Friday, January 17, 2014

Being Called Woman

"Behold thy Son" by Lester Nielsen

Several times in the New Testament Christ calls his mother, Mary, by the term "woman." He does it at the start of his ministry, when he performs his first miracle at the wedding in Canaan. When she expresses concern that there is no wine he responds,"Woman, what have I to do with thee? mine hour is not yet come." (John 2:4). Then at the end of his ministry, as he was dying on the cross and his hour has come,  he looked down at his mother and exclaimed, "Woman, behold thy son!" (John 19:26)

In modern English the use of the word "woman" sounds derogatory and coarse, or as one commentary I read said, "Like a motorcycle biker calling his girl." Yet, Jesus obviously uses this word with respect for his mother. In fact, he uses the word more as a title than a pet name or a term of endearment. He calls her "woman" much in the same way that we might call someone "lady." To us the word "lady" indicates a woman of nobility, influence and power which is what the word "woman" would have meant to Mary when Christ called her by it. Go back and re- read those scriptures in John again but this time substituting the word "lady" for the word "woman." Can you see and feel how that illuminates what Christ is saying to her?

There is so much meaning tied up in that one little word... woman. Yes, Mary is his mother. Yes, she is his friend. Yes, she is his follower... but mostly she is a Woman. It is not a coincidence that he addressed  her by this title at both the start of his ministry and at the end of his ministry. He recognized in her the nobility, power, influence, and glory that there is in being a woman- and even in his final moments on the cross--there was no greater title he could call her by.

"Christ King of the Jews" by Mark Mabry

Another interesting place where the word "woman" is used as a title is in Alma 19. The wife of King Lamoni approached Ammon with great faith, asking him if he could tell her if her husband was dead or not. When he examines Lamoni and finds that he is not dead, but "sleepeth in God" and will rise in the morning she believes him without question. Ammon is so impressed by her  faith that he states, "I say unto thee, woman, there has not been such great faith among all the people of the Nephites." (Alma 19:10) It is easier to see here, where Ammon is a servant addressing a queen, how the word "woman" is not a belittling term but rather one of honor and deference.

She is again called by the title of woman when, in Alma 19: 12,  Lamoni wakes up. It reads,  "...he [Lamoni] stretched forth his hand unto the woman, and said: Blessed be the name of God and blessed art thou. For as sure as thou livest, behold I have seen my Redeemer; and he shall come forth and be born of a woman,." 

"Lamoni" by James H. Fullmer
The parallel here to Mary being called "woman" and the wife of King Lamoni being called "woman" is powerful. Lamoni has just seen his Redeemer, God of the entire world. Yet, not only has he  seen God but he has learned that God himself will be born of a woman. From Lamoni's exclamation to his wife "blessed art thou" we  see that Lamoni is recognizing, perhaps for the first time in his life, the worth of women. He now knows that even God himself will have enough faith in a woman to come to earth as a baby, to have her create, nurture, and teach him. He is seeing his wife with new eyes, recognizing the exalted role that women play in God's plan. He truly is seeing and understanding for the first time that being a woman is not inferior, but one of extreme importance and even, as he tells his wife, is  "blessed".

Obviously this new perspective was a bit more than either one of them could handle. Alma 19:13 says that after these words both of them were sunk down with joy and were "overpowered by the Spirit." I guess sometimes new ideas that shake your worldview take some getting use to!

I have been pondering on these scriptures in Alma and in the New Testament for the last few weeks. The more I reflect on them, the more I begin to see that my identity as a daughter of God -- as a woman-- is far grander than I currently comprehend. There is something innately beautiful and powerful in the female body and female soul that garners respect. Something within us that is innately noble and makes men rise to their feet in honor.

This isn't to say that women should be put on a pedestal or that men are in some way inferior. I am simply saying that there is so much more to us than we realize. So much meaning, so much power tied up in that one little word.... woman.

There are perhaps few titles more grand.

10 comments:

  1. I have been pondering what it feels like to know that one of your children is suffering based on the studies that have recently been circulated demonstrating the sharing of fetal cells prior to birth. I have profound connections with my children, even down to knowing when they are far away and sick or threatened by feeling the same thing myself. It occurred to me today in rereading an essay on those studies that Mary must have felt the profoundness of the atonement, even if she did not feel its specifics, and his time on the cross must have been beyond our understanding for her. Gives new meaning to the prophecy that her heart would be pierced through. His was, and so hers was.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Bonnie, I would love to hear more about those studies! I think there is a lot of truth to what you said. One of the things that got me thinking about this was as I was working on my chapter for Mary in my book I was struck by how he says, woman behold thy son and the right after days to John behold thy mother. It is almost as if he is comparing their suffering, not that she shared the atonement but that like Simeon prophesied a sword did pierce her side just as it did Christ. So powerful!

      Delete
    2. And can I just mention I am in love with that painting of Mary I posted at the start! Really it is so incredible .

      Delete
  2. Really enjoyed this. Thank you for sharing.

    ReplyDelete
  3. Wonderful Book of Mormon thoughts. Very enlightening. Can I ask the scripture reference for this Simeon prophecy of Mary's heart/side being pierced?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Luke 2: 34-35. It says pierce "thy own soul also" not side, but it is similar enough to what happened to Christ that it is very interesting!

      Delete
  4. Are you able to tell us more about the book you are writing? I am intrigued to say the least! Not to mention excited.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I am writing a book on new testament women. It should be out around Christmas! You can read more about it here,

      http://womeninthescriptures.blogspot.com/2013/11/i-am-writing-book.html

      Delete
  5. Lovely as ever, it is so helpful to look at what the words actually mean-even if we think we already know. It opens our eyes and deepens our understanding and relationship with our Savior and our Heavenly Father.

    Also, the pictures you picked are just stunning. They really add a lot to your text.

    ReplyDelete
  6. You are a great writer. I love your doctrinal positions and faithful stance. Keep it up!

    ReplyDelete