The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Woman's Lifeby Joan Chittister, John August Swanson
The biblical story of Ruth is a woman’s story about a woman’s life. Though written thousands of years ago, it is nonetheless perennial. It calls us to reflect in every generation on what it means to be a whole woman, a spiritual woman. In The Story of Ruth Joan Chittister and John August Swanson reclaim this powerful biblical story as a model for contemporary women seeking a fully spiritual life.
Through complementary texts and illustrations, Chittister and Swanson explore a series of twelve defining moments in every woman’s life—moments of loss, change, transformation, aging, independence, respect, recognition, insight, empowerment, self-definition, invisibility, and fulfillment. Each chapter and each piece of artwork together illuminate the faithful life of Ruth in relation to these formative moments and lend insights into what it means to be a woman of God today.
A lovely combination of art and text, The Story of Ruth provides valuable help for women seeking to live wholly in a world still struggling with issues of faith and gender.
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner
"Chittister and Swanson's Story of Ruth is an easy, wise, and instructive lens through which to view one of the gems of the Hebrew Bible. This creative and engaging book is in the highest Jewish tradition of reading 'between the lines' of scripture. . . Should be required reading for Christians and Jews, women and ? above all ? men."
Rosemary Luling Haughton
"Joan Chittister's reflections about loss and change, about isolation and empowerment, are both realistic and liberating. . . And John August Swanson's artworks are contemplative experiences in themselves ? quiet, yet glowing and vivid."
"These pages shimmer. Lush, warm colors and patterns together with piercing, prophetic words summon the heart to behold an enduring image of fidelity. Look and listen ? long and lovingly ? to the story of Ruth and Naomi. And receive, once again, the gift of hope still on offer."
Spirit & Life
"In twelve unusual chapters, Ruth is portrayed as the prototype of a 21st century 'Everywoman,' free, independent, and equal with all humankind. Complementing the text, twelve lovely paintings by John August Swanson illustrate the way Ruth wins her freedom and feminine independence. A beautiful book in every way, 'The Story of Ruth' is for treasuring and gift-giving."
"Writing a book that blends spirituality, inspiration and feminism is no easy feat, but Joan D. Chittister has accomplished it with rare sensitivity in The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Woman's Life. Taking the biblical narrative of the young Moabite widow who followed her mother-in-law to a new land she relates the story to modern women's quest for independence, respect, empowerment and self-fulfillment. You can agree or not with the lessons she finds, but her analysis is thoughtful and free from treacly interpretations. The book is enhanced immeasurably by John August Swanson's biblical-style illustrations."
The Newark Star-Ledger
"Attractively illustrated by John August Swanson, 'Ruth' is 'part self-help book, part poetry,' with Chittister presenting a God interested and intent on transforming women. . . Though it's the lives of two Old Testament women we're examining, Chittister leaves no doubt about the relevance and practical application to modern women. Don't be surprised to find yourself lingering in those moments that apply to the season of your life. . . Chittister's style is like that of friends whose advice is therapy. No, they haven't got any degrees in counseling, but that's where our feet carry us when we need wise counsel."
"This book is a treat on all fronts. As usual, Chittister is challenging and thought provoking as she uses Ruth to illustrate moments in a woman's life. But the illustrator, John August Swanson has it right in his Notes when he says, 'This is not only a woman's book. . . ' Swanson's colorful and detailed illustrations alone are worth the price of the book, but with the text the book becomes richer still."
"The ancient biblical tale of a woman who left everything she knew for love of —of all things—a mother-in-law is brought to contemporary relevance by author Joan D. Chittister, a Benedictine nun, and artist John August Swanson. The prose is arresting and the illustrations simple, brilliantly colored and striking enough for second and even third looks. . . This is an old favorite made more so with the retelling."
The Bible Today
"The biblical story of Ruth is the basis of these twelve reflections on issues facing every woman. . . The contents of each chapter are a mix of personal reflection on life experience and social concern. Swanson's colorful art enhances every page, and a full page drawing depicting a scene from the biblical story introduces each chapter. The talents of the author and the artist come together to produce a book of note. This will make a fine gift."
Lutheran Woman Today
"Occasionally one finds a book so powerful and beautiful that it needs to be purchased and shared with many people! The Story of Ruth is such a book."
"This beautiful book combines the best of many arts—the script of the ancient writer, the insights of the modern feminist-theologian, the portrayal in color, line and form of the illustrator and the glow of vibrant inks on every page. . . This is a book to be savored and appreciated for its form and content. Never at a loss to create a stir in her readers' minds and hearts, Chittister has outdone herself in The Story of Ruth."
Society for Old Testament Study Booklist
"This book combines Catholic spirituality and modern art to produce a charming and insightful account of twelve key moments in the lives of two biblical women, Ruth and Naomi, who are seen to function as 'metaphors' for all women."
