We started at the beginning, with Eve. As the music of Pachelbel’s Canon quietly underscored the reading of the creation story from the Bible’s first chapter, we both reveled and rested in the knowledge that we are all—women and men—created in God’s image. Then I sent 24 retreatants prayerfully off toward sleep that Friday night.
The mood changed abruptly on Saturday morning. The corruptions of God’s good intentions for humanity come home at the first venture beyond Genesis 1. We stepped into the heart-wrenching story of Sarah and Hagar, rivals trapped by a patriarchal system that named them property and valued their worth by their capacity to bear sons. We wandered amid the desolation of Ruth and Naomi, widows who survived first by their devotion to one another and then by working the system to secure a husband for Ruth.
We mourned with Bathsheba over the lust of a king who demanded her and over the punishing death of her son. We tried to imagine her fear, her grief, her powerlessness—all absent from the story that has gone down in history as "David’s great sin."
Then we waded into the most difficult waters. We read the biblical stories of the rape of Tamar and the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter, the dismemberment of the Levite’s concubine and the seizing of the young Midianite women as spoils of war. Tears were shed, and intimate stories shared of violation and fear from our own lives. And we knew that these women could offer strength.
ON SATURDAY AFTERNOON we turned a corner toward hope. We heard the wondrous story of Puah and Shiphrah, unknown to most of the retreatants until that moment. Strong, clever, and courageous, these Hebrew midwives refused to kill the male babies against the orders of the pharaoh.