth in antiquity, this carried with it some connotations of profligate lifestyles and licentious activities.  It is hard to know how much Mary’s own later but unfounded reputation as a prostitute relates to the fact that her name, Magdalene, came to have those associations.

I have already indicated that Mary must have been a woman of means.  According to both Mark and Luke, she and the other named women “served” Jesus.  The Greek term used there can be translated as “ministered” to him (and his disciples), but it often has the connotation of “providing financial support for.”  Jesus, of course, abandoned his livelihood as a carpenter/woodworker to engage in his public ministry.  His twelve disciples did likewise.  As Peter says at one point: “See, we have left everything to follow you.”  Jesus replies:

Truly, I tell you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for my sake, and for the sake of the good news, who will not receive a hundredfold houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and fields. . . and in the age that is coming eternal life. (Mark 10:28-30)

But how were Jesus’s followers to receive so much when they had no source of income?  Obviously, someone had to supply them with what they needed.  The new siblings, parents, and children that the disciples acquired would have come from the larger group of people following Jesus.  They would be spiritual family members, united around faithful adherence to Jesus’s teachings.  But the other newly acquired possessions – houses, fields, and so on – would have to be provided by others.  We don’t know if Jesus and his followers actually begged in order to survive.  But since they had no source of income, someone had to give them what they needed, if not to pay the bills (they would have had none), then at least to eat a couple of times a day.

Mary and her female companions were the ones, or were among the ones, who did so.  We don’t have any indication where they themselves received an income.  Possibly these women just happened to be wealthy, that is, that they came from wealthy families and/or married into money.  That appears to be the case with one of the other women named by Luke: Joanna, who was married to Chuza, King Herod’s personal steward, (Luke 8:3).  What Chuza thought about his wife giving his money away to an itinerant Jewish prophet and his unemployed followers is anyone’s guess.

This raises a final question about Mary’s background.  What she, like Joanna, married?  There is nothing to suggest that she was married to Jesus.  In only one passage in our canonical Gospels does she even speak with Jesus, and then she calls him “teacher” – rather than “darling,” for example.  But it’s not at all implausible that she was married to someone.  Most people were – although not everyone.  About all we can say is that if she was married, nothing indicates that her husband traveled with her as she accompanied Jesus, with other men and women, throughout Galilee and on to Jerusalem.

MARY MAGDALENE: Wings Of Madness, by Liz Curtis Higgs

From Mad Mary

Today I felt pass over me
A breath of wind from the wings of madness.
Charles Baudelaire

Jake didn’t see her until it was too late.

A woman disguised as a bundle of rags bolted out of the Park View Pet Shop and directly into his path, nearly knocking him to the icy sidewalk.  Instead, she was the one who landed there in an awkward heap, her face crimson, her eyes averted.

He bent toward her, shielding her from the bitter January wind.  “Ma’am, are you okay?  I’m sorry I –”

She looked up at him, and the words froze on his lips.

Lord, help me.  He was face-to-face with a madwoman.

Wide, unfocused eyes lit by an unseen fire stared blankly back at him.  Dark smudges down her cheeks – dirt? makeup? dried blood? – seemed days in the making.  Her black hair was matted against her head, and her prominent nose ran unchecked.

Jake yanked out a clean handkerchief and knelt by her side, lowering his voice as though speaking to a child.  “Let me help you get up.”

She shrank back from him, a bony hand tightening around a threadbare striped scarf.  The woman might have been his mother’s age, in her midforties.  He studied the lines around her mouth.  No, older.  The sad wildness in her eyes hinted at decades of pain.

When she dropped her chin and mumbled an incoherent word or two, he leaned closer.  Maybe she would mention her name, where she lived, something.

Except what she said made no sense at all. . . .


Maybe you’re thinking the same thing: This makes no sense at all!  I thought this was a book about Mary Magdalene, one of the Bad Girls of the Bible.

Oh, it is, dearie.  You’ve come to the right place.  No bait-and-switch here.

I simply asked myself the question, “What if Mary Magdalene walked among us today?”  That’s the Story part.  Before doing that, I immersed myself in the biblical accounts of her life.  That’s the Study part.  In the process, I discovered a very different woman than I’d expected.  Although “her name has come to us laden with infamy,” most of us don’t know what she’s famous – or infamous – for doing.

Clearly she must have done something.  Of the seven Marys in the Bible, Mary of Magdala is mentioned fourteen times, more than any other woman in the Gospels except Mary, the mother of Jesus.


When I asked my Christian writing sisters what they remembered about Mary, most of ‘em were convinced Mary Magdalene was a bona fide Bad Girl.

“Wasn’t she a prostitute?  Worse than other sinners?” Sue

“A good heart for Christ but a bad reputation.” Jan 

“She had a lot of hard knocks and made some bad choices.” Janet

“She was definitely a bad girl. . . the proverbial ‘tender-hearted whore.'” Karen

“I’m confused.  Was she the woman who washed Christ’s feet?  An adulteress?  A murderer?”  Debbie

Yes, there’s something about Mary.  We just can’t figure out what it is.

“I don’t know if she would be classified as ‘bad’ per se, or simply afflicted with a terrible case of PMS.” Carolyn

Hey, that’s it!  Blame the hormones.  Works for me, babe.

“Not necessarily bad, but she must have opened the door to those demons. . . .” Angela

Uh. . . demons?  Nobody ever talks about that part of her life.  Except the apostles.

When Jesus rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had drive seven demons. (Mark 16:9)

Wait a minute.  The woman was a demoniac?  Of all the people he might have appeared to first, Jesus chose a former. . . well, madwoman?  Like that person who came tearing out of the pet shop a few minutes ago?  Whoa.

Girlfriend, we gotta find out how Mary got rid of the demons in her life!  And why Jesus trusted a woman with a devilish past to reveal his Heavenly future. . . and ours.  Contemporary story first, biblical study second, let’s explore what it means to be utterly, completely, amazingly transformed.

Darkness to light, death to life.

PRAYER: Chaplet Prayer For Mary Magdalene

The chaplet consists of a medal of Mary of Magdalene, and ten beads plus three for a total of 13 beads.

How to pray the chaplet

On the medal say:

Mary Magdalene, friend, and follower of Jesus, help me to recognize my sins so that I may seek forgiveness and that I too may be exorcised by him. Pray for me so that I too may be closer to Jesus and love him as my Divine Savior. Pray for (mention your petition here) so that they too may see our Lord Jesus Christ and seek forgiveness for their sins so that they too may always seek the Lord and follow him. Help us to persevere to the end so that we will be saved.

First three beads:

Act of Contrition:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for
having offended you, and I detest
all my sins, because of your just
punishments, but most of all because
they offend you, my God, who is
all-good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of
your grace, to sin no more and to
avoid the near occasion of sin.

The Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in Heaven,
hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on Earth, as it is in Heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.

Hail Mary:

Hail Mary, full of grace.
Our Lord is with thee.
Blessed art thou among women,
and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus.
Holy Mary, Mother of God,
pray for us sinners,
now and at the hour of our death.

Bead one:

Mary Magdalene, friend, and follower of Jesus, our Lord cured you of evil spirits and ailments. Pray that we may be delivered from evil.

Lord, help me to examine my conscience as I pray.

Fatima Prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us, from the fire of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, and help especially those most in need of your mercy.

Bead two:

Mary Magdalene, friend, and follower of Jesus, our Lord forgave you for all of your sins. Pray that we may truly seek forgiveness for our sins.

Lord, help me to examine my conscience as I pray.

Fatima Prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us, from the fire of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, and help especially those most in need of your mercy.

Bead three:

Mary Magdalen, friend, and follower of Jesus, you were so filled with sorrow and remorse over your sins that you anointed Christ’s feet with perfumed oil. Pray that our remorse for our sins may be a sweet fragrance to our Lord.

Lord, help me to examine my conscience as I pray.

Fatima Prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us, from the fire of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, and help especially those most in need of your mercy.

Bead four:

Mary Magdalene, friend, and follower of Jesus, you wept at the foot of Christ and your tears fell upon his feet. You kissed and wiped his feet with you hair. Pray that our tears of sorrow will fall upon the feet of Jesus and that our Lord will wipe away our sins.

Lord, help me to examine my conscience as I pray.

Fatima Prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us, from the fire of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, and help especially those most in need of your mercy.

Bead five:

Mary Magdalene, friend, and follower of Jesus, you stood at the foot of the cross and saw our Lord Jesus Christ being crucified to his death. Pray that we may recognize and witness to others that Jesus did this for us.

