Women in Ministry Series: Her Ways Wander

I have owned my copy of The Girl Got Up: A Cruciform Memoir for less than a week, and it is already beat up. I have highlighted passages and dog-eared pages and, because I couldn't bear to put it down, spilled a bit of my lunch on it. Rachel M. Srubas is a fierce and fearless writer and a woman of exceedingly hard-earned wisdom. When an opening in the Women in Ministry Series came up this week, I already knew which passage I yearned to share here. Shortly after Rachel and her publisher graciously grant us permission to share this excerpt from the chapter "Her Ways Wander", I learned of Sarah Bessey's International Women's Day Synchroblog. Rachel not only writes of a rather unexpected "spiritual midwife" in the book of Proverbs; Rachel is herself a spiritual midwife for me, and no doubt to many who are moved by her astonishing gifts.

Rachel has provided one copy of 
The Girl Got Up: A Cruciform Memoir to give away; enter by Sunday at 8:00pm by leaving a comment on this post. The book is available for purchase at Amazon and at the Liturgical Press website. Readers may receive a 30% discount at Liturgical Press with the code GIRL30.   

Excerpt, Chapter 3, “Her Ways Wander” 

This book is sacrificial in the sense that I am giving up any pretense that I came to faith by way of wisdom parentally imparted in affection and good health. Why would such a pretense even occur to me to promote? I am a church lady and a professional one at that. I’m a pastor and a preacher in a mainline Protestant tradition, where middle class expectations of normalcy and propriety continue to hold sway. Clergy are still preferably male, cradle Christian, heterosexual and married with children whom their wives are raising to be good boys and girls who love Jesus, just as mom and dad were raised. I have the heterosexuality and marriage covered. But as a childless female adult convert to Christianity with mystical leanings and several progressive theological ideas, I transgress some boundaries of normalcy, departing too far from it for some churchgoers’ comfort. They occasionally leave the church I serve for congregations whose pastors’ chromosomal makeup and orthodoxy reassure. I can’t compete with those guys and I don’t try to. I do something else clergy are expected not to do: I write and publish stories about myself in which sex, drugs and family secrets figure. It’s unseemly. I hereby sacrifice any image of seemliness I might once have wished to project.

The Book of Proverbs talks in if-then terms about rewards, chiefly wisdom, that we reap through our best efforts. It is not a book big on grace, the undeserved and unearned gifts of God that befall the bad and good girl, the listless and the diligent alike. A compendium of religious logic, Proverbs portrays the Lord as doling out consequences in response to human choices. This suggests that in the final analysis, it is I, not God, who am responsible for wising me up: If you indeed cry out for insight, and raise your voice for understanding; if you seek it like silver, and search for it as for hidden treasures—then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God (Proverbs 2:3-5).

In contrast to Proverbs’ bad girl (the streetwalking seductress who leads impressionable young men to their ruin), Wisdom, personified as a virtuous female, lifts her voice in the public square. She announces the doom and diagnosis of the foolish: Those who miss me injure themselves; all who hate me love death (8:36-9:1). Wisdom makes this declaration with no mercy for those who miss her. We get what we deserve according to the moral code of Proverbs. To extrapolate accordingly, I deservedly suffered as a foolish young woman for deploying all the charms I could to attain love or its facsimile.

Something’s wrong with this justice system. Cherry picking scripture doesn’t fix it. Biblical interpreters who locate sacred Sophia (the Greek name for Wisdom) in Proverbs and uphold her as a paragon of divine female empowerment tend to overlook a lot: Wisdom is merciless toward the foolish; Wisdom’s renown is problematically contrasted with the depravity of Proverbs’ despised “loose woman”; men composed the Book of Proverbs for men in a conceptual scheme that treated women as stereotyped literary devices, not as human beings with our own moral agency and religious interests.

For a woman to identify with biblical Wisdom and see in herself a manifestation of scriptural Sophia is implicitly to reject female experience that does not conform to the sexual and moral standards of Near Eastern patriarchy in antiquity. Such selective use of scripture keeps the good stuff and ignores the ugly and oppressive stuff. I reject Sophia spirituality that disowns the aspects of female life Proverbs deems wicked. I prefer to reclaim Proverb’s wicked woman, to announce that she is in me and that in Christ, I am no longer ashamed of myself, even for damaging choices I once made that would scandalize the instructive father-narrator of Proverbs. His book, by no means irredeemable, is a tool. Its limitations don’t limit my search for holy wisdom but encourage it, if mainly by way of irritation.

(Copyright 2013 by The Order of Saint Benedict. Published by Liturgical Press, Collegeville, Minnesota. Used with permission.)

About This Week's Contributor
Rachel M. Srubas is the author of City of Prayer: Forty Days with Desert Christians (Liturgical Press, 2008) and Oblation: Meditations on St. Benedict's Rule (Paraclete Press, 2006). She is an oblate of the Order of St. Benedict, a spiritual director, and a Presbyterian minister living in Tucson, Arizona. Inquiries? rachel.srubas@facebook.com

About the Women in Ministry Series 
The Women in Ministry Series is a collection of guest posts that aims to provide an alternative to the women in ministry debates by telling the stories of women in ministry and encourage women to explore their God-given callings.

Contributions Welcome: Contact Katherine at katherinepershey[at]gmail.com to pitch your post idea in 2-4 sentences. You can stay updated on the latest post each week by signing up for the weekly e-mail list.

Comment Policy: Everyone is welcome to leave a comment. However, this series takes for granted that women are called by God into every facet of ministry. This is not the place to debate that point and such comments will be removed. Women have been told “no” in far too many places. This is one place that is committed to saying “yes.”

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