Spirited Women


Combining biblical scholarship, midrash, and an imaginative, fictional approach, Mary Ellen Ashcroft takes a new look at seven biblical women: Mary Magdalene, Maria, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Joanna, The Samaritan Woman, and Martha.

In this book Ashcroft views these women in light of Christ's resurrection. What might they have thought, felt, and done, once they knew that Jesus had been raised? How did they influence-even help build-the early ...

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Spirited Women: Encountering the First Women Believers

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Combining biblical scholarship, midrash, and an imaginative, fictional approach, Mary Ellen Ashcroft takes a new look at seven biblical women: Mary Magdalene, Maria, Mary the Mother of Jesus, Joanna, The Samaritan Woman, and Martha.

In this book Ashcroft views these women in light of Christ's resurrection. What might they have thought, felt, and done, once they knew that Jesus had been raised? How did they influence-even help build-the early Christian movement?

Ashcroft maintains that these women have become "lost" in history; that their true identities have been obscured. By seeing them afresh, we can gain insights for our own discipleship. Ashcroft says, "Mentors and foremothers of the faith, have you been lost, or have we? You have sat, watching these many years, waiting to welcome us. Perhaps it is in finding you that we find our place in the faith."

Spirited Women includes spiritual exercises for meditation, reflection, prayer, and discussion.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780806640273
  • Publisher: Augsburg Fortress, Publishers
  • Publication date: 9/1/2000
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 5.50 (w) x 8.50 (h) x 0.27 (d)

Read an Excerpt

From the Preface (pre-publication version):
Spirited Women is an invitation: an invitation to travel across time and space, an invitation to discover lost relatives in the faith.

Spirited Women can be read in a number of ways. It tells the story of the women who were present in the gospels-last at the cross and first at the tomb-during the earliest years of the church. Many people who read The Magdalene Gospel asked me, "Well, then what? What happened to them after the Good Friday, Holy Saturday experience? Why do they seem to disappear?" Spirited Women is my way of answering that question based on research, intense biblical study, and imagination.

Spirited Women can also be read as a story about those early years about which folk who've gone to church and read their Bibles for years often know little. I've set the story at a key moment in the life of the earliest church, when the Hellenistic believers are scattered after the death of Stephen-when they start to take the story on the road. Through these women's stories-individual and collective-I try to flesh out some of the challenges of those early days when many issues were being hammered out-pivotal areas like how much of Judaism to keep or throw out, how flexible to be in relation to local cultures, what being a believer in Jesus really meant. These were extraordinary times in the life of the church.

Others will want to read Spirited Women as a launching pad to deeper research into women's lives in the first century Graeco-Roman world and especially in the very early church. There is no shortage of material available on these topics, but much of it is scattered throughout learned texts, oftenin prose that is more scholarly than readable. To read Spirited Women in this way would involve not only reading the material within the chapters, but also consulting the notes for further reading at the back of the book.

I also believe in the power of the scriptures to touch our lives today. To facilitate this, I have included chapter-by-chapter questions for individual readers who wish to allow their lives to interact with the lives of these, our spiritual fore-mothers. At this level, it is my hope that Spirited Women might provide an encounter with these women, allowing them to encourage and challenge us as contemporary women.

The women in Spirited Women (and in The Magdalene Gospel) met Jesus as individuals but also met Christ in each other and in the gathered community. Reflecting that, I have provided questions for group study and discussion, coming out of the individual questions, so that Spirited Women could provide a gathering point for a number of study sessions. I hope that many different kinds of women might be drawn into studying and discussing Spirited Women-those who are fully involved in the faith, but who want to learn more about their foremothers; those who have felt disenfranchised by the church and would like to engage in some honest discussion about Jesus and his relationship with women and the way the church has treated women. I would hope that even those who are not at all sure about Jesus or the church might find Spirited Women to be a starting place. A number of folk who work with Graduate Christian Fellowship have told me that they wanted to start a group for graduate students at their universities to study a gospel, but that people felt so distanced from scripture that they couldn't get them to join, and so they used The Magdalene Gospel which offered a certain fictional distance. I hope that Spirited Women will function in the same way.

Finally, in a book like Spirited Women, the individual women's stories can function on their own. Many have used the stories from The Magdalene Gospel as parts of sermons, talks, retreats. I would like Spirited Women to similarly help to bring from oblivion these voices unheard for too long.

I am grateful to many people for encouragement in writing Spirited Women, especially some spirited women who helped me work on this material in retreats and dramatic forms-Judy LeWin, Bette Schelper, Letha Wilson Barnard, Persis Elkins, Barb Olson, Kathy Langley, Kathy Nevins, Judy Hornbacher, Elizabeth Carlson.
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Table of Contents

Preface viii
Prologue xi
1 Lost and Found at the Table 1
2 Mary Magdalene 10
3 Maria, Sister of Martha 19
4 Mary, Mother of Jesus 26
5 Joanna 37
6 The Samaritan Woman 50
7 Martha 57
8 The Meeting 64
Questions for Individual and Group Study 71
Notes for Further Reading 89
Bibliography 106
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First Chapter

From Chapter One (pre-publication version):
Lost and Found at the table

Together at the table

"This is my body," says Martha slowly pulling apart a loaf of bread in front of her. "Jesus gave himself to us, for us," she says, looking around the table at the women gathered, these followers of Jesus in the earliest church.