Lord, help me to examine my conscience as I pray.

Fatima Prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us, from the fire of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, and help especially those most in need of your mercy.

Bead six:

Mary Magdalene, friend, and follower of Jesus, you saw his lifeless body taken from the cross and placed in his mother’s arms. Pray that our Blessed Mother will hold us at the hour of death in her arms.

Lord, help me to examine my conscience as I pray.

Fatima Prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us, from the fire of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, and help especially those most in need of your mercy.

Bead seven:

Mary Magdalene, friend, and follower of Jesus, you saw him being placed in the tomb. When we die, pray that we may be buried in sanctified ground.

Lord, help me to examine my conscience as I pray.

Fatima Prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us, from the fire of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, and help especially those most in need of your mercy.

Bead eight:

Mary Magdalene, friend, and follower of Jesus, when you went back to the tomb and did not find the Lord’s body, you thought it had been taken away. Pray that our souls are not taken to hell.

Lord, help me to examine my conscience as I pray.

Fatima Prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us, from the fire of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, and help especially those most in need of your mercy.

Bead nine:

Mary Magdalene, friend, and follower of Jesus, you stood outside the tomb weeping. Pray for our family, relatives, and loved ones so that they may be consoled and comforted when we die.

Lord, help me to examine my conscience as I pray.

Fatima Prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us, from the fire of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, and help especially those most in need of your mercy.

Bead ten:

Mary Magdalene, friend, and follower of Jesus, upon seeing our Lord risen from the dead, you were overwhelmed and filled with joy. Pray that we to may see the risen Lord and that our final resting place will be in Heaven with God the Father.

Lord, help me to examine my conscience as I pray.

Fatima Prayer: O my Jesus, forgive us our sins, save us, from the fire of hell, lead all souls to Heaven, and help especially those most in need of your mercy.

 End with:

Act of Contrition:

O my God, I am heartily sorry for
having offended you, and I detest
all my sins, because of your just
punishments, but most of all because
they offend you, my God, who is
all-good and deserving of all my love.
I firmly resolve, with the help of
your grace, to sin no more and to
avoid the near occasion of sin.


SATURDAY READING: Winter, by Walter J. Burghardt

From Seasons That Laugh or Weep: Musing on the Human Journey

At about 60 the male of the species faces a new transition: to late adulthood.  I am powerfully reminded that I am moving from midterm: old age.  For perhaps the first time I experience mortality.  Oh, I always knew I was mortal; now I sense it.  Soldiers feel it in a foxhole; I feel it in my flesh.

The decline, experts insist, actually began at 30, but now it is transparent.  Joints ache, a virus will not leave me, ligaments heal slowly.  Cucumbers make me throw up, and sauerkraut makes for diarrhea.  For some there is a stroke, a growth, a clot.  No matter what, I am not what I was.  This flesh that gloried in its strength, that lusted in its manhood, that tanned so evenly, is wasting.  Once a week the bell tolls for someone I know.  And I’m afraid that maybe, like my mother, I will lose my memory, my arteries will harden, senility will set in.

At this stage I must face up to Erikson’s key polarity: integration versus despair.  Somehow I must grasp my life as something whole.  Only then can I live late adulthood, old age, without bitterness or despair; only thus can I come to terms with death.  It means I am aware of my lack of wholeness, of my corruption; I make peace with my flawed existence.  And to continue creative, I must retain my link to youthful vitality, my tie to the forces of growth in myself and in the world.  Otherwise this will prove only the winter of my discontent.

Integration Versus Despair

But how do this, how grasp my life as something whole?  The problem is complicated by an ideal – the ideal of old age that America has fashioned.  We inhabit a culture that canonizes youth and beauty, activity and productivity, power and sexual prowess.  If you are eternally young and ceaselessly attractive, if after 60 or 65 you continue your career with little letdown and still make an impact on an acre of God’s world, if you can jog or play squash or straddle a Honda, if you can still satisfy a man or woman sexually, then your aging is ideal.  In fact, you’re not growing old at all!  The ideal is a compound of Churchill and John XXIII, Picasso and Susan B. Anthony, Maurice Chevalier and Marlene Dietrich, George Meany and Mae West, George Burns and Lauren Bacall, Clark Gable and Grandma Moses.  The only ideal of old age we accept in America is an old age without change or limits or loss.

If this be ideal old age, it is a tragic ideal; for it is not our ordinary experience.  Only a very few continue their careers after 65; only a very few live the dominant ideal.  In The Coming of Age Simone de Beauvoir put it painfully well:

Apart from some exceptions, the old man no longer does anything.  He is defined by an exisnot by a praxisa being, not a doing.  Time is carrying him towards an end – death – which is not his and which is not postulated or laid down by any project.  This is why he looks to active members of the community like one of a “different species,” one in whom they do not recognize themselves.

An ideal that can be lived only by the rich, the talented, the powerful is hardly a viable ideal.

Basic to a Christian theology for the aging is a sacred Christian symbol: kenosis.  The Greek word means an “emptying.”  The archetype of emptying, in the Christian tradition, is Christ Jesus, who, in Saint Paul’s powerful phrasing,

though of divine status,
did not treat like a miser’s booty
his right to be like God
[his right to appear like Yahweh in glory],
but emptied himself of it,
to take up the status of a slave
and become like men.
Having assumed human form,
he still further humbled himself
with an obedience that meant death—
even death upon a cross!
(Philippians 2:5-8)

This archetypal emptying finds a moving analogue in the Gospel scene where the risen Jesus addresses Peter, who has thrice protested that he does indeed love his Lord: “Truly, I assure you, when you were a young man, you used to fasten your own belt and set off for wherever you wished.  But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.” (John 21:18)

I am not suggesting that Jesus was lecturing Peter on gerontology.  Still, the scene is provocative for our problem.  In the Catholic vision, aging calls for a kenosis which radically sunders old age from youth, an emptying which can rarely be denied, a progressive loss which must be faced, evaluated, transcended.  Of course age diminishes me.  How could it not?

The point is, aging need not be an enemy.  The Christian scriptures will not accept the more classical idea that adult maturity is a finished state, that at a certain point, at the peak of physical and intellectual manhood or womanhood, you are the complete person, you have it made, you have reached perfection.  No, life is an endless pilgrimage; the Christian is a pilgrim, a wayfarer.  The perfection of a Christian man or woman is total conformity to the humanness of Christ – and that is a ceaseless process, never achieved here below.

Essential to the pilgrimage is kenosis: you have to let go.  From the very shape of the human journey.  For the journey to go forward, to move ahead, you have to let go of where you’ve been, let go of the level of life where you are now, so as to live more fully.  Whether it’s turning 21, 40, or 65; whether it’s losing your health or your hair, your looks or your lustiness, your money or your memory, a person you love or a possession you prize; whether it’s yesterday’s applause or today’s rapture; whether it’s as fleeting as Malibu’s surf or as abiding as God’s grace – you have to move on.  Essential to the human pilgrimage, to the Christian journey, is a self-emptying more or less like Christ’s own emptying: time and again, from womb to tomb, you have to let go.  And to let go is to die a little.  It’s painful, it can be bloody; and so we hang on, we clutch our yesterdays like Linus’s blanket, we refuse to grow.

That refusal to grow, to let go, I find powerfully symbolized in an old movie, Come Back, Little Sheba.  The male lead, Burt Lancaster, is a reformed alcoholic.  His wife, Shirley Booth, is a devoted woman with a big heart; but she bores him endlessly by ceaselessly recalling the good old days.  Remember when. . . ?  Time and again she walks out on the porch calling for Little Sheba, the dog that has disappeared, the dog that is a symbol of those bygone days, a symbol of dashed hopes.  And for twenty years these two good people live what Thoreau called “lives of quiet desperation.”

But what is it I am growing into?  Here I might well be mute, did not faith give me tongue.  But not quite.  Believer and unbeliever alike can grow into love.  A quieter love, of course, without the passion of yesterday; but surely richer, perhaps deeper, because mellowed by every face I’ve seen or touched, softened from the anger and fear of yesteryear, grown more understanding of difference and diversity, more tolerant of the sinner in all of us.  A love that has learned to listen.  A love that at long last “is patient and kind, is not jealous or boastful, is not arrogant or rude, does not insist on its own way, is not irritable or resentful, does not rejoice at wrong but rejoices in the right.”  (1 Corinthians 13:4-6)

And yet, it is my Christian faith that concretizes this love.  As a Christian, my burden and my glory is to grow into Christ.  Kenosis is not its own end.  The Christian lets go because only by letting go does he or she grow gradually into Christ, come to be conformed to his life and death, fashioned to his passion and resurrection.  It is in this way that the Christian reaches oneness, not with abstract transcendence but with Someone Transcendent, with the triune personal Love we call God.  Self-realization through self-transcendence.

