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  • Writer's pictureDavid Carlson

245: Nov 16, 2020 Women of Valor: We all know what that force is. That force is love.

We have been blessed to know so many women of valor. Our grandmothers, mothers, sisters, wives, companions and friends. The sisters who guided us as young students and continue to inspire us today. The women in our Emmaus community who have spoken out so boldly for social justice and who have led us into wisdom about Spirit. Tomorrow evening at 5:00 we have the opportunity to listen to a theologian who is bringing fresh insights into the most basic Hebrew/Christian story: Adam and Eve.


Register for our Women Erased Series.

Our next installment Women Erased: Adam has a Womb

Tuesday, November 17th at 5pm Pacific Time.

Join us for a special screening of the delightful and eye-opening animated short film (m)adam: Adam's Rib Reframed and a no-holds-barred discussion with filmmaker, Catholic Chaplain Lizzie Berne DeGear, PhD. (m)adam just won Best Religious Film at the Viva International Film Festival; and this will be Lizzie's first in-depth discussion of the film -- and the scholarship behind it -- with a Catholic audience.

Please preview it over the next few days (click on this link).

You can view the film here.

Lizzie Berne DeGear, PhD is a chaplain, writer, Bible scholar and Catholic feminist. Her biblical scholarship combines depth psychology and theology and has appeared in Religious Education and the UTS Quarterly Review, as well as in her book For She Has Heard.

Here's the ZOOM link for Tuesday at 5:00pm:

Or join by entering information directly into Zoom: Meeting ID: 843 8524 5576 Passcode: 211677

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Day 245: Monday November 16,2020


Here is an excerpt from a thought-provoking homily delivered by Chaplain Lizzie Berne DeGear, PhD. who will be speaking on the ZOOM tomorrow night.

July 21, 2019

Proverbs 31 -- a poem close to my heart. Instead of hearing the misogynistically truncated version of this poem that appears in the lectionary, our community heard my translation of the full poem, proclaimed by two women, standing on either side of the altar, calling out to the people and to each other. This is something beautiful that has been buried in our Bible all along.

A reading from the book of Proverbs

Translation from the Hebrew by Elizabeth Berne DeGear

Proverbs 31:10-31

A woman of force – who can find her?

Her self-worth is far beyond rubies.

Her spouse’s mind and heart trust in her

thus he will never lack for spoils.

She weans him well,

and all the days of her life are free from vice.

She seeks wool and flax;

With pleasure, she creates with her hands.

She is like a whole fleet of trade ships

From afar she brings her sustenance;

She rises while it is still night

To her household, she gives meat;

and to those who work for her, she gives what is due.

She evaluates a plot of land

And with her earnings, she buys it. She plants a vineyard.

She girds her loins with strength.

She strengthens her arms.

She savors the goodness of her profits

Her lamp does not go out at night.

In her hand she holds the distaff

And grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She spreads her palms open to the poor

And extends her hands to the needy.

She fears not for her household when it snows

For all of them are clothed in scarlet

She makes herself coverings of tapestries

Her clothing is fine linen and purple.

Her husband is well-known at the gates

Where his seat is among the elders of the land.

Fine linen she makes and sells

Apparel she brings to the merchants.

Strength and honor are her clothing;

She shall rejoice in times to come!

She opens her mouth in wisdom

Sacred words of lovingkindness upon her tongue.

She keeps watch over the ways of her household

And she eats not the bread of idleness.

Her children rise up and call her blessed

Her spouse – he sings her praises!

Many daughters make a force

And you! You can rise high upon all their shoulders.

Favor in another’s eyes is a mirage. Beauty is empty.

A Woman who bows only to God -- She is praised!

Give her the fruit of her hands.

And let her own works praise her in the gates!

As a biblical scholar, I have been studying and translating this poem for years.

Perhaps hearing the whole poem, in this new translation, was strangely unfamiliar to you.

Well, if there’s one thing I absolutely love about the good news of Jesus Christ, it is that you can recognize it when you come across it, because it is always good and it is continually new.

So here is some new information for you about Proverbs 31:

This bit of Scripture was originally likely a chant or a song.

It was written by women, and for women.

