‘A Year of Biblical Womanhood’ was another book out of the borrowed pile, and another non-fiction one. After one of many chats about being both a woman and a Christian, a friend of mine suggested reading Rachel Held Evans for a perspective on the issue, so (eventually) off I went.
I enjoyed this book so much.The premise was fascinating – one woman living out the female-specific commands in the bible as literally as possible for a year. The writing was engaging and her actual experiences were at turns profound and hilarious.
I appreciated Rachel’s methodology. Firstly, rather than tackling all commandments all at once for 365 days, she broke them down into twelve categories and lived them out month at a time: this sounded wise not just for her sanity, but also for helping me to process it all.
Secondly, she included many interviews and reflections from women who think quite differently to her: I didn’t personally agree with all of her interpretation as she reflected on ‘biblical womanhood’ – nor those of everyone she interviewed – but I liked the way these different voices made room for me to both disagree with her and stay engaged in her story.
Thirdly, between chapters she included twelve short devotions on women in the bible, which was a nice counterpoint to the laws and exhortations she was living out. I’m very glad she included these reflections, so we could hear the stories of women in the bible among the story of Rachel’s year.
The highest point was her month of living out Proverbs 31, celebrating ‘women of valour’. I think I will come back to that idea again and again. It is a marvelous thing to celebrate the valour of other women.
The another high point for me was this succinct explanation of the care and thoughtfulness we need to put into interpreting the bible:
For those of us who count the Bible as sacred, interpretation is not a matter of whether to pick and choose but how to pick and choose. We are all selective. We all wrestle with how to interpret and apply the bible to our lives. We all go to the text looking for something and we all have the tendency to find it. So the question we have to ask ourselves is this: Are we reading with the prejudices of judgement and power, self-interest and greed?
If you are looking for Bible verses with which to support slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses to abolish slavery, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to oppress women, you will find them. If you are looking for verses with which to liberate and honor women, you will find them…
…This is why there are times when the most instructive question to bring to the text is not, what does the text say? but what am I looking for?
Yes! I think I fist-pumped when I read this. We are always – subconsciously or intentionally – wrestling with interpretation as we read the bible. We should always be pausing to ask ‘what am I looking for’?
And at this point I really wish Rachel had gone on to talk about coming to the bible first and foremost looking to know Jesus, and his sacrificial, redemptive, far-reaching, all powerful love. We should be concerned most of all about Jesus and his love for us, before we come with any other agendas about our gender, or whatever else we are hung up on. I am convinced that focusing on him, above our own personal agendas, goes some way to helping us avoid self-interested interpretations of the text.
Sadly Rachel didn’t quite land there. But even if she didn’t say it, this is the message I have taken away from her book: the attitude we bring to interpreting the bible absolutely shapes the way we read it, and so the best attitude I can have is one that is centred more on Jesus than on myself. I know in reality that reading the bible is not as simple as that, but examining my attitude like this is definitely a start!