The point is: for the Christian life, eternal life, eternal life granted already on this Earth, “consists in this,” as Jesus said to his Father the night before he died, “that they know you, the one true God, and the one whom you sent, Jesus Christ,” (John 17:3).  Not a purely intellectual affair.  Here, to “know” connotes immediate experience and intimacy; it involves a loving communion with God, with his human images on Earth, with every work of his hands.  It is this loving communion that I am committed to grow into.

There should be a kenosis, an emptying, a letting go, all through human living; but aging and the losses of aging press kenosis to its nadir, its low point.  Loss is heaped on loss, indignity on indignity – social and psychic, physical and intellectual – to the ultimate indignity that is death.  Like Christ, I am stripped naked, for all the world to see – if it cares to look.  What is left is not what I have achieved, not what I have amassed; what is left is who I am.  It can be a frightening relic, a soul-shattering image; but there I am, at this stage of the pilgrimage.  There am I, there is God, there are “the others.”  Do I “know” them?


But if the purpose of kenosis is to transcend self, to come into loving communion with Someone Transcendent and with his created reflections, how is this achieved?  After four decades of searching, my response is: through contemplation.  Oh, not the popular sense of “contemplate,” which all too many instantly associate with “navel.”  Contemplation in its profound sense is something just as real as your navel but immeasurably more exciting.  My Carmelite friend William McNamara – a contemplative whose spoken word is fused of fire and softness, who sparkles with Isaian woe and Irish wit – once called contemplation “a pure intuition of being, born of love.  It is experiential awareness of reality and a way of entering into immediate communion with reality.  Reality?  Why, that means people, trees, lakes, mountain. . . .  You can study things, but unless you enter into this intuitive communion with them, you can only know about them, you don’t know them.  To take a long loving look at something – a child, a glass of wine, a beautiful meal – this is a natural act of contemplation, of loving admiration. . . .  To be able to do that, there’s the rub.  All the way through school we are taught to abstract; we are not taught loving awareness.”

Never have I heard contemplation more engagingly defined: a long loving look at the real.  Each word is crucial: the real. . . look. . . long. . . loving.  The “real” here is not some far-off, abstract, intangible God-in-the-sky.  Reality is living, pulsing people; reality is fire and water; reality is the sun setting over the Poconos and a gentle doe streaking through the forest; reality is a ruddy glass of Burgundy, Beethoven’s Mass in D, a child lapping a chocolate ice-cream cone; reality is a striding woman with wind-blown hair; reality is Christ Jesus.  Paradoxically, the one thing excluded from contemplation is the one thing we identify with it: abstraction – where a leaf is no longer green, water no longer ripples, a woman is no longer soft, and God no longer smiles.  What I contemplate is always what is most real: what philosophers call the concrete singular.

This real I “look” at.  I no longer analyze it or argue it, describe or define it; I am one with it.  I do not move around it; I enter into it.  Remember Eric Gill’s outraged protest?  “Good Lord!  The thing was a mystery and we measured it!”  Walter Kerr, in his delightful book The Decline of Pleasure, compared contemplation to falling in love:

To fall in love with someone is, in a real but maddeningly inarticulate way, to know someone.  But not in terms of its height, weight, coloring, ancestry, intellectual quotient, or acquired habits.  A person who is “known” is known through these qualities but never simply by them.  No one of these things – not all of them together – precisely identifies the single, simple vibration that gives us such joy in the meeting of eyes or the lucky conjunction of interchanged words.  Something private and singular and uniquely itself is touched – and known in the touching.

In contemplation, I simply “see.”

This look at the real is a “long” look.  Not in terms of measured time, but wonderfully unhurried, gloriously unhurried.  For Americans, time is a stop watch, time is money; life is a race against time.  To contemplate is to rest – to rest in the real.  Not lifelessly or languidly, not sluggishly or inertly.  My whole being is alive, incredibly responsive, vibrating to every throb of the real.  For once, time is irrelevant.  You do not time Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Symphony; you do not clock the Last Supper.  I am reminded of the Louvre in Paris and the haunting Mona Lisa.  I recall an endless line of tourists, ten seconds each without ever stopping; over against that, a lone young man on a stone bench, eyes riveted, whole person enraptured, sensible only to beauty and mystery, aware only of the real.

But this long look at the real must be a “loving” look.  It is not a fixed stare, not the long look of a Judas.  To be one with the real means to love the real.  It demands that the real delight me, captivate me.  Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Ballet or lobster cardinal, the grace of a woman’s walk or the compassion in the eyes of Christ – whatever or whoever the real, contemplation calls forth love, pleasure, delight.  For contemplation is not study, is not cold examination; contemplation is not a computer.  To contemplate is to be in love – with the things of God, with the people of God, with God himself.

A long loving look at the real – this alone is contemplation.  It is seeing things as they really are.  It is the biblical “Be still and know that I am God,” (Psalm 46:10).  It is Saint Teresa of Ávila gorging on a roast partridge.  The nuns are scandalized.  Teresa laughs: “At prayer time, pray!  At partridge time, partridge!”  That is why Kazantzakis loved her so lustily.  From such contemplation comes pure pleasure, the pleasure modern man resists because it is “useless.”  From such contemplation comes communion.  I mean the discovery of the Holy in profound human encounters, where love is proven by sacrifice, the wild exchange of all else for God.  Thus is fashioned what the second-century bishop Irenaeus called “God’s glory – man/woman alive!”

Is this “for real”?  Am I seriously submitting that a cultural model for the aging is discoverable in contemplation?  In one word, yes.  In our passion for doing, we have forgotten or betrayed an ageless tradition that transcends cultures, that permeates not only the Hebrew Testament and the life of Jesus but the Platonists and Aristotle, the Stoics and Plotinus, not only the desert fathers of early Christianity and the medieval mystics but the daily life of India and Islam.

Oh, I know, contemplation as a model for the aging confronts obvious obstacles.  First, it clashes with our culture; it runs counter to a twentieth-century American article of faith: only useful activity is valuable.  If you are not active, you are not alive.  Second, the model meets resistance in the real: most of the aging are anxious, are concerned about sheer survival, how to pay for today, how to cope with arthritic joints and tumorous flesh; it is so hard to “rest” in the real.  Third, we are not educated to contemplation; we have not been taught loving awareness.  At sixty-five it is not easy to begin looking long and lovingly at the real; it is easier to start jogging.

And still it must come to pass.  Without contemplation we will continue to find or create “things to be done” as therapy for enforced idleness, a therapy that makes the old into second-class citizens on the edge of human living.  Without contemplation the people will perish; for aging will be meaningless, Macbeth’s “tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”  But with contemplation the aging can afford to let go, to be emptied, because kenosis is recognized as the way to living in the present, receiving this moment as a gift rich in its possibilities.  With contemplation I do not merely remember an irretrievable past, mourn each autumn leaf that falls.  All that has gone is gathered together, comes to focus, to a still point, in my now.  With contemplation old age can be growth as well as decline, a time of increased innerness.  I am no longer what I do; I am who I am.  With contemplation suffering need not be painful waste; the Christian can transform it into sacrifice, by making it an expression of love, a sharing in the Christ whose self-giving was redemptive.  With contemplation I can crystallize my Christian conviction that God cares.  Even loveless and alone, I am loved.

But how realize this capacity for contemplation? Four practical (or impractical) suggestions. First, as William McNamara never tires of repeating, some sort of desert experience. Not necessarily the physical desert of the Bible, the proving ground of Jesus and the desert fathers. The process can be initiated by any experience – old age itself – that brings you face-to-face with solitude, with vastness, with powers of life and death beyond your control, with your vulnerability; some experience – like old age – where you opt for living or life destroys you.  Your pattern of life is interrupted.  You learn to be still, alert, so that the real is recognizable.  You know yourself, not some statistic.  You know not a theology of God, but the much more mysterious God of theology,, the God of Abraham and Moses, of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the God of Peter, Paul, and John, the God of saints and the God of sinners.

A second suggestion: develop a feeling for festivity.  Festivity, Josef Pieper insists, resides in activity that is meaningful in itself.  I mean activity that is not tied to other goals, not tied to “so that” and “in order to.”  Festivity, therefore, calls for renunciation: you take usable time and withdraw it from utility.  And this you do out of love, whose expression is joy.  Festivity is essential to ideal aging, because festivity is a yes to the world, a yes to the reality of things, a yes to the existence of man and woman; it is a yes to the world’s Creator.

