Monday, September 24, 2012

A day in the life of Super Woman... or.... something else?

Proverbs 31:10-31

A capable wife who can find?
She is far more precious than jewels.
The heart of her husband trusts in her,
and he will have no lack of gain.
She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life.
She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands.
She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away.
She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls.
She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard.
She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong.
She perceives that her merchandise is profitable.
Her lamp does not go out at night.
She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle.
She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy.
She is not afraid for her household when it snows, for all her household are clothed in crimson.
She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple.
Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land.
She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes.
Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come.
She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue.
She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness.
Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her:
“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.

I find this text thoroughly inspiring and completely overwhelming. I have to tell you - my days don’t look much like this woman’s days. 

As I rise out of bed, tired and already daunted by the tasks of the day ahead- I most often stumble downstairs to make coffee before prodding the kids out of bed.

I reach for the lunch boxes and fill with them with the healthiest snacks I could find at that far away place- costco- I spread some peanut butter and jelly on whole wheat bread and slide the half sandwiches in plastic bags before stuffing the lunch boxes in backpacks.

My husband takes care of himself- we work together to get the family going and to keep the house together.

We get the kids off to school- working the whole time to hold a spirit of kindness and to limit expressions of frustration. Sometimes it slips out and I snap at someone- which is always followed by that terrible feeling of mother’s guilt that has become a constant companion.

After everyone is out the door I rummage through my closet to find clothes that will work- clothes that were most likely purchased at Target or on sale at the Gap... 

I work through the day to move through the needed tasks- to do my work at the church and in my home. To make sure the dishes are done, the clothes are clean, the bills are paid, the emails are sent, and that we have healthy-ish food to put on the table.

It goes on like this for hours. And the truth is that while I certainly feel moments of pure joy and gratitude- these feelings are also sprinkled with feelings of doubt, frustration, and worry. Sometimes I vacillate between these feelings of joy and frustration faster than a hormonal teenager.

Daily tasks can often seem less than noble, and scantly Holy.


So- when I hear this text- while I feel a great sense of admiration and inspiration- I at the same time feel a heavy sense of inadequacy.

So what can we take from this text? What does the life of an ancient, apparently wealthy class woman teach us today- thousands of years later?


In exploring this question- I’d first like to look at the way this text has been used through the centuries.

When doing a search I found countless sermons and commentaries produced over the years that look to this text as a description of ‘the ideal women.’ While these writings often ignore major pieces of the text- they use this passage to reinforce the place of a woman as by her husbands side- caring for the home, supporting him in every way- giving selflessly with endless energy.

The woman in this text falls into the common trap that women in biblical and historic texts often fall into- women are portrayed as either a harlot or or a selfless heroine- either condemned, or held on a pedestal. Pieces of this text are pulled out to provide an example of a selfless woman-  placing her on a pedestal and justifying the social role of a woman as ordained to support a husband. 

Ironically- this same text has also been used by feminist interpreters to show the many and diverse roles for women- to show that women are not only cooking the bacon- they are going far and wide to get it- buying and selling land and goods to earn it. Lines of this text can be lifted out to speak of women acting in ways which would have been far outside the expected role of women. When explored in this light this is a radically progressive text for its time.

Each of these interpretations are interesting- and I appreciate some more than others.
The traditional approach sees that there are pieces of this woman’s life that are admirable and instructive. The more feminist approach sees that this ‘woman’ is a heroine in her own right, who pushes assumed boundaries. We can also note that the ‘women’ of proverbs 31 is no ordinary woman- most women do not have servants or land- in fact most woman struggle to survive.


I think that in order to get the fullest understanding of this passage- we must look a little closer. This text certainly holds more than first meets the eye.

Proverbs is one of the books of Wisdom found in the Old Testament, which have helped people through the centuries to interpret daily living. The book of Proverbs includes practical advice- but the central concern is the shaping of character- which is seen as the development of wisdom

Wisdom is often expressed as the feminine face of God. This wisdom is present at the start of creation- stirs over the waters and brings life out of chaos. Wisdom guides people through the whole of the Old and New Testaments, is present through the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and through the initiation of the church at pentecost. 

Wisdom is a gift from God which can be passed on and shared. 

