Sing and Celebrate the Prophet Huldah

image of Huldah by James C. Lewis

Maybe you grew up in church hearing about Huldah, but I didn’t. During Women’s History month and throughout the year, we can celebrate Huldah and other unsung women leaders in Scripture. To reclaim some of these prophetic women, I have written songs featuring them.

When I discovered the Hebrew prophet Huldah, I felt immediately drawn to her and saddened that her story has been ignored. Not only is her story in the Bible, but she is the first authority on what should go in the Bible.

Recently as I’ve been writing songs to honor women leaders in Scripture and other prophetic women leaders, I wanted to write about Huldah, one of my favorites. But at first I wondered if the name “Huldah” would sing. Then the hymn tune, “Restoration,” came to me as a good vehicle for singing “Huldah” and her remarkable story. You may know this tune through the hymn “Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy.” Here is “Sing a Song of the Prophet Huldah,” celebrating her story seldom told.

Sing a Song of the Prophet Huldah
2 Kings 22:13-20; 2 Chronicles 34:22-33

Sing a song of the prophet Huldah, lifting up her voice of power;
she began the holy canon; sacred Word with Huldah flowered.   Refrain

Hokmah Wisdom guided Huldah, speaking boldly without fear;
king and priests consulted Huldah, claimed her words for all to hear.   Refrain

Now reclaim the women prophets, rising up from sacred page;
follow Huldah and all prophets, speaking truth from age to age.       Refrain

Refrain:

Now we will honor the prophet Huldah, singing her story seldom heard;
first to name a book as Scripture, she declared the holy Word.

Words © 2016 Jann Aldredge-Clanton                     RESTORATION

image of Huldah by Elspeth Young

Although we seldom hear about the prophet Huldah in sermons and Sunday school lessons, she is the first authority on what should go in the Bible. Huldah begins the biblical canon with her validation of an ancient scroll, probably an early form of the book of Deuteronomy, as the divine word.

For The CEB Women’s Bible, I wrote a portrait of Huldah. Although Jeremiah had been prophesying for five years, the high priest Hilkiah and other officers of King Josiah chose Huldah as the most reliable prophet in Israel to determine if the recovered “Instruction scroll” was the authentic word of God. King Josiah told his royal officials to ask God about the scroll, and they consulted the prophet Huldah, who pronounced it to be God’s word.

image of Huldah by Julie Duschack

Huldah clearly spoke for God with authority, just as other biblical prophets did. The biblical evidence indicates that in ancient Israel the role of prophet was open to women on an equal basis with men. The narrators of Kings and Chronicles express no surprise over Huldah’s gender. When Huldah validated the scroll, she confirmed King Josiah’s fears about the disaster that will come to Judah. About thirty years later, Huldah’s prophecy was fulfilled.

Huldah authorized the first document that would become the core of Scripture for Judaism and Christianity. Significantly, Huldah, guided by Divine Wisdom (Hokmah in Hebrew), marks the beginning of the biblical canon.

In her book Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel, Rev. Dr. Wil Gafney further elucidates the importance of Huldah. She “is the only female prophet whose oracle the Hebrew Bible preserves in the standard ‘so says YHWH’ form,” Dr. Gafney writes. “She is the prophetic authority behind the reform usually attributed to Josiah.” The high priest Hilkiah and other officers of King Josiah chose Huldah over Jeremiah, “not as a last resort,” but because they preferred her. “The language of the text implies that the service of female prophets was commonplace and required no special introduction or accommodation.”

Then why is a book of Jeremiah included in the biblical canon and not a book of Huldah? Dr. Gafney comments on this exclusion of Huldah:

Huldah was a court prophet employed by Josiah’s administration, living in Jerusalem; yet her male contemporaries who were not court prophets had significant collections of their oracles preserved. Huldah’s case demonstrates both an apparent lack of gender bias on the part of the king and priests who consulted her (including the high priest) and the appearance of bias on the part of the tradition preservers and shapers of the Hebrew Bible who did not conserve her broader oracular legacy. It strains credulity to believe that a temple-sanctioned court prophet uttered only one oracle or that the temple and/or royal scribes failed to record her oracles. She is arguably the first person to grant authoritative status to the Torah scroll deposited in the temple treasure. That scroll is largely understood to have been the heart of the Deuteronomistic corpus.