A third suggestion, intimately allied to festivity: don’t try to “possess” the object of your delight, whether God or man, imprisoned marble or free-flowing rivulet; and don’t expect to “profit” from contemplation, from pleasure.  Here Kerr’s Decline of Pleasure has a profound paragraph that has powerfully affected my life:

To regain some delight in ourselves and in our world, we are forced to abandon, or rather to reverse, an adage.  A bird in the hand is not worth two in the bush – unless one is an ornithologist, the curator of the Museum of Natural history, or one of those Italian vendors who supply restaurants with larks.  A bird in the hand is no longer a bird at all: it is a specimen; it may be dinner.  Birds are birds only when they are in the bush or on the wing; their worth as birds can only be known at a discreet and generous distance.

A fourth suggestion: read, make friends with, remarkable men and women who have themselves looked long and lovingly at the real.  I mean Augustine of Hippo and Antoine de Saint Exupéry, Catherine of Siena and Margaret Mead, Nikos Kazatzakis and Lao-Tzu, Julian of Norwich and Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Teresa of Ávila and John of the Cross, Dag Hammarskjöld and Dr. Zhivago, Thomas Merton and Thomas More, Gandhi and Thoreau, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Abraham Joshua Heschel, and a host of others.  But note what kind of men and women these are: not solitaries, not hermits, not neurotic escapists, but flesh and blood in a flesh-and-blood world, unique however because each of them struggles daringly for self-transcendence, each smashed through boundaries and stretched humankind’s limits to the walls of infinity.

Have I gotten away from the aging?  Quite the contrary.  As I see it, all our agonizing efforts to make aging palatable will be band-aid remedies unless the elderly can move through kenosis to contemplation.  The task is awesome indeed; for that task is to create a new climate – social and economic, political and psychological – where the aging can be freed to look long and lovingly at the real, freed to see themselves and their world as these really are, freed to grow inside by growing in oneness with God and with all that God has so lavishly fashioned, to laugh once again because so much of human activity is absurdly incongruous, to rejoice and be glad because this day of their lives the Lord has made!

MYSTICISM: On Charity, by Marguerite Porete

From The Mirror of Simple Souls

Chapter 3: Here Love speaks of the commandments of the Holy Church

Love: Therefore we shall begin, says Love, with the commandments of the Holy Church, so that each might be able to take his nourishment in this book with the aid of God, who commands that we love him with all our heart, all our soul, and all our strength; and ourselves as we ought, and our neighbors as ourselves.

First, that we love him with all our heart: that means that our thoughts should be always truly in him.  And with all our soul: that means that until death we do not speak but the truth.  And with all our strength: that is, that we accomplish all our works purely for him.  And ourselves as we ought: that means that in doing this we do not give attention to our gain but the perfect will of God.  And our neighbors as ourselves: that is, that we neither do, nor think, nor speak toward our neighbors anything we would not wish they do toward us.  These commands are of necessity for salvation for all: nobody can have grace with a lesser way.

Note here the example of the rich young man who said to Jesus Christ that he had kept these since infancy, and Jesus Christ said to him: “One thing is necessary for you to do, if you want to be perfect.  It is: go and sell all the things which you possess and give them to the poor, and then follow me, and you will have treasure in the heavens.”  This is the counsel of the complete perfection of the Virtues, and whoever keeps them will live in true Charity.

Chapter 4: The noble Virtue of Charity and how she obeys none other than Love

Love: Charity obeys no created thing except Love.

Charity possesses nothing of her own, and should she possess something she does not say that it belongs to her.

Charity abandons her own need and attends to that of others.

Charity asks no payment from any creature for some good or pleasure that she has accomplished.

Charity has no shame, nor fear, nor anxiety.  She is so upright that she cannot bow on account of anything that might happen to her.

Charity neither makes nor takes account of anything under the sun, for the whole world is only refuse and leftovers.

Charity gives to all what she possesses of worth, without retaining anything for herself, and with this she often promises what she does not possess through her great largesse, in the hope that the more she gives the more remains in her.

Charity is such a wise merchant that she earns profits everywhere where others lose, and she escapes the bonds that bind others and thus she has great multiplicity of what pleases Love.

And note that the one who would have perfect charity must be mortified in the affections of the life of the spirit through the work of charity.

Chapter 5: Of the life which is called the peace of charity in the annihilated life

[Love]: Thus there is another life, which we call the peace of charity in the annihilated life.  Of this life, says Love, we wish to speak, in asking what one could find:

  1. A Soul
  2. who is saved by faith without works
  3. who is only in love
  4. who does nothing for God
  5. who leaves nothing to do for God
  6. to whom nothing can be taught
  7. from whom nothing can be taken
  8. nor given
  9. and who possesses no will

Love: Alas, says Love, who will give to this Soul what is lacking to her, for it was not ever given, is not now given, nor will be?

Love: This Soul, says Love, has six wings like the Seraphim.  She  no longer wants anything which comes by a mediary.  This is the proper being of the Seraphim: there is no mediary between their love and the divine Love.  They always possess newness without a mediary, and so also for this Soul: for she does not seek divine knowledge among the masters of this age, but in truly despising the world and herself.  Great God, how great a difference there is between a gift from a lover to a beloved through a mediary and a gift that is between lovers without a mediary!

Love: This book speaks the truth about this Soul in saying that she has six wings like the Seraphim.  With two wings she covers her face from Jesus Christ our Lord.  That means that the more this Soul has understanding of the divine goodness, the more perfectly she understands that she understands nothing about it, compared to one spark of his goodness, for his goodness is not comprehended except by himself.

With two other wings she covers her feet, which means that the more she has understanding of what Jesus Christ suffered for us, the more she understands perfectly that she understands nothing about it, compared to what he suffered for us, for this is not understood except by himself.

With the two others the Soul flies, and dwells in being and rest.  Thus all that she understands, and loves, and praises of the divine goodness are the wings by which she flies.  Dwelling in being she is always in the sight of God; and in rest she dwells forever in the divine will.

And what, nay, how would such a Soul have fear?  Certainly she would neither be able nor need to fear anything or to doubt.  For even if she should be in the world, and if it should be possible that the world, flesh, devil, the four elements, and the birds of the air and the savage beasts torment and dismember or devour her, she cannot fear anything if God dwells in her.  For he is everywhere present, omnipotent, omniscient, and total goodness.  He is our Father, our Brother, and our Loyal Lover.  He is without beginning.  He is incomprehensible except by himself.  He is without end, three persons and one God; and as such, says this Soul, he is the Lover of our souls.

Chapter 6: How the Soul, made loving by God, living in the peace of Charity, takes leave of the Virtues

[Love]: This Soul by such love, says Love herself, can say to the Virtues that for a long time and for many days she has been in their service.

Soul: I confess it to you, Lady Love, says this Soul, there was a time when I belonged to them, but now it is another time.  Your courtliness has placed me outside their service.  And thus to them I can now say and sing:

Virtues, I take my leave of you forever,
I will possess a heart most free and gay;
Your service is too constant, you know well.
Once I placed my heart in you, retaining nothing;
You know that I was to you totally abandoned;
I was once a slave to you, but now am delivered from it.
I had placed my heart completely in you, you know well.
Thus I lived a while in great distress,
I suffered in many grave torments, many pains endured.
Miracle it is that I have somehow escaped alive.
This being so, I no longer care: I am parted from you,
For which I thank God on high; good for me this day.
I am parted from your dominations, which so vexed me.
I was never more free, except as departed from you.
I am parted from your dominations, in peace I rest.

REFLECTION: An English Major Goes To Seminary

At the time, I hadn’t realized that studying English at a major university would mold me.  I thought, as one would, that studying English would do just the opposite: unmold me.  Loosen the screws in my brain.  Make me see the world with a wider scope.

I studied Shakespeare, for Heaven’s sake.  And poetry.

Shouldn’t I be like one of those blankets used on picnics, spread out, sat on, accommodating?

But no.

I decided at one point in my life, the point where I had two small children and a serious, life-threatening disease that I needed something to do.  I found, in truth, that discussing small children (and just where does the snot end?) and ill health were overwhelmingly boring.  I really needed something to think about.

So I decided to go to seminary.  I would study, ultimately, Christian education.  But I would still have to take all the “seminary” courses: Old Testament, New Testament, church history, even sacred music.

So off I went.

I decided, given the actual, real demands on my time, that I would go first to a small, Roman Catholic seminary that was just up the street from where I lived.  I enrolled in a couple classes: Hebrew and Old Testament.

