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Before we get to the “blowing your mind with stuff you didn’t know” part of this post, a preface: I adore Sister Joan Chittister. She’s Benedictine nun, author and speaker, and when it comes to matters spiritual, she knows her stuff. If this post isn’t enough to make you gallop to your nearest bookstore and demand every last one of her books, I don’t know what would be.

Sister Joan recently cited an article by biblical scholar R. David Freedman which brings up a rather earth-shattering point: The bible, as we read it today, is a translation of a translation of a translation. And things get lost in translation. To wit: The Hebrew words “ezer kenegdo” appear many times in the bible; every time are translated as “strength” or “power.” Every time, that is, except for once. That “once” happens in the story of Adam and Eve and refers to God creating Eve. The words “ezer kenegdo” are used here, too, but in this case — the only time it happens in the entire bible — the words are not translated as “strength” or “power.” No. Instead, Eve is described as “a suitable helpmeet” or “helper.” Remember, the actual translation would have you understand that Eve is equal in strength and power to Adam. But that’s not what the translation says.

Ladies, imagine if you had been brought up, from your early days in bible school, hearing that Eve (and thus, you) was equal in power and strength to Adam. Not a helpmeet. Not an appendage. Not a plucky sidekick but an actual hero. A co-hero. How might that have shaped your feelings about yourself and about women’s place in the church?

Because “equal in power and strength” is not what we see in most churches. In fact, there are a good number of so-called Christians who believe that women are not as good as men, not made of the same godly stuff, and must be regulated and chastised and kept in their places. What would happen to these women — to these “Christians” — if the truth were known? What would happen if we really knew the bible like we say we do?

The fact is, unless you’ve deeply studied the bible in its original language, you don’t know it. You know someone’s interpretation of an interpretation, and interpretations are always colored by personal preferences and beliefs. And since most of those interpretations were done by men for men, those “colorings” are not always going to be flattering — or even truthful — to women.

Women are experiencing a “moment” lately. We’re finally being believed and supported for the years of abuse and harassment we’ve suffered. What better time, then, to spread the word about “ezer kenegdo”? God made us equal in strength and power. All of us. And if we forget it, it won’t be scholars and writers we answer to: It will be God.

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I recently saw a bit from a late night talk show: An interviewer asked children why it was that women make less money than men for doing the same work. The boys’ answers were varied, but often supportive of women (especially their moms), but the girls — almost every one — went negative. Women were dumb or lazy. They hadn’t been taught things that men had been taught. They didn’t take their work seriously. They liked to shop too much.

Couple that with this figure: 91% of women don’t like their bodies and want to change them. What is wrong with us? Why don’t girls and women think themselves capable, beautiful or strong? Why are we convinced — apparently from an early age — that we are failures?

It is not Godly, this lack of self-esteem. We all start off the same way, as happy, little embryos. More male fetuses than female fail to make it to birth. More male infants die within the first year than do female babies. Women live longer, have higher tolerances to pain than men do. And yet we spend our lives thinking, by and large, that we are not good enough.

Why? Tradition? Culture? Law? All of these? Yes, and the Bible doesn’t help much either, written as it was for men by men, with its dearth of female heroines. It is the male bloodline that counts in the Bible. And yet, the most important figure in all of biblical literature — Jesus Christ — has a human mother…and no human father. Joseph, while mentioned, doesn’t have much dialogue in the New Testament. Neither does Mary, but at least she has some. And not one line of it is, “Do I look fat in this?”

Remember, too, that Mary is the only non-divine human being to be born without sin.

Remember, too, the women who remain at the foot of the cross. Only one man, in all of the gospels (his own) does the same.

Remember, too, that Jesus was often seen “in the company of women.” This, in a time when women were basically chattel. It is akin to being seen in the company of cows. But Jesus does it, time and again. He speaks to non-Jewish women, divorced women, prostitutes — acts so radical for their time, they make equal pay for equal work seem elementary.

Any faith practice that puts women down or places them as mere secondaries to men should be reexamined, as I hope Pope Francis will reexamine the Catholic Church, providing more opportunities for women to lead and be heard.

God created all of us. God stands with all of us. God loves us equally. Isn’t it time we did too?

Heal me, Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for You are the one I praise.

Jeremiah 17:14 NIV

So there I was: spending my weekly hour with God, a practice we Catholics call Perpetual Adoration. In our little chapel there is always someone present; the monstrance holding the consecrated Eucharist must never be left unattended. My hour is on Friday, and provides an ideal time for reflection.

In this case, fighting post-prandial wooziness and shivering in response to the overzealous air conditioning, I found myself asking: Believing as I do in the real presence of Christ in the Eucharist, knowing that he is here with me, what should I ask Jesus? The answer came back quickly. My question would be, “What can I do for you?” And I knew just what he would reply: “You already know. It’s all in the book.”

The “book” is, of course, the Bible, and specifically, in the words Christ himself spoke. In these words we get all the direction we need for living our lives. So if, like me, you’ve ever asked what you could do for God, here are just a few ideas, culled from Christ’s own words:

  1. Give to those in need.
  2. Divest yourself of things: You don’t need them.
  3. Practice the Beatitudes.
  4. Speak of Jesus to other people.
  5. Love your neighbor. All the time. As much as you can.
  6. Follow Christ’s example.
  7. Trust in God.
  8. Forgive, forgive, forgive.

There’s more, of course — much more. It’s a lot like having a textbook that includes the answers to each chapter’s exercises in the back. Christ’s words are there for us to access; he gave us the answers we seek. All we have to do is read them. We’ve got the book. What more do we need?

 

 

Have a Mary Little Christmas

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