Monday 8 March 2021

International Women's Day: Monday 8th March 2021

In her essay, A Room of One’s Own, Virginia Woolf wrote of how she, “would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman.” This quote, has been rephrased over time as, ‘Throughout most of history, Anonymous was a woman.’ For her voice to be heard, a woman had to disown it as her own. 

In my, ‘She Speaks: An Introduction to Preaching’ workshop, I spend some time thinking about the ways in which women’s voices have been silenced. My particular focus is the fact that our pulpits for hundreds and hundreds of years have been devoid of a woman’s voice and of how this has meant that our view of God, has been shaped by male experience rather than by both male and female. As the Lord God spoke in Genesis 2, “It is not good for the man to be alone.” And it has not been good.

My workshop, in its entirety, is an act of encouragement and solidarity, for a woman to find her God given voice and raise it. To believe that the words within her, are God-formed to speak. The world needs to hear her voice. 

I was drawn this morning, on International Women’s Day, to read Proverbs 8 and 9 where it speaks of Woman Wisdom:

Does not wisdom call out?
Does not understanding raise her voice?
At the higher point along the way,
Where the paths meet, she takes her stand:
Beside the gate leading into the city,
At the entrance, she cries aloud:
“To you, O people, I call out,
I raise my voice to all humanity”

In her book, Preaching Women, Liz Shercliff writes of how there are forty-nine named women in the Bible, who speak, just over 1% of the total number of words. Most of their words are never heard. We don’t read them aloud in churches and many of their stories have been forgotten. And yet their stories and their words give us invaluable insight into God and the fullness of the story he invites us all into. When we take time to read them carefully, we wonder how we could ever have left them out. How could such wisdom and life, been silenced and unrecognised?

 How have you heard the story of Eve? What a weight she has carried on her shoulders. And what of Sarah? Have you read her story closely? How the males in her life passed her, one to the other? And Vashti, labelled a disobedient wife, a bad example, rather than an independent, courageous woman who took a stand in a world that trafficked women for a men’s pleasure and entertainment. And what of Huldah? Abigail? And what about Mary the mother of Jesus? Have you noted her strength and prophetic insight? How have you named Mary Magdalene? Prostitute? And Martha and Mary? How have you boxed them in? Domestic and spiritual? Have you given them names they should never have been forced to carry?   And, what of the Samaritan Woman? Unnamed. And yet, how we have named her: wanton, woman of disrepute, loose. We have not taken the time to look at her story closely and discovered that she has carried names that are not hers to own. The Eastern Orthodox tradition consider her a saint and the have named her ‘Photine’, which means ‘luminous one.’ They have seen her. The first evangelist; transformed by Jesus, so much so, that her entire town notices the difference in her immediately. They see her head held high, where previously it had been held in shame. She was the first to be told that Jesus was the Messiah; the second person to be trusted with this information, was also a woman, Martha. And what of Woman Wisdom, have we recognised God in her? Have we heard her story told? I am inclined to answer this question with an assertive , “no’, because I think if we had, things would be very different to what they are.

It is a truth that I find sorrowful to acknowledge, that the words of Virginia Woolf still echo in the twenty-first century. In her book, “Anonymous is a Woman’, Dr Nina Ansary, profiles the lives of 50 women innovators whose stories have been forgotten and yet who contributed, in ground-breaking ways to the global community. 

In an incredible artwork that involves the repetitive production of hand-knitted panels bearing the text ‘Anonymous was a woman’, artist Kate Just, writes of how she has used the making of it “…as a way to meditate upon the immeasurable contributions that woman have made to culture and society, and to mourn the losses sustained by the erasure or exclusion of these gifts from the canon of art history.”

International Women’s Day, sits in Women’s History month and I have decided to take the invitation that this month offers and share some of the stories that I know, of women, past and present through my social media accounts and in my conversations. Some forgotten, some known and some unknown. In honour of this month, I  would also like to offer a free place on my next preaching workshop that will take place in May. If anyone reading this, has felt the call to raise her voice, please get in touch and I will enter every name into a small draw that I will do on the 31st March. 

And finally, for the last 7 months or so, I have been giving away a book a month that I have found impactful and inspiring. This month’s book is Virginia Woolf’s essay, ‘A Room of One’s Own’. If you would like the copy that I have to give away, again, please just let me know your name and maybe, you could tell me a story of a woman whose words have inspired you? 

(The photo at the top of this post is of artist Kate Just and her work 'Anonymous was a woman'. )




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