In the past two years, I began a project which I call biblical poetry. I had been doing my own translations of biblical verse based on the hieroglyphic meanings of Hebrew words. Ancient Hebrew or Semitic Early writing grew out of the hieroglyphs of Egypt. Since hieroglyphs are pictures, we are able to use the rebuses or picture puzzles to glean the original or at least older meanings of words. I have begun to see these a route to interpreting meanings from before the dawn of patriarchy. This door to understanding appeals to my religious/spiritual/feminist sensibilities. At first, I attempted to stay somewhat true to the well-known meanings as they have come down through the ages. When I began my poetry project, I broke out of that structure to reveal the more mystical/shamanic/pagan meanings that I find beneath the words. At the bottom of this post, I have links to a few of my past biblical poetry posts.
The bible is quite large, so this is an encompassing project with lots of material to explore. This month, I wanted to take a look at how the concept of beauty is treated in the bible. The word for beauty is yaphah. Yaphah can also mean miracle and wonder as well as beauty. Let’s stop for a minute to unpack that. When we think of the word beauty in our culture, the thought is generally about how someone looks (unusually a female someone). But just the Hebrew word alone broadens the meaning. If beauty is someone or something that is wondrous and has miraculous qualities than it goes well beyond cultural standards of how someone looks. If you love someone, they would be beautiful to you because they would be wondrous. Biblical usages and translations tend to focus on beauty, mostly women, sometimes cows (yep cows) and a few handsome men in the mix. But I found that yaphah doesn’t have to be a vision that relies on one’s eyes.
I knelt beside a sprinkling
of deer fur
dotted with delicate snowflakes.
Don’t take a picture of that,
my husband said,
people will think it is gross.
I don’t find it gross.
I find it curious.
I find it surprising.
I find a story.
Sometimes I feel like
I have to battle a horde
of demonic trolls
before I can take care of myself,
I tell him,
and yet somehow,
I find my life is still a poem,
in the quietude,
in the battling,
on my knees in brown gravel
to better see this spray of fur
and how the frost
glows like white stars.
I sit on a stone in the pines and let the winds come, sweeping my hair back and lifting my lamentations from my forehead, where they have settled like a black cloud.
The parshah for this week is Lech Lecha (Genesis 12:1-17:27). I’ve actually written about Lech Lecha on this forum before, concentrating on the parental aspects of the divine. See here. However, this time I want to look at the Torah portion from a different angle: what happens to the women?
While I’m concentrating on this theme, the parshah is rich with other material on which one could comment. For example, the Holy One asks Abram to leave his home and all he’s known to travel through and eventually live in a foreign land. There seems to be much fighting and strife between various rulers in the area through which they travel. Abram too goes to war when Lot is kidnapped. The first covenant between G-d and humanity takes place. The deity promises many blessings (from land and material prosperity to innumerous descendants) for Abram and Sarai if they obey the terms of the covenant. We also learn of the markers of the covenant: name changes and circumcision. Continue reading “The Women of Lech Lecha by Ivy Helman.”
I don’t know if I could be a deep-sea welder. I don’t know what the risks of lethal electrocution, broken limbs, or the bends would be. I suspect it can be a dangerous occupation, like operating heavy equipment on good old dry land or fishing for crab or even collecting garbage from the neighbors’ driveways. So too is this the case with window washing, paving, disposing of medical waste, brick making, driving a giant tanker truck, and more. There are aspects of the world I know I take for granted, but the moment I stop to consider what those aspects might be, I am humbled and reminded of the privilege it is to philosophize and ponder the functions of religion in the shaping and making of society.
I have a newfound, barely there insight, both on my privilege and my need to be wiser, derived from the use of (hold your breath) a yardstick. In what is either a desperate gambit for meaning or the fulfillment of a dream long deferred, I returned to school to take some art classes this fall. I have my own homework, assignments, a syllabus, and, gasp, grades to worry about for the first time since 2003. As I drove in the dark and rain for almost an hour this morning at 6:00 am, to a parking lot that sits a solid half hour away from the bus I need to take, which deposits me a fifteen minute walk from the building where I study, in order to make a 7:45 am start time, I wondered briefly what I was doing and why. But, as soon as I took out my yardstick to measure and represent objects in perspective, I remembered why I undertook such an errand.Continue reading “Gaining Perspective by Natalie Weaver”
According to the Great Indian Cultural Lexicon, being light-skinned or “fair” translates to being “lovely.” A look at commercials that promise a make-over, courtesy of Fair and Lovely skin lightening cream will attest to this.  The definition, of course, applies to women, for that is where a woman’s identity begins and ends – within the realm of physical appearances. When the product first came out some three decades or so ago, it was mostly about being able to draw the attention of a (very often ordinary-looking) guy; the fairness/ beauty rule does not apply to men. These days, things have “progressed”; the attention has shifted from the need to getting hitched to finding success in the workplace, as these messages scream out:
The last one is especially cringe-worthy. The lengthy commercial, meant to be a public service message of sorts, targets women in villages and smaller towns, and goes into great detail about issues of women’s empowerment, about how they ought to think of a career now that they are done with college rather than go the usual marriage route. One of the young ladies, Manju, aspires to be a Collector, a high-ranking government official, a post usually limited to males. She works hard, and she also gets Fair and Lovely to work hard, as she happily lets us know. She eventually achieves her dream, all thanks to Fair and Lovely, of course. You decide what the audience is to get from this. Continue reading “Fair and (Therefore) Lovely by Vibha Shetiya”
Change takes time. If society takes years to change, religious institutions seem to take decades, maybe centuries. That ubiquitous intersection of religion and feminism seems neck high in mud and muck. Some religious institutions claim divine inspiration for keeping their chins down, jaws clenched and footings strongly moored in damaging sexist ideologies. This is wrong. But I’m tired. I feel as if the feminist movement is draining too much out of me for not enough change.
Perhaps an example will clarify. This Tuesday I taught the first session of a six-week long summer course entitled, “Theology through Women’s Eyes.” An odd title that could mean many things, right? It does not even imply a feminist approach to religion and the college’s course description did not either. I learned from my department’s chair that the last professor to have taught the class shied away from the course having any specific reference to feminism as she was a practicing Catholic theologian and she worried about the effects of that association for her professional career at Catholic universities.
Are you kidding? We are stuck there? Still? I personally know a great number of Catholics in academia and outside of it who wear their feminism proudly like Margaret Farley, Lisa Sowle Cahill, and Rosemary Radford Ruether to name just a few. Obviously, not everyone does. Yet, when religious institutions threaten to and actually excommunicate those who dissent from their teachings, I can see genuine issues with being an “out,” so to speak, feminist. At the same time, I’ve always thought that the minute someone censures me I’m finally doing something right. I’m being heard by my intended audience. Thank G-d, right? Those are the people who need to listen anyway. That is my measure of success. Continue reading “Exhaustion and Inspiration by Ivy Helman”
“I…liked how we were neither dogmatic in our judgments (i.e., no one played the role of feminist fashion police), nor laissez-faire in thinking that ‘anything goes’—after all, feminists were the ones who had popularized the slogan the ‘personal is political.'”
At the most recent Society of Christian Ethics annual meeting, I got into an impromptu late night discussion with several women friends about why some of us participate in “beauty culture” and how we feel as feminist Christian ethicists and moral theologians about our decisions. Each of us shared why we have chosen to wear make-up (or not), keep up with fashion (or not), dye our hair grey to mask the signs of aging (or not), or put in the effort to maintain a certain physique (or not). We also addressed what role our own mothers and larger communities have played in our decision-making processes.