Oddly, I got the exact, same teacher for both courses.

He was, I found, an odd combination of Jerry Lewis and God.  He knew everything, it seemed, but he presented it as though we were all in a slap-stick movie.

Everything was funny.

Well, except when he asked the room full of students (mostly all young Roman Catholic seminarians, dressed in black and very, very serious about everything) if they could name the first five books of the Bible.

Someone chirped out, Genesis.

There may have been an Exodus, but I’m not sure.

Then and there, Father Boadt glared.

But then we were off, bumping down the stairs, slipping on banana peels, and shooting our water pistols.

A good time was had by all!

But this was a course, after all.  With serious dimensions.  Most especially for a mother of two small children and a serious, life-threatening disease.

I had to read the Old Testament through.  Understand that there were sections to it.  Sections that had their own internal coherence.  And rhythm.

(And all the while, working through my Hebrew vocabulary cards while watching soccer games, and learning to write backwards.  Father Boadt would tend to look down his nose at me and compliment me on my writing of Hebrew, and add, “You could do better with your translations.”  And I always wanted to answer, And just who are you cooking dinner for tonight, Father? but always managed a very polite, Yes, Father.  And then thought about how these seminarians that surrounded me had everything in their lives done for them, the same as what I did for my family, and I concluded that my progress in learning Hebrew was JUST FINE.  Thank you very much.)


A real  course in the Old Testament.  A course that had tests and papers.

So, there it was.  The first paper.  And I had found out that I just love Genesis.  If it were the only book in the Bible, I’d be just fine with that.

I could read it every day and be happy.  All those little details.  All those conflicts.  Oh, so very human conflicts.

I loved the characters and their failings.  Their so-much unGod-like behavior.  Their cruelty.  And stupidity.

And the way they talked to God.

Whatever, they would seem to always say.  Talk to the hand, because the rest of me is thinking about something else.  

So I decided to do my first paper on the women in Genesis.

What the hey.

And so I started doing research.  The books at the seminary’s library were thrilling.  All these different perspectives.

Father Boadt, it turns out, was one of the first Christian priests to forge a relationship with Jewish scholars so that a deeper understanding of the Hebrew Bible could be had.  So the library was just chock full of Jewish scholarly texts on Genesis.

How revealing!  I was learning Hebrew, so I could follow, somewhat, some of the explanations and arguments about understanding the texts.  And I saw, quite easily, that we Christians sure do like to put a spin on things that either originally spun the other way or didn’t have a spin at all.

I wish I still had that paper.

I wanted to post it here, but then I realized that the story of the paper might just as much fun to write about.

But I still have the memory of discovering that the whole Eve-punishment-for-eating-kumquats-in-the-Garden was oh, so much different than the way we look at it.  She was “condemned” to lie under her husband.  Meaning he would have sexual power over her.

I think that was it.

It was a long time ago.

But the more I studied the women of Genesis, with Tamar, easily becoming one of my heroes, the more the English major in me came out.  There was a pattern: a very, very clear pattern.  And I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to write about what I saw and hand that observation – very well written, but still – into the hands of a Roman Catholic priest.

My theory went like this:

The men of Genesis are these upright (ish), respectful-of-God (to his face) kind of guys.  Heroes.  Captain Americas.  You want me to kill my son?  Just hand me a sword and I’ll have his head off in a jiffy.

The women, on the other hand, do everything wrong.  Or bad.  Eat banned persimmons.  Laugh at God.  (And then lie about it.)  Steal “house” gods, hide them under your skirt and then claim that you can’t be searched because you are having your period.  And Tamar.  The greatest of them all.  You commit an injustice towards me?  I’ll become a prostitute and bring you the consequence of that conjugation and lay it at your feet.


Not nice ladies.

Bold, clever, problem-solving women.

Anti-heroes, in fact.

The men do right.

The women do wrong.

But it’s the women who get things right in the end.

Even in terms of Eden, in my opinion.

Who is supposed to stay in their parents’ home for the rest of their lives?

What need would there have been for Jesus if all the world had been perfect?

And, most significantly, God said, Actually Said, You, You Down There,

I Made You In My Image.

Well, how are we supposed to be like God if we don’t have access to the knowledge of good and evil?

How can God expect us to be the same as him, but keep something for himself?

And, besides, who puts a tree on Earth that humans aren’t allowed to eat from and expect us not to eat from it?

We’re human, after all.

Doesn’t make sense.

Clearly a set-up.


The women, the anti-heroes of Genesis, were the actual heroes of the stories.  Most of them, anyway.

Joseph, most woman-like in a lot of his characteristics, seems to make it through his mess by very un-male-like acts: suffering, service, dreams.

I was, I remember, very, very nervous about writing such a “radical” paper and turning it into the God-priest professor.  Would he tear it up?  Would he decorate it with a nice, big red “F”?

Or would he just say, Thank you for sharing, Julia,

And go on teaching as though that pagan heathen woman wasn’t really in the class?


Actually, he walked the paper up to me personally, handed it to me, and advised me to submit it to “my people” and see if I could get it published.

I almost fell out of my seat.

He continued his tsking of my Hebrew scholarship, though.

(When I changed schools to “my” seminary and sat down to a woman teaching New Testament, I managed to bring tears to her eyes by talking about patterns and what-not, copy that hadn’t come straight right out of the textbooks or the recommended readings, and her reaction to my writing was a stuttering, but, but, but, you just can’t do that, Julia. . . .

What, think?

Go figure.)

So, yes, Virginia, there is a vast difference between English and theology.

Or the teaching thereof.

And the expression of both.

How they conjoin, how they screech off in different directions.

I’m blessed now by something called Inductive Bible Study.

The students in the Bible study class read the text, think about what they read, and comment accordingly.

Just like in English class.

Thanks be to God.


BIBLICAL WOMEN: The Story Of Judah And Tamar, by Leonard Michaels

From Genesis as It Is Written

Tamar is among the most complex, practical, and effective characters in the Bible.  The story is about her relation to Judah and his sons.  First, she marries Er and then Onan, and both sons die.  Judah promises Shelah, the third son, to Tamar, but she doesn’t marry him.  Instead, she seduces Judah.  The consequence is strange and Tamar begins to seem more like an agent of history than a character.

We are told very little about her, rather as if the woman is taboo and the reader is deliberately discouraged from wondering, or becoming involved imaginatively with Tamar.  Where does she come from?  Did she have sex with Er, her first husband, the oldest son of Judah?  What about Judah’s next son, Onan?  Does Tamar have sex with him before he spills his seed on the ground?  Were both sons, who are slain by God for unspecified wickedness, homosexual?  When Tamar goes away at the end of the story, where does she go?

The story is brief, yet eventful.  Major events occur in this order:

1. Judah gives his oldest son, Er, to Tamar to be her husband.

2. Er is wicked and is slain by God.  We aren’t told anything in particular about his wickedness.

3. Judah then gives Onan, his next oldest son, to Tamar.

4. Onan is wicked.  He spills his seed on the ground, refusing to impregnate Tamar.

5. Judah promises to give Shelah, his third son, to Tamar, but she must wait.

6. Tamar doesn’t wait for Shelah to become her husband.  Instead, she puts on a veil and sits at the crossroads.

7. Judah comes along and thinks she is a prostitute.  They agree to terms and have sex.

8. Judah learns that Tamar, his daughter-in-law twice over, is pregnant.

9. Judah intends to have Tamar killed.

10. Tamar proves to Judah that it is he who made her pregnant.

11. Judah reflects on the case and says Tamar is more “righteous” than he.

12. When Tamar is in labor it is determined that she is carrying twins.  A hand emerges from her womb.  The midwife ties a red cord about the wrist to make certain that the firstborn twin will be recognized.

13. But the other twin emerges first.

14. Judah does not want to know Tamar again, and she goes away.

The biblical story records events in the bleak, assertive style, without laboring over meanings.  But events become meaningful as they become – at some amazing turn – stories, just as notes become meaningful, retrospectively, in a melody.  The moral, like a melody, is open to interpretation.

Talking about stories, Samuel Beckett says, “The sun rose, having no alternative, on the nothing new.”  Beckett means there is only one thing after another, which is to say meaningless repetition, which is no story.  There was a time, however, when the sun rose again and again on unpredictable amazements.  A sense of this is contained in the formula, “Once upon a time.”

This crucial moment of mysterious transformation is at the heart of the story of Judah and Tamar.  Soon after she is widowed for the second time, Tamar disguises herself with a veil and pretends to be a prostitute.  The veil is the turning point in the story, and appropriate to Tamar, an agent of divine power who moves amid mysteries.