Barbara Brown Taylor
"With characteristic wit and spitfire, Joan Chittister tells the story of Ruth for anyone challenged by loss, change, aging, or invisibility. Basing her reflections on the lives of two marginal biblical women, she reveals their central roles as mothers of faith and dares all their descendants ? both daughters and sons ? to follow their lead."
"The best book on Ruth thus far may be Joan Chittister's creative, gorgeously illustrated exploration of the famous Moabitess as archetype for all women. The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in Every Woman's Life shows how Ruth's journey through loss, change, transformation, aging, independence, respect, recognition, insight, empowerment, self-definition, invisibility and fulfillment mirrors similar stages in many women's lives. . . The text's perceptive, piercing truths are complemented by stunning full-color artwork by John August Swanson."
The Living Church
"A beautifully illustrated and printed book on the Book of Ruth with commentary by well-known spiritual writer Joan Chittister on how Ruth's story speaks to women of today in their own quest for spiritual wholeness."
- Eerdmans, William B. Publishing Company
- Publication date:
- Product dimensions:
- 7.76(w) x 9.66(h) x 0.69(d)
Read an Excerpt
Ruth and Naomi: Your Story and Mine (from pages 1-5)
The Book of Ruth is a woman's story about a woman's life. Written thousands of years ago—anywhere from 500 to 1000 B.C.E., depending on which linguistic clues we choose to follow—it is, nevertheless, a perennial. Composed, faith tells us, under the inspiration of the Divine, it calls us to reflect in every generation on what it means to be a whole woman, a spiritual woman, yet today. It models what every woman alive lives still. It is an icon of what it means to be a woman of God, to live under the impulse of the Spirit, to be a creative part of God's creative power. One moment at a time it takes us from one life moment to another to show us how God works in us all, to remind us to what God calls us all, whatever the period, whatever the place. It is a silhouette of every woman's life frozen in time and held up for reflection.
Life, it seems to me in retrospect, is only incidentally made up of chronological pieces specific to this person in this place at this time. Instead, life, its substance and meaning, is really made up of a series of defining moments—moments of loss, risk, change, transformation, relationship, and survival—that mark every woman's passage through time in a way separate from the men around her and that shape her as she goes. All of them stand stark and unadorned in Ruth, pared to the marrow and clear in their challenges. The way we deal with each of these moments determines who and what we really are, who and what we are intended to be, who and what we can become both spiritually and socially.
The Scriptures call it the Book of Ruth. I am not convinced of the full truth of the title. It is at least the Book of Ruth and Naomi, and maybe, actually, The Book of Naomi, the older, wiser woman who having lived through one kind of life wants a better one for Ruth. The younger woman, Naomi knows, looks up to her as model and mentor and friend, and will follow in her footsteps. But which footsteps and how if she is to be everything God wants her to be?
The story as it's told is a simple one: It is the story of two women—one old, one young—both childless and vulnerable, both marginal to the systems around them—who find themselves dealing with limited resources, deep pain, a hostile world, and great concern for the situation of the other. It's a familiar situation for most women yet today who find themselves left to survive in a system to which they do not have full access. Naomi's husband has died—and now ten years later, her two sons, as well. Naomi is left alone in Moab now, the foreign land to which the family, years before, had immigrated in order to escape famine at home. She has no real roots there, no longtime friends to see her through the kind of loss that turns lonely lives back upon themselves, only two Moabite daughters-in-law.
Elimelech, Naomi's deceased husband, had moved the family from Bethlehem, the city of their birth, to this other one where they were outsiders, come-latelies to the social scene, in search of the economic security that an agriculture in decline back home could not promise. It was good short-term thinking, perhaps, if you were the breadwinner in the family, but for Naomi, the now widowed wife in an alien land, it spelled long-term disaster. To leave her foreign home for the open road is risky for Naomi as a woman alone, but to stay where she is means sure destitution. An outlander in a system that made no provision for widows, Naomi decides when the last man in the family dies to return to Bethlehem, her homeland. There, she will at least have some old social ties and there may even yet be remnants of her family, however distant the relationships.
Naomi's daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, are now, like herself, single women, widows, in a world where not to be attached to a man is to be in danger, socially, economically, and physically. Ruth and Orpah are, then, faced with a major decision: to cling to what they are where they are or to become new women in a new world. Ruth and Orpah, unlike Naomi, are young enough to simply begin the old pattern all over again—to marry, settle down where they've always been, have children, go on maintaining the society around them as their mothers and grandmothers have done for centuries. Or they can seize this moment in life to become someone new, to start again alone and in a place other than their beginnings. They can take what appears as God's one and only will for them or they can stretch themselves to the limits of themselves to find the God who waits for them in what they have yet to become.
What woman has not faced the question of what it would mean to strike out on a different course than the one defined for her by time and the society in which she lives? What unmarried woman, let alone a widow, does not know the implications of the situation yet? Life for the single woman is far different than life for the single man. There are few, if any, single friends for a single woman to relate to in a social world made up of couples, and the single woman is often seen as a threat. There are sparse assets to draw on for the rest of life when a woman has no job or cannot get one that pays enough to support the present and provide for the future at the same time because she is a woman. And, as any widow—any woman—knows, there is some kind of danger, physical or material, everywhere for the unmarried woman.