Huldah, like many other biblical women, has not been given the credit she deserves. The fact that God gave authority to Huldah to pronounce the first official statement of scriptural authority demonstrates that the divine intention is—and has always been—for women to hold authority as spiritual leaders.

How sad that a book of Huldah is not included in the biblical canon! Through our stories and songs, however, we can help reclaim Huldah’s remarkable contributions to our faith.

 

 

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Celebrating Julian of Norwich

During Women’s History Month and throughout the year, women deserve recognition for their important contributions to church and society. Too often, women leaders have been ignored in church history. In an effort to reclaim and draw inspiration from some of these women, I have written songs highlighting their prophetic ministries. The songs celebrate the power of the Female Divine proclaimed and embodied by these women leaders.

 

One of these songs features Julian of Norwich, a medieval Christian mystic and theologian. The song “Julian of Norwich Reveals Wisdom’s Way,” sung to the tune of “Be Thou My Vision,” draws from her visions of the Female Divine that continue to expand our spirituality.

 

 

 

Julian of Norwich Reveals Wisdom’s Way
Proverbs 3:13-18, 4:8-9

Julian of Norwich reveals Wisdom’s way,
showing us visions for our current day,
visions of love bringing all into one,
beauty from dawning to setting of sun.

Julian sees Wisdom, Great Mother of All,
sending us power to take down each wall,
changing the world with Her kindness and grace,
opening all doors for each gender and race.

Now Sister Julian inspires us to grow,
reaching our fullness of creative flow;
joined with Sophia, our Wisdom and Friend,
we claim our wholeness, our life without end.

Still Sister Julian reveals mystic dreams,
wellsprings of healing from Earth’s sacred streams.
All shall be well, and all things shall be well;
justice and peace shall forever prevail.

Words © 2017 Jann Aldredge-Clanton                             SLANE

Thomas Merton called Julian of Norwich “one of the most wonderful of all Christian voices” and the “greatest English theologian.” But there is still little known for certain about her life.

For centuries the church ignored Julian of Norwich (c.1342-c.1416) and her remarkable writings. She wrote theology in a time when the church did not recognize women as preachers or theologians. Also, church leaders may have disregarded Julian because she wrote about her revelations of the Female Divine. Sadly, many churches today still refuse to accept women leaders and discount revelations of the Female Divine in Scripture, Christian tradition, and Christian experience.

Rediscovered in the early 20th century, Julian of Norwich, an anchoress and mystic, proclaims a Christian feminine divinity. Her Revelations of Divine Love, based on a series of sixteen visions she received when she was thirty years old, is the first theological book in the English language known to be written by a woman.

Julian’s vision of the Trinity includes the Female Divine: “God, Almighty, is our kindly Father; and God, All-Wisdom, is our kindly Mother; with the Love and the Goodness of the Holy Ghost, which is all one God.” Julian explains her vision of the all-inclusiveness of the Divine: “As verily as God is our Father, so verily God is our Mother.” God is the “Goodness of the Fatherhood,” the “Wisdom of the Motherhood,” and the “Light and the Grace that is all blessed Love.”

Julian’s visions reveal a Deity who can be called “Mother” as well as “Father.” Julian sees the Motherhood of God as threefold: Creator, Sustainer, and Teacher. God gives birth to us; “our precious Mother, Jesus,” feeds us “with the Blessed Sacrament that is precious food of very life”; and “Our Gracious Mother” teaches us Her kindness and love. “Our Savior is our true Mother in whom we are endlessly born and out of whom we shall never come.”

Julian rejects the image of a wrathful God, instead inviting experience of the Divine as unconditional Love and Goodness. Indicated by the title of her book, Revelations of Divine Love, Julian’s visions reveal the Divine as Love. Her revelations include the message that compassionate Love is always given to everyone, and that in this all-gracious God there can be no wrath. She sees only the infinite benevolence and compassion of the Divine.