It is an acrostic -- the twenty-two lines of the poem each begin with one of the 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, starting with the first Hebrew letter -- alef -- and going letter by letter, line by line, to the last -- tav.

Do you notice words and phrases that invoked various textiles, tapestries, garments, wool, linen, flax and so on? Did you catch mention of the distaff and the spindle, of selling to merchants, and savoring profits? That is because this poem was taught and sung in the context of a guild of weavers -- women who were textile manufacturers and business owners.

The Hebrew title of the poem -- the phrase that the poem begins with -- that starts with the letter alef -- and that is the theme for the entire song -- is asheth chayil. Asheth Chayil is often translated as “Woman of Valor” or, less accurately, “Worthy Wife.”

I’ve been teaching Bible Studies since 2002, and one thing I love doing is delving into particular Hebrew and Greek words and phrases -- exploring their meanings, the various ways these words are used in the Old and New Testaments. The experience of exploring is like taking a time machine to the ancient world, And it can also allow us to go more deeply into the mystical and spiritual aspects of our Scripture. So let’s do that now with this one phrase asheth chayil.

Asheth -- the first word of the poem, means Woman.

Chayil [rhymes with pie-eel, and starts with the same sound as Chanukah, chutzpah and challah] is a truly fascinating word that appears in the Bible hundreds of times. It has shades of meaning, depending on its context. And this wonderful poem plays on all of them. I have chosen to translate asheth chayil as woman of force. This English word “force” seems to be as close as we can come to a word that encompasses the various meanings of chayil.

in the Bible chayil is used most often as the word for army. The English word “force” is also used in military contexts, as when we speak of our armed forces. In this poem did you take note of images of arms, of hands, of fingers? “She girds her loins in strength. She strengthens her arms.”

Chayil is also used in the Bible to describe a person’s power -- one’s strength, one’s might, one’s wealth-- The word “force” works this way too, as in: “this woman is a force to be reckoned with.”

And, lastly, chayil is understood as a spiritual force -- one associated with great warriors who show valor in action, and used to describe connection to a higher power. Apparently, in a galaxy far, far away they call this “the Force.”

Let us imagine women working and singing together. These women saw themselves as daughters of a guild -- of a workforce -- who gained strength from their collective union; who used this song to inspire and educate the next generation of strong women.

Just as the poem begins with one woman of chayil -- of force -- so it ends with the statement that “many daughters make chayil.”

Together today we listen to these daughters of the ancient world speaking to each other, and speaking to us.

This Scripture passage we heard here today connects us with women -- people -- in solidarity with each other; taking responsibility; embracing the dignity of work and the dignity of workers; contributing to the larger community; noting that they have an obligation to those in need; calling for economic justice; claiming their rights; embracing and enjoying their creativity, their lives.

As I sat with the asheth chayil in preparation for our gathering here today, there was another phrase that kept coming to me. Body of Christ.

I couldn’t shake the feeling of a profound connection between the two.

And grasps the spindle with her fingers.

She spreads her palms open to the poor

And extends her hands to the needy.

Asheth chayil. Body of Christ.

We’ve all heard the Bible referred to as the Living Word. And for me, Scripture is truly alive.

And we’ve all heard Jesus referred to as Word made Flesh.

As wonderful as it is to delve into Scripture and to translate the Bible, we all, each week, are part of a translation truly miraculous. Don’t we all -- right here -- take a time machine to a moment when a person, gathered with friends over dinner on the most difficult night of their lives, said simply, “this is my body, which will be given up for you. Do this in memory of me.”

With our presence, with our faith, and with our presider, we participate in a translation so powerful -- so filled with chayil -- that it has its own definition. Transubstantiation.

Each week we hear that phrase -- Body of Christ -- spoken to each of us in particular. We take it in -- through our ears, and through our mouths. We become part of a translation in which word becomes flesh. Our flesh. Together we accept the daunting reality of becoming the living body of Christ.

Like those daughters who saw themselves united as one force, we too are united in a force. Like cells in a body. And we all know what that force is. That force is love.


Many daughters make a force

And you! You can rise high upon all their shoulders.

Favor in another’s eyes is a mirage. Beauty is empty.

A Woman who bows only to God -- She is praised!

Give her the fruit of her hands.

And let her own works praise her in the gates!


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