These mothers of the church have gathered in Martha and Mary's home in Bethany, and "each has a hymn, a lesson, a revelation" (I Cor. 14:26) as was the practice in these early days. Martha celebrates, Maria brings her experience of the spirit and her visions of the church, Mary Magdalene tells of meeting the newly risen Jesus, Suheir of deeply drinking the living water. Mary, mother of Jesus speaks of a collaborative God and Joanna of the struggle to follow in a divided church. Each brings her words and herself.

"Jesus gave himself for us, to us... When I close my eyes, I still see him, dying," Maria, sister of Martha, says.

"Yes," says Mary Magdalene. "And yet he is alive."

"He is here, now," Joanna says. "The Spirit means he is always walking with us. He was there, dying... here in bread... with us, closer than close."

"With us and all the believers," says Martha. They know that believers are gathered all over the holy city, in Galilee and beyond, because this is the first day of the week, when all meet to celebrate Jesus' resurrection.

"It is wonderful to be with you, to be here again," whispers Mary Magdalene. All these women live in Jerusalem, but they only see each other occasionally since the gift of the Spirit. Martha and Maria open their Bethany home to this meeting, butmost of its members are Aramaic speaking believers. Mary, mother of Jesus, often comes, but Mary Magdalene and Joanna worship and minister in the Greek-speaking quarter of Jerusalem. Susannah has been staying here at Bethany with Martha and Mary, where she can speak her native Aramaic, but she has missed Mary terribly. She sits with her arm entwined with hers, watching her face as she speaks.

As they pass the loaf, the women speak, sharing their lives as they share the meal. All is sacred as they are together.

"He is here, as you say, Mary," Mary, mother of Jesus says. "And yet you've come with something on your heart, some great heaviness."

"Heavy, yes... very heavy," Mary Magdalene replies. "But not as heavy as it's been in this room before." She smiles at the faces around this table: these women have been through hell and heaven together. The mother of Jesus, Martha, Maria, Susannah, Mary Magdalene and Joanna-have sat in this room with hearts torn apart by sorrow and hearts overflowing with joy. Together they faced the death of their teacher. Together they heard the news of his resurrection. They met Jesus here, before and after his death; together they received the spirit at Pentecost and have thrown themselves into the struggles of the infant church. Even now as they look around the room, they feel the gaps left by Rhoda and Lydia who have moved back to Galilee to work in house churches there, Salome whose anger threatens her faith. And there is another woman here, a foreigner, a Samaritan.

She hesitates when the bread comes to her and Martha smiles and nods. She takes a chunk and eats it. "When I heard he was dead..." she says, "...and then Philip said, no, he was alive... but I needed to come and see and hear for myself. He changed my life..."

"Jesus loves us so much," says Susannah as she takes the bread. "And yes, Mary, he is here." Susannah hands the bread to Mary Magdalene. "What is on your heart, child?"

Mary Magdalene puts the bread on the table in front of her. "We've decided to leave the holy city."

"We begin our journey tomorrow. For Antioch," Joanna says. "We'll go through Galilee and see some of the sisters there. We're traveling with Barnabas."

Tears spill down Susannah's cheeks. Mary holds her hand. "I'll never see you again...." the older woman weeps.

"It's Stephen, isn't it?" Mary, mother of Jesus, asks. "If anyone ever seemed to hold the Spirit , it was him."

"So young and it did seem as if Jesus could have looked after him better," says Martha. "It's been very traumatic, especially to the Greek-speaking believers. Many leaving the holy city... "

"It's the scattering, the scattering...." Maria whispers.

All the women look at her.

"She's been seeing pictures-visions-and this is one," Martha explains. They wait and Maria shakes her head. "Later."

"Right up to the end-when he was looking up and saw Jesus-I was sure he'd be rescued...." Mary Magdalene says. "I guess we had no idea this could happen, with everything so new...the Spirit so real..."

"Stephen's death changes everything," says Joanna. "We don't just spread the message and then Jesus comes back. Suddenly, it's more complicated. That's why we came tonight. We want your prayers and blessings as we go."

Susannah wipes her eyes. Martha speaks to her: "Susannah, you know, we will look after you.

"Susannah's exhausted, Mary. She hasn't had a chance to tell you that she spent the last few days with a charming young visitor, a Greek speaking fellow named Luke who wanted eye witness accounts-of Jesus' ministry, healings, words. His Aramaic was not bad...and her Greek isn't great but they got along fine... didn't you dear?"

"Yes, a fine young man, a new believer. Just as well he missed Salome," Susannah says, smiling. "She would have told him a thing or two."
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