Though we may feel overwhelmed by all the injustices and violence in our world today, one of Julian’s best-known sayings brings hope: “All shall be well, all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

 

 

 

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God Is Not a Guy, and Neither Am I: Male Dominance and Sexual Abuse in Churches

News stories keep uncovering devastating, widespread sexual abuse in Catholic and Southern Baptist churches. Although abuse also occurs in other churches, it’s not surprising that more of the stories implicate the most male-dominated denominations.

Male dominance in the leadership and language of churches forms the foundation for this abuse of women. When males are given God-like status, they are more likely to feel entitled to do whatever they like and females not to question their authority.

Read the rest of this article in Baptist News Global.

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Song in Celebration of Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall

Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall

During Black History Month and throughout the year, black women deserve recognition for their important contributions to our country. Too often, even in justice movements, black women have not gotten much credit for their extraordinary work.

Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall was a formidable civil rights leader whose repetition of “I have a dream” in a public prayer inspired Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s famous speech. But he got credit, and she did not.

This song (sung to the tune of “My Country, ‘Tis of Thee”) celebrates Prathia Hall’s major accomplishments as a civil rights movement leader, prophetic preacher, and womanist theologian.

Prathia Hall Spoke Up
Proverbs 2:9-10, 3:13-18, 4:8-9

Prathia Hall spoke up, and people then woke up to take a stand;
she was the first to say, “I have a dream today,”
showing the freedom way, the promised land.

Leader of civil rights, Prathia Hall shed light on justice ways;
her freedom faith prevailed even when she was jailed;
though wounded and assailed, she still held sway.

Prophetic preacher bold, Prathia Hall took hold of Wisdom’s power;
she opened doors for all to claim our gospel call,
breaking oppressive walls, so gifts may flower.

Womanist scholar too, Prathia Hall held true to Wisdom’s Word;
she taught equality, genders and races freed
to be all we can be, all voices heard.

Words © 2017 Jann Aldredge-Clanton                     AMERICA

 

 

Inclusive Songs for Resistance & Social Action includes “Prathia Hall Spoke Up” and other songs that highlight women leaders in history. These songs honor prophetic women who embody the power of Divine Wisdom.

 

 

 

Prathia Hall (1940-2002), a courageous civil rights activist, was arrested many times, shot at, wounded, and jailed for weeks. Active in the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC), she became one of the first women field leaders in southwest Georgia. She was head of the Selma Project and the Atlanta Project, training many Northern white college students. While working for SNCC, she canvassed door to door to register voters. She also taught in freedom schools, helping potential voters pass the required voter registration tests. Her deep passion for justice and what she called “freedom faith” gave her courage for overcoming obstacles in her civil rights activism. She describes “freedom faith” as the belief that God created all people to be free, and assists and empowers us in the struggle for justice.

Rev. Prathia Hall was well known for her moving sermons and speeches. She became one of the first women ordained by the American Baptist Churches, USA, the pastor of Mt. Sharon Baptist Church in Philadelphia, and the first woman accepted into the Baptist Ministers Conference of Philadelphia and Vicinity. Ebony magazine named her one of the most powerful preachers in the country. She preached with such power that Martin Luther King Jr. once remarked, “Prathia Hall is the one platform speaker I prefer not to follow.”

Earning M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary, Dr. Prathia Hall became a respected professor of womanist theology, Christian ethics, and African American religious history at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, and Boston University. She held the Martin Luther King Jr. Chair in Social Ethics at Boston University, and later became the dean of United Theological Seminary and director of the Harriet Miller Women’s Center at the seminary. In addition, she mentored move than two hundred African American clergywomen.

Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace

I’m grateful to my friend Rev. Dr. Courtney Pace for drawing my attention to Rev. Dr. Prathia Hall. Courtney, a church history professor at Memphis Theological Seminary, also serves on the board of Equity for Women in the Church. For many years Courtney has been researching and writing about Prathia. In an article in EthicsDaily.com, Courtney writes: “Little did I know at the beginning of this journey that Prathia would become a spiritual mother to me, continuing to inspire me about the real meaning of life and faith.” Prathia “worked tirelessly for justice” and “transformed her suffering into prophetic proclamation.” She “turned ashes into beautiful breaths of life.”