One daughter-in-law, Orpah—the sensible one, many would say—decides to stay in Moab, her homeland, where the chances of another marriage are presumably better than they would be in a strange place. Orpah will simply marry again and go on as usual. It's an honorable choice and a safe one. It clings to what is, in the hope that it can be good again.
Ruth, on the other hand, the second daughter-in-law, decides to go with Naomi to a land where she will be an eternal outsider and where the national prejudice against Moabites, let alone single Moabite women, goes deep. It is a very precarious situation for a young woman. Interracial marriages are frowned upon in early Israel, and a woman without a husband in a culture where a woman's social security depends on her being linked to a man is a sorry sight. But Ruth makes the bold choice, the one filled with faith that the God of yesterday is also the God of today, that the God who took one thing away has something else in store for her. Ruth opts to begin again somewhere else in very new ways, whatever the odds against her. She determines to follow a God who worked through Miriam, Rachel, Sarah and Leah as well as through Moses, Jacob and Abraham to save a world and lead a people.
The book of Naomi and Ruth, therefore, is the story of three women left to fend for themselves in a world geared to the autonomy and ability of men but not to the freedom and full development of women. It is the story of what it takes to discover the God within. It is a defining moment for all three.
In fact, there are delineating moments in every human life, points after which we are never quite the same again. Perhaps especially for women they are often intensely private, deeply personal ones. What these three women do in the midst of their own struggles—how they thread their way through the system as women, what qualities it takes, and what decisions it requires as they do—is model enough for anyone, but for women in a special way. Even now. Even here.
Most women live very unpretentious lives. We grow up, work hard, take care of families, stumble through relationships, endure losses, and, in the course of it, contend, too often all alone, with the complexities that come from trying to balance the values of the world around us with what our own experiences and talents and wisdom dictate. It is not an easy task, for either men or women, of course. The problem is that there is a dimension to a woman's life that is unique to being a woman. Women live in two worlds—one private, one public—but, if truth were known, are by and large considered native to only one of them. What we know in the private arena is seldom considered common coin in the other.
Women now commonly function on the edge of two systems, one public and one private. We stand with a foot in both worlds, one that promises us home and hearth for obeying the social roles of the culture, one that requires us to shoulder our private worlds and sustain our public ones at the same time but without guarantee of the means to do either. The woman called by God, either by life circumstance or by personal gift, to live in both knows the expense to the self of following the call.
Often denied equal pay and pension benefits, for instance, most women live with fewer resources than most of the men around them. Defined as the primary caretakers of humanity, they labor under more limited professional opportunities than men and so must deal with the lack of personal and financial security such restrictions imply in a highly professional world. Full of intelligence and heart and creativity, they struggle almost reflexively to become what they know themselves to be despite the odds against them. And, ironically, impelled, if for no other reason than economic ones, to function both inside and outside the home, women carry responsibilities far beyond the strength of the average person to bear. They care for small children, look after old relatives, maintain busy homes, work the eight-hour day for essential resources, manage the greater part of the housework, and all the while try to become whole persons themselves by pursuing the development of their own potential and dreaming their own dreams. All the while they look for spiritual models to show them the way.
Far too often for far too many, however, life lived on such a flimsy bridge of hope and chance, of strain and burden, begins to sway and slip. A marriage crumbles, a husband leaves, a job ends, a career vanishes, the money runs out but the costs do not. There are few role models in the history of the world for a woman to refer to when one end or the other of these very fragmented lives sags or snaps. It is precisely then that the story of Ruth and Naomi begins to matter. In the Book of Ruth, the Word of God takes a position on women that defies the social tradition, in this day as well as in that one. In the Book of Ruth, God calls us beyond the stereotypes and the social barriers to fullness of life and wholeness of being. It is a spiritual journey meant clearly for us all.
Naomi and Ruth have something to say to each of us, even yet, even now as we face loss and change and risk and the unfamiliar in our own lives and the eternal debate over God's will for women. The Book of Ruth is a treatise on the spirituality of womanhood. John August Swanson paints the scenes; you and I live them. But how? And with what effect on our hoping hearts, our seared souls, our psyches, our world?
Meet the Author
Joan Chittister is executive director of Benetvision: AResource and Research Center for Contemporary Spirituality,Erie, Pennsylvania. She is also a contributor to TheHuffington Post blog. Her many books include God'sTender Mercy, The Story of Ruth (with JohnAugust Swanson), and Scarred by Struggle, Transformedby Hope. For more information, visit her website at www.joanchittister.org.
Los Angeles artist John August Swanson is noted for his finely detailed, brilliantly colored Biblical pieces. His unique style is influenced by the imagery of Islamic and medieval miniatures, Russian iconography, the color of Latin American folk art, and
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