When Judah realizes that he’s been tricked into having sex with his daughter-in-law, he might have been outraged, but he decides, according to ancient laws, that Tamar has done nothing wrong.  Indeed, she has done justice to herself and made certain that the line of Judah is perpetuated, albeit through him, not his sons.  When he states that she is more “righteous” than he, Judah’s remark is legalistic, but it carries moral overtones.  Perhaps Judah understands that Tamar has had enough of his wicked sons, and that she shouldn’t have been made to wait for Shelah, who may have been as worthless as the first two.

By wearing the veil, Tamar doesn’t merely seduce Judah.  She obliges him to understand that she has been treated like a prostitute.  In effect, the veil, hiding Tamar’s face, reveals Judah to himself.

The hand thrusting from Tamar’s womb is an amazement, since it doesn’t follow from any previous event.  It thrusts out of the story like an inexplicable excrescence, or a talisman of the wonderful.  What follows the amazing hand anticipates and gives meaning to what came before as well as to the end of the story.

Tamar gives birth to twins who are the re-creation or redemption of Judah’s two sons – Er and Onan – who were slain by God.  Metaphorically and actually, then, Tamar is the mother of Judah’s sons, both living and dead.  Since the twin with the red cord was not delivered first, it means first is last and last is first, and this describes the paradox of Judah’s fateful relation to Tamar.  Judah is first – as the father of the slain boys – and last – as the father of their miraculous surrogates, the twins.

Veiled Tamar waited at the crossroads, a place that represents blindness to fate.  Judah doesn’t recognize her, the woman in whom his past and future lie.  The veil of Tamar, a sign of prostitution, is also an invitation to the mysterious realm of storytelling in which meaningless repetition is transformed into meaning.  In the realm of story, events assume a pattern in the otherwise arbitrary existential flux, and the sun rises on an unpredictable and potentially amazing future where there is justice for Tamar and redemption for Judah’s dead sons.  Judah, who doesn’t want to know Tamar again, abandons her to the reader’s imagination, which is our desire to know her.

POETRY: Sarah, by Delmore Schwartz

The angel said to me: “Why are you laughing?”
“Laughing! Not me! Who was laughing? I did not laugh. It was
A cough. I was coughing. Only hyenas laugh.
It was the cold I caught nine minutes after
Abraham married me: when I saw
How I was slender and beautiful, more and more
Slender and beautiful.
I was also
Clearing my throat; something inside of me
Is continually telling me something
I do not wish to hear: A joke: A big joke:
But the joke is always just on me.
He said: you will have more children than the sky’s stars
And the seashore’s sands, if you just wait patiently.
Wait: patiently: ninety years? You see
The joke’s on me!”

POETRY: The Recognition Of Eve, by Karl Shapiro

Whatever it was she had so fiercely fought
Had fled back to the sky, but still she lay
With arms outspread, awaiting its assault,
Staring up through the branches of the tree,
The fig tree. Then she drew a shuddering breath
And turned her head instinctively his way.
She had fought birth as dying men fight death.

Her sigh awakened him. He turned and saw
A body swollen, as though formed of fruits,
White as the flesh of fishes, soft and raw.
He hoped she was another of the brutes
So he crawled over and looked into her eyes,
The human wells that pool all absolutes.
It was like looking into double skies.

And when she spoke the first word (it was thou)
He was terror-stricken, but she raised her hand
And touched his wound where it was fading now,
For he must feel the place to understand.
Then he recalled the longing that had torn
His side, and while he watched it whitely mend,
He felt it stab him suddenly, like a thorn.

He thought the woman had hurt him. Was it she
Or the same sickness seeking to return;
Or was there any difference, the pain set free
And she who seized him now as hard as iron?
Her fingers bit his body. She looked old
And involuted, like the newly-born.
He let her hurt him till she loosed her hold.

Then she forgot him and she wearily stood
And went in search of water through the grove.
Adam could see her wandering through the wood,
Studying her footsteps as her body wove
In light and out of light. She found a pool
And there he followed shyly to observe.
She was already turning beautiful.

BIBLICAL WOMEN: Sarah, by Anne Roiphe

From Water from the Well

Under the great trees of Mamre the Lord appeared to Abraham three days later as Abraham was sitting in his tent watching the road.  Genesis 18 tells us that Abraham looked out and saw three men, and he begged them to stop by so he could bring them sustenance.   He offered them the shade of the largest tree, and he hurried to Sarah and asked her to bake the bread from their best flour and he went to the herdsman and selected a perfect calf.  And the three men, who the sages say were actually the three angels, Gabriel and Michael and Raphael, spoke to Abraham.  They asked him, “Where is Sarah, your wife?”  And Abraham told them she was there in the tent.  The angel Raphael said, “I will return to you at this very season and your wife will have a son in her arms, her own son.”  Sarah was listening at the tent flap and Sarah laughed to herself saying, “After being shriveled, shall I have pleasure and my husband is old?  Shall I really give birth old as I am.”  I imagine she looked down at the blue veins in her hands.  She may have felt the ache in her shoulder that came each day after she had lifted the pitchers of milk.  She knew that her hair was thin and gray.  I am dust, she might have thought to herself.  My time for a child is gone.  I believe that she thought this and did not weep.  She thought this without self-pity.

I imagine there was no mirth in her laughter, that it sounded like a spoon scraping on a tin plate.  It would have been a bitter laugh.  We laugh sometimes when we want to cry.  She may not have been pleased by this promise of a belated gift.

And the Lord said to Abraham, “Why is it that Sarah laughed, saying, Shall I really give birth, old as I am?  Is anything beyond the Lord?”  Sarah heard God’s words from the opening in the tent where she was standing.  Sarah lied to the Lord.  “I did not laugh,” she said, because she was afraid.  And the Lord said to her, “Yes, you did laugh.”

The sages say that the Lord said to Sarah, since you laughed you will name your son Isaac, which means, “laughter.”

Rashi [Rabbi Shlomo Itzhaki] noticed that the Lord did not tell Abraham Sarah’s exact words.  He kept from the husband the wife’s claim that her husband was old.  The Lord, in addition to creating all the creatures of the Earth, understood that tact would spare Abraham the harsh facts of his age and protect the bond between Sarah and her husband.

I assume that Sarah knew that she was old and her husband was old and the birth of a child would be unnatural.  According to the book of Judges, she cried out, “Is it possible that this womb shall bear a child and that these dried-up breasts shall give forth milk.”  She had not been waiting for her dead womb to wake.  But she would have been ashamed that she had laughed and even more ashamed that she had tried to deny it.  If she could relive that moment and prevent that laugh from entering her mind, she would, but the moment had come and gone so quickly.  The laugh had been so insistent, so determined, like a tornado.  The Lord did not sound angry when he spoke to her.  But was he angry?  Would he take back his promise because she had laughed?  She could not hope for the impossible, but in a corner of her mind she considered the coming of a child, the warmth of its body, the feel of its fingers in her fingers.  The Lord can do anything, even change the human body, break the common laws of age and death, she may have told herself.  If only I hadn’t laughed.

Sarah must have wondered, Could the Lord be so cruel as to promise me a child only to mock me?  She may have looked up at the stars in the sky, at the moon moving in its usual orbit.  Why should the Lord care about her?

BIBLICAL WOMEN: Eve — The First Rebel, by Naomi Harris Rosenblatt

From After the Apple

God created humans with the power of free will – in contrast to animals, all of whom are driven by instinct.  He knows that woman will be the first to take advantage of his gift and be drawn to the forbidden tree.  In accord with his grand scheme, Eve is biologically, genetically, and mentally designed to perpetrate the species.  Like every woman after her, she is born with all the eggs she will need for every child she will ever bear.

Embedded in this charming allegory of sexual awakening is the gap between the female and male sexual response.  Woman’s arousal is gradual and internal, enlisting all her senses, emotions, and imagination, as described in Eve’s deliberations before tasting the forbidden fruit.  We imagine her eyes and senses trained on the fruit and the process she goes through before she is convinced to take the ultimate step.  “And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food and that it was a delight to the eye, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and did eat,” the Bible says.  The procreative drive has now been awakened within her and overwhelms all other considerations.  For the woman, the consequences of a sexual relationship can be much more serious than for the man.  She is the one who becomes pregnant, and for nine months.  Her decision is therefore more deliberate and takes more time than the man’s.

