Women of the Bible Series: Introduction
“Even though you’re not our denomination, you might like it,” said me friend. She had just invited me to a women’s bible study group that met weekly at the local Unitarian Christian church.
Long tainted with the pop culture concept of bible study as an activity for country bumpkins in addition to my cultural Mormon superiority complex, I almost immediately dismissed the thought. After all, I’m a Mormon! What was I to learn from another religion’s bible study group?
But the invitation remained on my mind. Because I am lonely. As I have mentioned here before, I live in a rural area. My family and I are the only LDS church members, so we have been granted permission to share the sacrament at home. We can’t hold callings at this branch being so far away, and I do all of my visiting teaching through the mail. On occasion we drive the 3 hours each way to an operating church branch, but for the most part, the only religious interaction I have is found in facebook, the Exponent, or in emails to LDS family and friends. Whilst that might sound like a lot, and it is, there is something to be said for in-person discussions of Christ, the scriptures, and sharing the spirit.
A husband and wife were co-pastors for this church, so I contacted her for more information. She said they used a variety of bible interpretations, so my King James version was fine. It was informal, and I didn’t need to bring anything unless I wanted. Women-only, children welcome.
I pondered going. I was lonely, and really wanted to get out of the house. But…. The ghosts of Mormon upbringing niggled at me- surely if I went I “had” to be a missionary. The idea exhausted me, and I felt even lonelier. Then, I decided to be me. Me. Just me. Not “Mormon me.” Me. I decided to go for friendship. My goal was not to whisper a word of Mormonism, but to share the spirit and learn.
The first study topic was Eve. Not Adam. Not the Fall. Eve. A video played, and I was handed some stapled sheets which comprised copies of the chapter of study for that week. Following the video, we read each sheet, which directed us to open and read scriptures, and discuss questions aimed at women and women’s lives. We discussed how Eve’s example applied in our own lives. Though I was not thrilled with some of the more traditional interpretations that some of the participants had about Eve, I loved that we talked about her and we related her and her choice to us, sans Adam.
As we closed the meeting, one woman began a prayer. She began by praying to Heavenly Father then asked for the things of her heart. Before closing, the woman beside her continued the prayer for the things of her heart. When she was finished, the next woman began. This prayer went around the table. I was nervous as the circle came closer to me—should I join in? Would I do it right? I didn’t know how to opt in— or out! I listened intently, and asked God for help so I would not disturb the spirit. The women were praying for personal things in addition to praying for group things: health in the community, to find righteous renters to look after a distant family home, that a daughter would find good quality friends at school, that all of us could come closer to God. When my turn came, I joined in, briefly asking for things that I can no longer recall. The prayer continued after me, ending with the woman who started it. She closed the prayer, in the name of Jesus Christ. We all said, “Amen.”
I loved that prayer. To me, it was the perfect prayer among women, united in reaching toward God, but asking for things that were personal. It has had a profound effect on me. The concept of being vulnerable enough to let others hear the things we would ask of God, was humbling and sacred to me. I will cherish that memory for a long time.
Later, I learned about the upcoming topics. They were studying Sarah, Hagar, Rebekah, Rachel, Deborah…even Gomer! Women. All women! Of the Bible! Righteous women learning about and teaching each other of the wisdom of biblical women. As a lifelong Mormon woman, there was little for me to share. The study in the handbooks and guides of Mormonism firmly resides on the side of patriarchy, narrowly teaching from the plethora of males in the scriptures. Though an occasional woman is referenced in LDS scripture study, her mention is so brief that even Esther, Ruth and Abish are often remarked as a subsection of text in the majority of Mormon study guides.
Studying these women in the bible with fellow Christian women has become the highlight of my week. I’ve felt welcomed in their circle, and not judged for not attending their church on Sundays. They are yet my friends, even if I don’t join their church and don’t perfectly embrace the doctrine of their church.
This has so profoundly affected me that I shared the experience with my Exponent sisters, and we committed ourselves to creating this series. It is not a new idea, Mormon women of old have studied women of the bible with energy (just wait for the 19th-century Women’s Exponent article we’re including later in the series)– yet this energy seems to rarely translate into today’s Mormon manuals. Thus, in our series, Priscilla, the Cannanite Woman, Jezebel, Thelca, Huldah and so many more wonderful women of the bible were chosen to be studied, written about, and shared.
Not to be forgotten, many of our current and Emeritus bloggers have previously written about the Biblical women who inspire us, so we direct you to these previous, golden posts here:
The Other Mary (The Mother of James and Joses)
Thus, in the wise words of Adella B. Cox Sidwell in the Women’s Exponent, 18, no. 17 (Feb 1, 1890):36:
Now Mrs. President and Ladies we do not lack material for lectures so long as there still remains in the Bible unmentioned by us such characters as Miriam, Ruth, Naomi, Vashti, Esther, Susannah, Judith, and the woman who was the mother of seven sons, with hosts of others both in the Old and New Testaments.
We invite you to join us and share your thoughts on women in the bible, as we celebrate some of our righteous formothers. These are intended to highlight the women of scripture for both men and women to learn from, so we can better recognize the gifts that women of Christ share with the world. Study on!
Who are some of your favourite women in the scriptures? How can we better invite the stories of biblical and modern women into our church experience?