ABCs of Womanhood
The ABC’s of Womanhood
TEXT: Proverbs 31: 10-31
Move 1: Introduction–M O T H E R
In 1915 Howard Johnson wrote the most famous poem honoring mothers whether they are birth mothers, adopted mothers, or women who have nurtured us and inspired us with their faith. Johnson’s is a poem about love and selfless giving. Set to music it is simply called “M O T H E R.”
“M” is for the million things she gave me,
“O” means only that she’s growing old,
“T” is for the tears she shed to save me,
“H” is for her heart of purest gold;
“E” is for her eyes, with love-light shining,
“R” means right, and right she’ll always be.
Put them all together, they spell “MOTHER,”
A word that means to world to me.
This poem is an acrostic: Each letter in the word mother is used to introduce a new description of what it means to be a mother. The writer of Proverbs also liked the device of acrostic writing and composed his, or her, own acrostic on the virtues of the “wise and capable woman.” Each line of the acrostic poem in Proverbs 31: 10-31 begins with a letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Strung together, from A to Z, they are the ABC’s of Womanhood.
10 A capable wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. 11 The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 12 She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. 13 She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. 14 She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from far away. 15 She rises while it is still night and provides food for her household and tasks for her servant-girls. 16 She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. 17 She girds herself with strength, and makes her arms strong. 18 She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. 19 She puts her hands to the distaff,
and her hands hold the spindle. 20 She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. 21 She is not afraid for her household when it snows,
for all her household are clothed in crimson. 22 She makes herself coverings;
her clothing is fine linen and purple. 23 Her husband is known in the city gates,
taking his seat among the elders of the land. 24 She makes linen garments and sells them; she supplies the merchant with sashes. 25 Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. 26 She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 27 She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. 28 Her children rise up and call her happy; her husband too, and he praises her: 29 “Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” 30 Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. 31 Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates.
Prayer for Enlightenment
Move 2: From Eve to Proverbs
From the time of Adam and Eve, misogynists have maligned women as the downfall of men. In literature of all types–including religious literature–women have been cast as crafty, lustful, deceptive, unwise, and even soulless. However, the writer of Proverbs used an acrostic poem to extol and correct the traditional view of women.
According to proverbs women are not the “weaker sex.” Women are described using heroic terms of strength that are usually applied to men. Women can size up a situation quickly and know what needs to be done. They know the lay of the land and they understand the nature of things. Does any of this sound like the women in your life? Your mother, perhaps? The women in my life, at least, have been strong women, wise women, loving women.
Move 3: The Teachers
Some of the strongest women in our lives were our teachers. I remember my grandmother sitting on our front porch with me, patiently teaching me my ABC’s and how to count and write my name. She would see a word, show me the smaller words in it and how to sound it out. She taught me to spell “vegetable” from a sign in the parking lot of a grocery store.
My mother inspired me to excel in science and math. She was a nurse and I grew up wanting to have a career in heath care so that I could help other people.
Some of our first teachers in school became our mothers-away-from-home. We loved them, respected them, and learned from them, especially in Sunday school.
I remember Mrs. Walters, my pre-school Sunday school teacher. She believed that children had a place in “adult” worship–so very often she brought us to church. We sat quietly in the back pew and she brought us half-sticks of juicy fruit gum to chew, and pictures to color. She even taught us one of my favorite songs–Tell Me the Stories of Jesus.
But the women of our lives have done more than teach us. They have helped provide food for us, too.
Move 4: Women Providers–the Farm
In ancient times women did not own land, but they farmed it. In verse 16 of the proverb in praise of women the wise woman considers a field and plants a vineyard. This recognizes that in the hills of the Judean countryside it was women who planted the gardens that fed the family. It was women who helped till the rocky, hilly ground and helped put food on the table. Moreover, it was the honorable woman who made the clothing that kept her family warm and protected from exposure to wind, rain, sun, and cold. Understand, this is not to say that the Bible teaches that the place for women is in the home, in the kitchen. The writer of Proverbs is writing to correct the traditional view of women in ancient society. Women are full partners at home and in the industry of the day.
Move 5: Proverbs 31: 10-31
Proverbs 31 shows that women are energetic, strong, and wise. They are providers and protectors and teachers. The Bible does not teach that women are inferior to men. Rather, the Bible honors both women and men and teaches that “an ordinary person can model himself or herself after a great man or woman, and grow” strong and healthy according to that model. (cf. Phil 3:17; Heb 11:1-12:13) Today, however, we honor mothers and women as we celebrate their diverse gifts and thank them for their selfless love and nurture in our lives.