Courtney’s book, Freedom Faith: The Womanist Vision of Prathia Hall, is scheduled for publication on June 15, 2019. Freedom Faith is the first full-length critical study of Rev. Dr. Laura Ann Prathia Hall. Courtney focuses on Prathia’s pioneer work as an activist and minister, examining her intellectual and theological development as well as her influence on Martin Luther King Jr., Marian Wright Edelman, and the early generations of womanist scholars. Courtney states that her upcoming book “explains how racism is perpetuated through unrepresentative government, white-owned capitalism, and heteronormative patriarchal structures.”

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“‘Time’s Up,'” We Shout!” Inclusive Songs for Resistance & Social Action

“Time’s Up,” We Shout!
Amos 5:21-24; John 8:32

We are tired of abuse, exploitation, misuse,
so we join in the movement “Me Too”;
breaking silence, we shout and together speak out,
claiming voices with power anew.     Refrain

There are those who harass with their actions so crass;
they assault with their words and their deeds;
now the women will rise with the truth undisguised,
raising voices that all will now heed.     Refrain

As our stories increase, gender violence will cease,
and at last we will have equity;
now the time is at hand for a change in each land,
for the truth will set everyone free.       Refrain

Refrain:

“Time’s Up,” we shout!
We will join to speak out.
“We demand gender justice,
for the Time’s Up,” we shout.

Words © 2018 Jann Aldredge-Clanton            TRUST AND OBEY

The “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” movements stirred me to write this song “‘Time’s Up,’ We Shout!” ( sung to the tune “Trust and Obey).”  The “Me Too” movement was originally created in 2007 by a black woman named Tarana Burke, a civil rights activist and community organizer. Tarana Burke has gotten little credit for creating this important movement. The “Me Too” movement gained momentum 10 years later on social media, demonstrating the prevalence of sexual harassment and assault women suffer. In January of 2018 hundreds of Hollywood celebrities launched the “Time’s Up” movement as the next step to the “Me Too” movement. The “Time’s Up” movement calls for immediate change for women of all classes and races in all occupations.“Time’s Up” has formed a legal defense fund to help women report sexual harassment or assault. Also, this movement creates legislation that better penalizes sexual misconduct and advocates for gender equity in all industries. “Time’s Up” recently launched a campaign to double the number of women in leadership in government and other places where women are still underrepresented. At Women’s Marches, “Me Too” and “Time’s Up” signs were on display around the world.

Inclusive Songs for Resistance & Social Action includes “’Time’s Up,’ We Shout!” and other songs for rallies, marches, and other activist gatherings to support movements such as Women’s March, Black Lives Matter, Human Rights Campaign, Poor People’s Campaign, and GreenFaith. The movement that rose up after the Women’s March in January of 2017 inspired many of the songs in this collection. The Women’s March, initiated and led by women, drew people of all genders, races, classes, ages, and abilities. Beginning as a Women’s March on Washington, sister marches sprang up in cities in all 50 U.S. states and in more than 80 countries around the world, with an estimated 4.9 million people participating. The Women’s March focused on women’s rights, while connecting the rights of women to the rights of all races, LGBTQ people, and people of all ages, classes, and abilities. Women’s rights are often ignored even in liberation movements, but intersectional feminism emphasizes the vital connection between women’s rights and the rights of all people. At the Women’s March many of the signs quoted Hillary Rodham Clinton’s famous statement at the 1995 Beijing World Conference on Women: “Women’s rights are human rights.” Subsequent Women’s Marches continued this focus on the intersection of women’s rights and the rights of all people.

President Jimmy Carter in A Call to Action asserts that discrimination and violence against women and girls are the world’s most serious violations of human rights, and he indicts patriarchal religion as the foundation for this discrimination and violence. Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn in Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide lament the “gendercide” resulting from the violence inflicted routinely on women and girls in much of the world, which they call one of the “paramount human rights problems of this century.” The “Me Too” movement has underscored the pervasiveness of sexual harassment and assault women around the world suffer.

“‘Time’s Up!’ We Shout!” and other songs in Inclusive Songs for Resistance & Social Action seek to bring change by lifting up the voices of women and other oppressed groups. The songs in this collection highlight the intersectionality of justice issues, calling for equality, justice, and liberation for all.

As our stories increase, gender violence will cease,
and at last we will have equity;
now the time is at hand for a change in each land,
for the truth will set everyone free.

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