4 June 2020
Good morning everyone. This is a new way of launching a book, but it is also appropriate to try something new, for in this book Mary Burke is doing something new.
This is not just another study of women in the New Testament offered by a biblical scholar. No. Mary is inviting us into an ancient Jewish method of biblical thinking and storytelling called Midrash. In the Christian tradition, we have tended to favour a critical exegetical style of writing.
Within Judaism, Midrash is a highly valued approach, whereby it is not just the black marks on the pages which are analysed, but also the white spaces in between. And in those white in-between spaces, there is room for people to find their own voice and use their imagination to enter into the story
A Jewish woman, Judith Plascow, describes Midrash like this “
Midrash expands and burrows, invents the forgotten, and prods the memory. It takes from history, and asks for more. It gives us the inner life history cannot follow.
This is from her book Standing Again at Sinai. In another place, she speaks of the “contradictions between the holes in the text and many women’s felt experience”.
Mary has burrowed into the holes, the white spaces, in the text and in her own life, and had the courage to share with us.
I read this book as one woman’s meditative reflection on the text. Clearly, Mary has background in the historical social circumstances of the original writing, for she is able to bring that world to life. I consider this book important not only for what it is, but also for what that to which might give birth. This book, I hope, will encourage others, women, men, young people, to take the time to do what Mary has done. To ponder the text, and find their own story. To use their own imaginations and voices to discover that their own hopes, dreams, pains, losses, have a place in the biblical writing, and can bring insights, making the scriptures a living word for everyone.
I have some favorites in this book – The Samaritan woman, and the discussion between Peter and Andrew when they come back and find Jesus talking with a Samaritan, and, worse, a woman.
Such horror. Their dialogue morphs into one between a bishop and a woman theologian on the issue of inclusive language. Don’t women know their place!
The tears of Rachel weeping for her children. I read this the day of a report of a bomb blast in Afghanistan at a maternity hospital. Women and babies are now collateral damage. Rachel continues to weep.
Then the daughter of Jairus is given voice – in a traditional letter – and then in a tweet to her Grandmother – Hi gran. Better now. Growing up hard. Talk soon. Love XXX
If I may share my own Midrash on Jairus’ daughter, in which I give voice to Jesus April 1982 …
And you would bury her
Give her up for dead.
Do you not see a heart still beats
Beneath your cold white pall?
There is strength there yet
And life and laughter.
Too soon you come with cries and lamentations.
The day is just beginning
And I would walk the dawn with you.
Earth too has a chance to speak, and her creatures like the frog, and her fruits such as oil.
And through it all is Sophia, divine Wisdom, an elusive, dynamic, and powerful presence. Present in the cosmos to which she gave birth, present in the Scriptures and art of many cultures, present too in the prayerful ponderings of Mary Burke. Sophia is also present in the resonance of her words in us.
Thank you, Mary, for this gift to us. It will be for us a book of life.
I ask you to take a glass, and pour some real wine, not virtual, and raise it with me as I now offer a toast and launch My Cry is to All that Live by Mary Burke.