Hello, I’m Alice Connor.
I’m an Episcopal priest working for the ELCA because of our agreement to be in full communion. I work as a campus missioner at UC with college students at the Edge campus ministry house. We drink really good coffee and argue theology. I meet students for lunch because it’s always good to have food and drink around so you have something to do with your hands. I talk with folks about theology and spiritual practice. I make art with students for the Edge House and for the campus. And I hang out with lovely folks like you. It’s really the coolest job ever.
I have been married to my husband for over 13 years and we have two ridiculously adorable children: Abby who’s four and Jackson who’s 7 months. Seriously, at the break just try to stop me from showing you pictures.
We love dark, ambiguous TV shows like Battlestar Galactica and Arrested Development. We also love Barbecue and once drove 1700 miles round trip to Kansas City to go to Arthur Bryant’s.
I am a great lover of scripture—which means that I both delight in it and fight it. The stories present in our Bible are messy and challenging and beautiful and I relish the opportunity to converse with y’all about them.
Here’s what I have in mind for our time together. Each of the three addresses tomorrow will consist of: first, a two-minute sitting meditation; second, 12-15 minute storytelling about one or more women from the Bible; third, a 10-minute sitting meditation to consider the story and listen for what God might be telling us; and fourth, a time for questions and discussion. Does this sound acceptable?
For tonight, I’d like to chat a bit about women in scripture first, followed by a more general conversation about our own experiences, then spend a little time in silent meditation.
One summer a few years ago, I was chaplain at our diocesan summer camp for the week of Outdoor Adventure Camp. We set up tents in the woods, made our own food, chopped our own wood, did educational and spiritual exercises based on the natural world and God’s fingerprints on it. This year particular was special because I was enormously pregnant with my daughter. I was staying just over the hill in the retreat center—air-conditioned and mattressed comfort. One afternoon, I was sitting by the campfire watching campers and counselors chopping wood. It’s hard work, chopping wood. Even watching it made me tired. And I observed to the counselor nearby that in the American pioneer days, pregnant women had to chop the wood, start the fires, cook the food, wash the clothes, fight off scavengers, care for the other children, and much more and I could barely stand up to get a cookie from the storage bins. Those pioneer women were fierce. And probably exhausted. We decided to form the Women’s Pioneer League—the only requirement for membership was a deep awe for the women who’d gone before us and all they’d accomplished, pregnant or not.
Women are all over our scriptures—not a controversial statement, really. But so many of our stories are, for lack of a better term, less than those of our brothers. Their stories are about conquest and seeing God face-to-face and “let my people go” and “Mortal, can these bones live?” Our stories are predominantly about childbirth or the lack thereof or about rape or about something other than us. Or at least they seem to be.
Friends, I don’t know where you are on the spectrum of feminism. In the conversations around feminism we have in the church, in the workplace, in our families, we talk about equality and a woman’s place and no matter where you fall on the spectrum, these conversations are all about power: who has it, who doesn’t have it, what it’s used for. These are good questions to ask, don’t get me wrong. But as Christians we are called to something different. The God we worship, the God made human, seems to be all about the powerless. And so often in our scripture God calls us not to success but to faithfulness. God calls us not to power but to presence.
Tamar had married three brothers in succession and each died. Her father-in-law was horrified and refused to marry her to another brother, sent her away in disgrace. So she dressed up like a prostitute and put herself in his path. He didn’t recognize her, slept with her, gave her his staff as his promise that he’d pay her a goat later, then was enraged when his daughter-in-law came up pregnant. When she presented him his staff as proof of the baby’s paternity, he said “this woman is more righteous than I.”
Tamar’s story is about going after justice in whatever way you have at your disposal and about calling the ones in power to account. Tamar’s story is about being present to her own life.
Ruth had married and then buried a foreigner, an Israelite, and had nothing left. She followed her mother-in-law back to Israel where they again had nothing. She met, wooed, and was married by a wealthy man named Boaz and bore him a son who would be King David’s granddaddy.
Ruth’s story is about God choosing outsiders to be part of the divine family and about love crossing human-made boundaries. Ruth’s story is about being present to how God is working in less-than-ideal situations.
Mary the mother of Jesus was meek and mild. And young. And maybe a little freaked-out by the annunciation and pregnancy. Or maybe not. She was not sent away by Joseph as an adulterer but birthed her baby Jesus in a dirty cow stable. And he grew up to be a good Jewish boy, studied Torah, healed the sick, and died for the sins of the world. Her story is about him. But she also sang a song about the mighty being brought low and the poor raised up. She sang the Magnificat which is a great example of prophetic literature.
Mary the mother of Jesus’ story is about bearing the Word of God to the world no matter how hard it might be. Mary’s story is about being present to how God is working in each of us.
In a number of places in the Hebrew Scriptures, righteous men are said to pull down the symbols of pagan worship including the “Asherah’s”. Asherah was an ancient Near Eastern goddess of fertility and home. And many scholars write that in a very early form of Judaism, she was Yahweh’s wife.
The Asherah’s story is about being on the same footing as men and having that footing taken away. Maybe the Asherah’s story is about absence rather than presence.
Eve, for goodness sake, was created as an equal partner to Adam in both creation narratives and has an extensive theological discussion with the serpent. Eve’s story is about disobedience and growing up. Eve’s story is about being present to our mistakes.
What happened to these stories? What happened to these women with their stories of neglect or celebration, anger or mercy? What, for that matter, has happened to the stories of our mothers and grandmothers and greatgrandmothers? My great aunts—there were 6 of them, though I only met 2—lived in a house that used to be a speakeasy. For years after they moved in, men would come to the backdoor asking for bathtub liquor. They worked during World War II in a factory that made sanitary napkins. And that’s all I know about them. There are stories there. There are stories here in this room, because we are all part of the story that God is telling.
I want to invite us now to take [_____] minutes to share some stories with one another. Let’s break into groups and each person share the oldest story about a woman in your family you can remember, even if it’s only a few words.
[break for storytelling]
What was that like? What did you notice?
Before we break for the night, I want to introduce the concept of sitting meditation. How many of you have done sitting meditation before?
[explain about not clearing mind, candle focus, breath focus, word focus, uncrossing body, being present in this room]
[practice for three minutes]
Sisters, I look forward to being with you tomorrow. Enjoy your evening.