Eve reaches out to Adam, holding the fruit (the shape of which suggests fertility, the female breast).  In contrast to the female, the male is immediately susceptible to any sexual invitation, is instantly responsive.  Observing the unthinking ease with which man accepts the forbidden fruit from her hand, woman has already learned that man succumbs easily to sexual temptation.  The female ignites the flame of his desire by her mere presence or through the subtlest of means – a signature perfume, a smile, flattery, the offering of an apple – and the male is immediately seduced.  This theme of man’s instant responsiveness runs through the Bible, which repeatedly depicts women in desperate circumstances (Tamar the daughter-in-law of Judah is an example, as is Ruth) successfully relying on the male’s vulnerability to sexual seduction.

The biblical text gives no indication that man gives the tree of knowledge so much as a second thought.  He is just as content to eat the fruit from the other trees and avoid the one tree that God forbade him.  He is both passive and incurious.

Hearing God moving about in the garden, man and woman panic and hide, aware of their disobedience and that there will be consequences.  God calls out to man, “Where are you?”  He replies, “I was afraid because I was naked, so I hid.”

God asks, “Who told you that you were naked?  Did you eat of the tree from which I forbade you to eat?”

Man’s immediate defense is to blame the woman as well as God: “The woman you put at my side – she gave me of the tree, and I ate.”

God then turns to woman: “What is this you have done!”

She replies, “The serpent duped me, and I ate.”

Both man and woman shirk their own responsibility by blaming someone else.  Man could have chosen to protect woman, who has just fed him and given him pleasure.  He could have been truthful and mentioned that she did not force him to partake of the forbidden fruit.  Woman could have explained that she chose to trade immortality in the Garden of Eden for knowledge and wisdom.  Like man, however, she is fearful, and she blames the serpent, disavowing any accountability for her action.

It is easier to blame others for our actions, but scapegoating has been a constant issue in human society.  It allows both societies and individuals to ignore their own choices and decisions and to blame others for their problems.  Scapegoating leads to terrible cruelty and murder, which leads to more problems because the original problems are never faced and dealt with.  In the short term, it may keep the peace, but in the long term, it always fails.

Both man and woman also feel scared and guilty.  A uniquely human trait, guilt is indispensable to developing self-awareness and a conscience.  Guilt spurs us to improve ourselves, to try harder to do the right thing.

Accepting responsibility is the mature choice that leads to emotional growth.  We need to summon up the courage and humility to blame ourselves and accept blame from others, often publicly, for our behavior.  When we accept responsibility, we don’t blame others for decisions we made, and we recognize and acknowledge how our actions affect other people.  Once we accept blame, we accept the consequences.  This often means accepting punishment, whether punishment takes the form of a curfew, the loss of driving privileges, or a jail sentence.

Taking responsibility for our imperfections is empowering, because blaming someone else for our actions necessarily assumes that we are victims who are acted upon.  Acknowledging that everything we do matters focuses on the adult in us rather than the child.  There must follow a behavioral change or at least a genuine effort; words alone are empty.

Young children are not responsible for their actions because they have no understanding of the consequences of their actions.  Only people who are old enough to have good judgment, “to know better,” and can act independently without being coerced, are held responsible for what they do.

Eating the forbidden fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil is the first independent act by the human beings in the Garden of Eden.  Adam and Eve cannot be said to have been fully aware of the extent of their transgression because they did not yet have knowledge of good and evil.  They do, however, know that God has told them explicitly not to eat of that tree.  In that respect, they are like children, who may understand that certain behavior is expected but do not fully understand why.

PRAYER: The Sanctity Of The Ordinary, by Richard J. Foster

From Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home

Do not forget that the value and interest of life is not so much to do conspicuous things. . . as to do ordinary things with the perception of their enormous value. (Teilhard de Chardin)

I would like to tell you of the death of my mother, Marie Temperance Foster.  I was a teenager and she at midlife, or so we thought.  Her death, however, was far from sudden or dramatic.  At first no one knew what was wrong – Mom just had difficulty walking.  In time her condition was diagnosed as multiple sclerosis, though no one seemed really certain.  She grew slowly worse.  I sometimes discovered her up at 5:00 a.m., trying to vacuum the floor.  She would struggle to clean a small patch of carpet and then slump onto the sofa, exhausted.  After a brief rest she was up and working on another patch.

As her condition worsened, we three brothers took over the duties of daily life.  Actually, it wasn’t so bad, because Mom always cheered us on, and complaint did not seem to be in her vocabulary.  When she became bedfast, we set up a hospital bed in the living room.  I had become a Christian by this time, and one of my earliest prayers was for her healing.  It was not to be.

Soon I was off to college a thousand miles away.  Mom was now in the hospital.  Three times in that first year I rushed home because the medical staff called, saying the end was near.  But each time she would rally a bit, and the dark tragedy of death would be replaced by the untheatrical regularity of the uneventful.  Finally, my older brother and I made the hard practical decision that I was not to be notified until Mom had died.

As it turned out, I was home on summer break.  Did she know somehow?  I was the last one to visit her.  For months we were not sure she recognized any of us when we visited, since all speech and physical response was mute.  But on that last visit she squeezed my hand.  I’m glad for that.

But I was not there when she slipped into eternity.  She had been so close for so long that the idea of a vigil was simply not reasonable.  It was 2:00 a.m., and she was completely alone. . . except possibly for the angels of God.  She simply stopped breathing.  That is what the medical staff said.  Actually her leaving was so quiet, so uneventful, that they did not discover it until later.

Perhaps that is as it should be.  So much about my mother was uneventful and ordinary.  There was no spectacular drama, no newspaper headline, no high adventure.  She lived an ordinary life and died an ordinary death.

But she did both well.  She loved my father well, and she loved us kids well.  She lived through the drab terrain of the ordinary with grace and gentleness.  She accepted her slowly deteriorating condition with a noble faith.  She received death as she had life and disability: with patience and courage.  My mother understood the sanctity of the ordinary.

SATURDAY READING: A Worn Path, by Eudora Welty

It was December – a bright frozen day in the early morning.  Far out in the country there was an old Negro woman with her head tied in a red rag, coming along a path through the pinewoods.  Her name was Phoenix Jackson.  She was very old and small and she walked slowly in the dark pine shadows, moving a little from side-to-side in her steps, with the balanced heaviness and lightness of a pendulum in a grandfather clock.  She carried a thin, small cane made from an umbrella, and with this she kept tapping the frozen earth in front of her.  This made a grave and persistent noise in the still air, that seemed meditative like the chirping of a solitary little bird.

She wore a dark stripped dress reaching down to her shoe tops, and an equally long apron of bleached sugar sacks, with a full pocket: all neat and tidy, but every time she took a step she might have fallen over her shoelaces, which dragged from her unlaced shoes.  She looked straight ahead.  Her eyes were blue with age.  Her skin had a pattern all its own of numberless branching wrinkles and as though a whole little tree stood in the middle of her forehead, but a golden color ran underneath, and the two knobs of her cheeks were illumined by a yellow burning under the dark.  Under the red rag her hair came down on her neck in the frailest of ringlets, still black, and with an odor like copper.
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MYSTICISM: Christ Incarnate, by Evelyn Underhill

From Light of Christ

Here we come to our first window at the east end of the aisle and the morning light comes through it; the window of the Incarnation.  It brings us at once to the mingled homeliness and mystery of the Christian revelation and of our own little lives.  It is full of family pictures and ideas – the Birth of Christ, the Shepherds and the Magi, the little boy of Nazareth, the wonderful experience in the Temple, the long quiet years in the carpenter’s shop.  There seems nothing so very supernatural about the first stage.  But stand back and look – Mira!  Mira!
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PATHING: Of Doors, open and closed

It’s funny how our pasts poke their noses into our current lives.  Like a stray puppy who finds your sliding glass door cracked open just a bit, and strains to open it wider in order to gain entry.

Not completely an unwanted intrusion.

But neither an invited guest.

Mostly just confusion with a soupçon of chaos.

Memories have to be retrieved.  Quickly, quickly, before he realizes that he has faded to a pastel wash against the setting sun.

Feelings have to be sorted, put back in place.  Anger, here.  Tenderness, over there.  Resentment, just sit in the corner, please, and do your best to behave.
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WOMEN: My True Name, by Miriam Chaya

From Sisters Singing

When I was growing up, I believed that my parents had given me the wrong name.  I didn’t know what my real name was; I only knew that the name my parents called me did not fit the free spirit inside.  Harriet Muriel was much too old-fashioned a name for me.  I wanted to sing and dance and laugh and do wild and crazy things.  Instead, I was an obedient little girl who spent her days quietly sitting in the corner with her hands in her lap or reading a book.  A still small voice kept urging me to shed my given name and free the wild person inside of me, but it took more than fifty years before I listened to that calling.