In Chapter 1 verse 2 of the book of proverbs we learn that  these proverbs are for learning about wisdom and instruction, for understanding words of insight, for gaining instruction in wise dealing, righteousness, justice and equity. Wisdom is about how to live life.

Todays passage closes the book of Proverbs with an acrostic poem [A poem or series of lines in which certain letters, usually the first in each line, form a message when read in sequence.]  - In this case- each of the 22 verses begins with one of the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet - in order.

This passage reads as an instructional poem which would have been passed on to be memorized. Now- this isn’t a checklist, or a specific description of what a woman should be-- rather this list is a metaphoric description of wisdom. The verses paint a picture of what wisdom would look like if wisdom were a person. A woman, specifically.

When we shift our reading of this text from a description of ‘a perfect woman’-- to an understanding of what wisdom is- we come away with a very different reading--and quite honestly-  all of a sudden I take a deep breath and I feel less intimidated, overwhelmed and inadequate-- and more inspired and filled with grace.

The focus of the text is on wise and energetic activity. The poem is rich in words of action- linked by ‘noble’ righteous’, ‘fear of the lord’, care for the poor and needy, 

Wisdom provides a connection to ordinary life. Centered first -in a sense of God’s wonder- our faith is lived out in our actions- actions are born out of our faith.

The wise ones of ancient Israel were primarily concerned with practical questions. 

Our daily, repeated actions become our character.

Through the story of the ‘capable woman’, the Proverbs encourage all of us to have: discernment, industriousness, a positive demeanor, and a strong sense of justice- to find joy in the daily actions of life. 

I can see why the author of Proverbs chose to use the life of a woman to be the means to communicate the meaning of wisdom. Wisdom is all around in the people I meet- grounded in God’s love, and shared generously. 

I have put together an acrostic poem - from A to Z naming the ways wisdom is present in this place. For just as this text inspires us to see the everyday as holy- when I hear the stories of the women here, even the mundane aspects of my own daily work come to be seen as blessed and holy, and seeped in wisdom.

Ann decided to foster a sweet child while teaching, working at the church, and working on a masters degree.

Branding cattle for their family business keeps Julia busy on the weekend.

Chris laughs with her two kids who are now responsible, compassionate, contributing adults. 

Dana sees God working in her life when she looks at her husband and her daughter- and when she feels her unborn child in her belly.  

Eighty babies over the past fifteen years have snuggled in a soft warm crocheted blanket, made by the hands of Lorale. 

Faith sees someone in need and offers them a glass of water.

Getting to see her son grow up with a remarkable father who instills wonder brings Kris pure joy.

Happily sober for four years, Mandy finds overflowing joy in being a functioning person in society and in being present to her children. 

Ice cream with friends makes Mia happy.

Judy watches her son care for family land. She watches her children care for their children with pride and gratitude.

Kellan and Kali make Lauras heart swell when they look and her and say "Nana" and run to her with opened arms, throw themselves at her and mutter "mmmmmm" with a kiss. 

Lisa has enough self awareness to let her children grow into their own people- adults who are themselves competent and gracious.

Margaret brings joy to the world through laughter- and she finds her keys almost every day.

Nobody sings like Jillian- on the stage, in the church, or to her children, her voice is a gift she shares with the world.

Opening a jar makes Barbara realize she still has her strength!

Personal expertise in computers and continuous learning make Laura feel valuable and appreciated.

Quiet mornings in prayer prepare Amanda for the day ahead.

Running 13.1 miles at record pace makes Alissa’s friends and family proud of her.

Shirley rises early to enjoy the morning hours with a cup of coffee, and to challenge herself to the daily suduku puzzle- this keeps her young!

Time could not stop Jerrie from graduating college and becoming a nurse.

Unlimited joy can be seen on the face of Daphne when her dog sits and wags his tail at the sound of her voice.

Vast amounts of trash have been picked up by Cheryl as she keeps the streets clean on her daily walk.

Walking 39.2 miles, and earning $2200 for breast cancer, Jenn made a difference in the lives of people she will never meet. 

Grounded in God’s love, wisdom can be seen in all we do, and in all we are. In the every day and in the mundane- In the landmark and the transformative- God’s Holy wisdom guides and inspires. 

Where do you see wisdom? 

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