You know that poem by Jenny Joseph?
“When I am an old woman I shall wear purple”?
Not to be dismissed
just because you may have seen it on a greeting card!
The title is actually: “Warning”!
And it’s about the possibility of claiming purple—
of practicing the freedom of what it means to wear purple …
before ever getting old!
Such an appropriate poem
for so many of the women of the Bible,
themselves full of sass, uninhibited and feisty—
so very well-practiced in making their own choices—
seizing their moments and options—
always asserting the inherent dignity of their personhood.
Women not conformed to expectation
but to the transformation of circumstance—
less concerned about what’s deemed appropriate—
and more with what’s right—what’s just—
or just what’s best for them and their loved ones.
Often women whose circumstances
we wouldn’t wish on our daughters—
wouldn’t wish on anyone’s daughters,
but oh, we pray our daughters claim
their bold initiative, their fierce creativity.
These are some of the women who wear purple
proudly and naturally. Do you know their stories?
Sarah, Genesis 18:1-15; who was beautiful and desirable,
confident and assured, enough to laugh
at the promise of God that seemed to her an impossibility,
and then when God fulfilled the promise,
honest and strong enough
for her laughter to become her praise.
Hagar, Genesis 16:1-16; 21:8-21;
whose tears both stand in strong juxtaposition
to Sarah’s laughter and prompted God’s blessing two nations.
Rebekah, Genesis 24,
who heard God favor the younger of the two sons in her womb
and, after they were born, went against tradition
to honor the divine word she had heard.
Tamar, Genesis 38, whose sense of what was right
and just prompted her to act in ways considered unacceptable
to force her own acceptance.
Shiprah and Puah, Exodus 1,
who confronted the deadly might of Pharaoh
with a strong, vibrant creativity
Miriam, Exodus 2:1-10, 6:16-20, 15:20-21;
Numbers 12, 26:59; Micah 6:4, who is best known perhaps
for saving Moses, but was prophet
and leader of the children of Israel in her own right.
the daughters of Zelophehad, Numbers 27:1-11,
who when the promised land was apportioned to the men,
came before Moses and the leaders to demand justice
for women and at whose initiative
God denounced aspects of patriarchy as unjust.
Rahab, Joshua 2,
who cared more about her family than her reputation.
Deborah and Yael, Judges 4-5,
prophetess, judge, war hero—
these are women who defy preconceptions of women.
Ruth and Naomi, Ruth (selections),
who exemplify friendship and loyalty
and risk and commitment
and the need for an occasional scheme.
Hannah, 1 Samuel 1:1-2:10,
whose honesty and persistence in prayer
impressed Eli, the priest, who himself petitioned God
to answer her prayer.
Abigail, 1 Samuel 25,
a model of wisdom and courage
who went against her husband,
confronted David in his power.
Rizpah, 2 Samuel 3:6-7; 21:8-14,
who explicitly taught David what it means
to respect the dead you loved
and implicitly raised questions
about the “collateral damage” of politics.
Esther and Vashti, Esther (selections),
who risked the ire of a king, in the case of Vashti,
to affirm her own dignity,
and in the case of Esther, to save her people.
Elizabeth, Luke 1:5-25,
who was a friend, a kinswoman, a support, an encouragement
Mary, Luke 1:26-56,
who in defiance of tradition and expectation,
risking family and security,
embraced the possibility of God and saw truly into who God is.
Mary and Martha, Luke 10:38-42,
who as two whom Jesus loved
were used in his teaching
to exemplify different ways of following Jesus.
woman (Mary?) who anointed Jesus,
Matthew 26:6-13; John 12:1-8, who honored Jesus
the best she knew how,
doing more than she knew she was doing.
the woman bent over, Luke 13:10-17,
who took the initiative and risked being seen and judged,
but was identified by Jesus as a daughter of Abraham.
the woman who touched Jesus’ cloak,
Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-47,
who showed initiative in her hope of healing and wholeness.
the Canaanite woman, Mark 7:24-30; Matthew 15:21-28,
who confronted Jesus in the fullness of his authority
and expected more love of him.
Dorcas, Acts 9:36-43,
who was known throughout Joppa as a disciple of Jesus
for her good works and charity.
Lydia, Acts 16:11-15,
a successful business woman whose conversations
with early Christian missionaries resulted in her founding,
hosting and leading an early house church.
Phoebe, Romans 16:1-3,
who’s identified by Paul as a deacon or a minister
(at least that’s the way the word is translated
every other time it’s used in Scripture
though in many translations, Phoebe is identified as a servant!).
Priscilla, Acts 18:2-3, 18-19, 26;
Romans 16:3-4; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19,
part of a power missionary couple of the early church,
dear friends of Paul’s, personifying a mutuality in ministry
that empowered and encouraged early Christians.
They are also identified as some of the earliest teachers of theology.
Sophia, Proverbs 8,
who personified wisdom
and gave us some of our most powerful imagery of Jesus.
Read (reread) their stories
and join an unabashed love song celebrating them—
even as we pray that the stories of women of faith
will always transcend attempts to impose on them
the expectations of a time, a tradition, or a minority claiming authority.
And maybe you might consider,
regardless of your age or gender,