In Judaism it is traditional to give a newborn baby a Hebrew name at birth.  Usually the child is named after a beloved relative who has died, and it is believed that the dead relative’s soul lives on in the body of the newborn.  The Hebrew name my parents gave me was Chaya Mira, after my mother’s youngest brother Hymie, who died when he was thirteen.  Chaya means “to life” and Mira is the diminutive of Miriam, the sister of the prophet Moses.
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POETRY: Suicide Note, by Janice Mirikitani

. . . An Asian American college student was reported to have jumped to her death from her dormitory window.  Her body was found two days later under a deep cover of snow.  Her suicide note contained an apology to her parents for having received less than a perfect four point grade average. . .

How many notes written. . .
ink smeared like birdprints in snow.

not good enoughnot pretty enoughnot smart enough
dear mother and father.
I apologize
for disappointing you.
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WOMEN: Diary, by Lousa May Alcott

(1832 – 1888)


September 1st.—I rose at five and had my bath.  I love cold water!  Then we had our singing-lesson with Mr. Lane.  After breakfast I washed dishes, and ran on the hill till nine, and had some thoughts, – it was so beautiful up there.  Did my lessons, – wrote and spelt and did sums; and Mr. Lane read a story, “The Judicious Father”: How a rich girl told a poor girl not to look over the fence at the flowers, and was cross to her because she was unhappy.  The father heard her do it, and made the girls change clothes.  The poor one was glad to do it, and he told her to keep them.  But the rich one was very sad; for she had to wear the old ones a week, and after that she was good to shabby girls.  I liked it very much, and I shall be kind to poor people.

Father asked us what was God’s noblest work.  Anna said men, but I said babies.  Men are often bad; babies never are.  We had a long talk, and I felt better after it, and cleared up.
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WOMEN: The Mystery Of Femininity, by Alice von Hildebrand

From The Privilege of Being a Woman

The woman is more mysterious than her male companion.  On the artistic level, this is strikingly expressed in one of the greatest of all paintings, the Mona Lisa of Leonardo da Vinci.  One can look at this masterpiece for hours; the more one looks at it, the more one feels the mystery that this female presence radiates.  It is inconceivable that a male portrait could visibly express such an unfathomable depth.  For this reason men often complain “that they cannot understand the female psyche.”  Being more “linear,” more guided by rational considerations, less subtle, men must learn to “transcend” themselves in order to enter into a deep communion with their female counterpart.  Women, too, will have to achieve a similar act of transcendence to understand man’s psyche, but it is probably less difficult for them to do so than for men to understand women.  She is, by nature, more receptive, more tuned to others.  It is easier for her to feel empathy, to feel herself into others.
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PRAYER: Prelude — Prayer 101, by Anne Lamott

From Help, Thanks, Wow

Does sunset sometimes look like the sun is coming up?
Do you know what a faithful love is like?

You’re crying: you say you’ve burned yourself.
But can you think of anyone who’s not hazy with smoke?


I do not know much about God and prayer, but I have come to believe, over the past twenty-five years, that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple.

Help.  Thanks.  Wow.
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SATURDAY READING: The Shawl, by Cynthia Ozick

From The New Yorker

Stella, cold, cold, the coldness of hell.  How they walked on the roads together, Rosa with Magda curled up between sore breasts, Magda wound up in the shawl.  Sometimes Stella carried Magda.  But she was jealous of Magda.  A thin girl of fourteen, too small, with thin breasts of her own, Stella wanted to be wrapped in a shawl, hidden away, asleep, rocked by the march, a baby, a round infant in arms.  Magda took Rosa’s nipple, and Rosa never stopped walking, a walking cradle.  There was not enough milk; sometimes Magda sucked air; then she screamed.  Stella was ravenous.  Her knees were tumors on sticks, her elbows chicken bones.

Rosa did not feel hunger; she felt light, not like someone walking but like someone in a faint, in trace, arrested in a  fit, someone who is already a floating angel, alert and seeing everything, but in the air, not there, not touching the road.  As if teetering on the tips of her fingernails.  She looked into Magda’s face through a gap in the shawl: a squirrel in a nest, safe, no one could reach her inside the little house of the shawl’s windings.  The face, very round, a pocket mirror of a face: but it was not Rosa’s bleak complexion, dark like cholera, it was another kind of face altogether, eyes blue as air, smooth feathers of hair nearly as yellow as the Star sewn into Rosa’s coat.  You could think she was one of their babies.
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MYSTICISM: Mary’s Example, by Mother Teresa

From Total Surrender

The Magnificat is Our Lady’s prayer of thanks.  She can help us to love Jesus best; she is the one who can show us the shortest way to Jesus.  Mary was the one whose intercession led Jesus to work the first miracle.  “They have no wine,” she said to Jesus.  “Do whatever he tells you,” she said to the servants.  Let us go to her with great love and trust.  We are serving Jesus in the distressing disguise of the poor.

Through all the work we do for Jesus, with Jesus, to Jesus, we will ask him to deepen our love for his mother, to make it more personal and intimate, so as to:

  • love her as he loved her,
  • be a cause of joy to her as he was,
  • keep close to her as he kept close,
  • share with her everything, even the cross, as he did when she stood near him on Calvary.

DIVINITY: Natural Woman

I think that perhaps what I have experienced recently in visions may be considered the sharpest turn in focus that I have ever experienced.  Yes, there have been an infinite number of times when, having come to the “end” of a vision quest, the ultimate revelation is so far from what I expected that it sometimes takes years – decades, even – to mull over, absorb, and understand.

But, for the most part, the path has seemed a logical progression.  From this step to the next, perhaps a curve here and there, a moment to remember the rules of the road so as not to get too discouraged, and then the light at the end.  The finger of God pointing.  Here it is, Julia.  This is what you have been looking for.
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MOTHERHOOD: Extenuating Circumstances, by Joyce Carol Oates

From The Ontario Review

Because it was a mercy. Because God even in His cruelty will sometimes grant mercy.
Because Venus was in the sign of Sagittarius.
Because you laughed at me, my faith in the stars. My hope.
Because he cried, you do not know how he cried.
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POETRY: Bite Me, by Beth Ann Fennelly

You who are all clichés of babysoft
crawl to my rocking chair,
pull up on my knees,
lift your delicate finger to the silver balloon
from your first birthday,
open your warm red mouth
and let float your word, your fourth
in this world, Bawoooooon
then, delighted, bite my thigh.
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MOTHERHOOD: One Mean Mennonite Mama — A Pacifist Parent Faces Her Anger, by Valerie Weaver-Zercher

From Christian Peace and Nonviolence

I did something not long ago that I’ve always claimed I’d never do: I spanked my child.  Not only did I spank him, but I did it in a moment of complete, unfettered rage.  Even if you think spanking is effective discipline, everyone knows you’re not supposed to do it out of anger.

My five-year-old was disappointed that he couldn’t go to a picnic and was slamming doors, kicking and yelling, “Bad Mama!”  (Considering what happened next, this was probably a fitting moniker.)  The three-year-old and one-year-old were also throwing minor fits, and I was facing several more hours with these tykes.  I was depleted, and after almost six years of parenting, I should have been able to read the handwriting on the wall: You are tired.  You are angry.  You will hurt your child if you do not shut yourself in the bathroom and repeat the Christ Prayer 20 times while breathing deeply.
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MOTHERHOOD: Johnella LaRose, 50, speaks to her daughter, Kasima Kinlichiinii, 22

From Mom: A Celebration of Mothers from Storycorps

Johnella LaRose: I had two children and I was three months pregnant with you, Kasima, when your dad left.  And I remember thinking, Now what am I going to do?  We were living in the Los Padres National Forest [California] with other Indian people, taking care of horses and cows.  We got $436 a month on welfare, and I did beadwork, I sewed, I did laundry, I ironed – I did everything.

Kasima Kinlichiinii: You would pick up cans, too, and I was like, Oh my God, here she goes again, picking up cans!  The other day, my cousin was drinking ginger ale, and I said, “Don’t you throw that can away!”  And I was like, Oh God, I sound like my mother! [laughs]

Johnella: When you were four and the boys were ten and twelve, I just couldn’t make it anymore.  I was in the Native American Health Center in Oakland, and one of the gals gave me a flyer about a pre-apprenticeship program in the trades.  I had no idea what that was, but I thought, I’ve got to do something.  So I went through the apprenticeship, and I became a union cabinetmaker.
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