One of my least favorite things about the Bible are stories where women are neglected, abused, raped, and chopped into twelve pieces. Worse than the stories themselves is the way in which God is silent about these stories. When Abraham sacrificed his son, God saved the day by providing a ram. When Jephthah sacrificed his daughter…she died.
One of my favorite things about the Bible is that it is full of people screaming at God, desperate to know why things happen and where we can find meaning in the midst of misery. Although I still don’t understand why these stories are in the Bible, or why God allows so much abuse to continue today, I know that one way I can find meaning in all of this is to remember their stories and tell them again to a world that so often doesn’t want to hear.
“Those who seek to glorify biblical womanhood have forgotten the dark stories. They have forgotten the concubine of Bethlehem, the raped princess of David’s house, the daughter of Jephthah, and the countless unnamed women who lived and died between the lines of Scripture exploited, neglected, ravaged, and crushed at the hand of patriarchy are as much a part of our shared narrative as Deborah, Esther, Rebekah, and Ruth. We may not have a ceremony through which to grieve them, but it is our responsibility as women of faith to guard the dark stories for our own daughters, and when they are old enough, to hold their faces and make them promise to remember.”
-Rachel Held Evans’ A Year of Biblical Womanhood, pg 66
After reading Rachel Held Evans’ book, a friend and I decided that we wanted to recreate a ceremony she describes, a ceremony meant to lament the fates of women in the Bible and in present times so that their stories will not be forgotten. It was an incredibly moving experience, and I encourage anyone interested to consider trying it yourself.
Based largely on the suggestions made by Evans, this is the layout of our ceremony:
- Read the poem “Texts of Terror” by Nicola Slee
Should we remember Hagar, Tamar, Jephthah’s daughter, and Lot’s?
Should we tell of their wretched lives to our daughters?
Should we speak on our lips the tales of torture, misery, abuse, and violence?
Would we do better to consign them to silence?
We will listen, however painful the hearing,
for still there are women the world over
being sold into slavery
treated as worthless
treated as refuse.
Until there is not one last woman remaining
who is a victim of violence.
We will listen and we will remember.
we will rehearse the stories and we will renounce them.
we will weep and we will work for the coming of the time
when not one baby will be abandoned because of her gender
not one girl will be used against her will for another’s pleasure
not one young woman will be denied the chance of an education
not one mother will be forced to abandon her child
not one woman will have to sell her body
not one crone will be cast off by her people to die alone.
Listen then, in sorrow.
Listen in anger, Listen to the texts of terror.
And let us commit ourselves to working for a world
in which such deeds may never happen again…
- Read the story of Jephthah’s Daughter (Judges 11)
- Light a candle: “We remember Jephthah’s daughter.”
- Read the story of the Unnamed Concubine (Judges 19)
- Light a candle: “We remember the unnamed concubine.”
- Read the story of Hagar (Genesis 21)
- Light a candle: “We remember Hagar.”
- Read the story of Tamar (2 Samuel 13)
- Light a candle: “We remember Hagar.”
- Read “A Litany of Lament” from A Prayer Book for Australia
- Read “A Litany for the End of Violence Against Women and Girls” from A Prayer Book for Australia
- Light candles for any other women who you want to remember
We ended our ceremony with discussion. I felt drained by the horror of the stories we’d read, but also furious. The male privilege throughout was infuriating – men mourning the death of the son but not the rape of their daughter – men throwing their concubine to a crowd to be repeatedly raped and then using pieces of her body as a spiritual warning – men taking God’s will into their own hands and then discarding a woman when it is clear she is no longer necessary – it is MADDENING.
But I remember their stories. And I let this despair and outrage fuel my work with HD, reaching out to women who have been sexually exploited and abused. Their stories are also too often forgotten. Their actions are explained away, their experiences become statistics, and laws never change. But each of us can make a difference, beginning today, by giving some of your time to remember the dark stories of women who came before us.
“From this comes the Israelite tradition that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah” (Judges 11:39-40).