Thursday, February 21, 2013

Women of Valor

Recently I've been moved by ways that some women who are very dear to me have been invited to use their voices to enrich the church and to honor God.

One of my friends led singing for the first time in her life a couple weeks ago. God has given her a beautiful voice and a heart for the church, and in this act of leading the gathered congregation in worship, these two gifts got to work together. Not segregated to using her voice outside the church in musical theatre and using her ministry heart behind the scenes in a church . . . but to share her voice with us--the church--in leading hymns and songs of worship.

Another friend was asked to read a Scripture and lead a prayer in front of a different church-like gathering. Only within the last month or two have women been permitted to serve in these ways in that particular context! Many of us are guilty of treating public prayer almost flippantly, wandering up to a podium to spit out a laundry list of requests for health and safety and the like, with little to no forethought about what we'll say to God on behalf of the congregation. This friend spent days thinking about what to pray in that moment, feeling the weight of the responsibility to approach God on behalf of a crowd of people, and considering the impact her words might have on people--both because it was a prayer and because it was a prayer being spoken by a woman. It was a joy to witness the intentionality with which she approached this opportunity.

Because I think her prayer was so beautiful and wonderful, I'd like to share it with you, along with the Scripture she read before the prayer:
From Psalm 36:
But your loyal love, LORD, extends to the skies;
your faithfulness reaches the clouds.
Your righteousness is like the strongest mountains;
your justice is like the deepest sea.
LORD, you save both humans and animals.
Your faithful love is priceless, God!
Humanity finds refuge in the shadow of your wings.
They feast on the bounty of your house;
you let them drink from your river of pure joy.
Within you is the spring of life.
In your light, we see light. 
God our father, God our mother, today we drink from your river of pure joy.
You, who saves us.
You, the loyal, the faithful, the righteous, the just.
Fill us with the joy and peace of your refuge.
Pour into us the spring of life so that, just as people look at my daughter and see my face, people will look at us and see your face.
Thank you, God, for your mercy. Thank you, God, for your sacrifice. Thank you, God, for Jesus.
Several hours before actually leading this prayer, she circulated what she'd written to a handful of friends and colleagues, asking for our feedback. Two of the women (myself included) suggested she take out the "God our mother" phrase, for fear that it would be too shocking to some and would distract them from the rest of the prayer. (Though both of us are big believers that God is both Mother and Father.) Two of the men, though, encouraged her to keep that phrase in the prayer and leave it up to the congregation to decide for themselves how to react to it. I'm so used to language and efforts like this being suppressed, that it was so unbelievably refreshing to see these two people defend this depiction of God so adamantly.

Somewhere in the midst of my friends leading in these amazing ways, I came across this article on When We Need Women behind the Pulpits on my Facebook mini-feed. I appreciated and identified with many things in the post, and here are some favorite tidbits:
  • Put a woman behind the pulpit so I can hear the words of God in a new voice.
  • Put a woman behind the pulpit so I can hear what it’s like for Mama Mary to watch her Son bleed.
  • Put a woman behind the pulpit so I can hear He is risen! in the tone it was first shouted.
  • Put a woman behind the pulpit so I can see that the kingdom of God is bigger than my expectations.
  • Put a woman behind the pulpit so I can know that this long line of Faith handed-down came from Mothers and Fathers.
While reading these exhortations, I couldn't help but think about these two friends of mine--and the many female friends I have who are exceptionally gifted in public ministry. I couldn't help but think of the ways they intone God differently than my male friends (not necessarily better, just different; I'm not hatin' on the guys here!). I couldn't help but think about the ways that they, as mothers who cherish their children, provide glimpses of the way God mothers me.

I'm glad to see them at the front of a church, leading the congregation in song and prayer. I appreciate getting to hear a voice like mine from the pulpit. I'm grateful for the opportunity to glimpse in each them another little piece of God.