“Lady Midrash: Reclaiming the Voices of Biblical Women,” workshop facilitated by Elisabeth Greene and Mitra Motlagh at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

Mitra Motlagh & Elisabeth Greene
Mitra Motlagh & Elisabeth Greene

Another creative workshop I attended at the 2016 Christian Feminism Today (CFT) Gathering was “Lady Midrash: Reclaiming the Voices of Biblical Women,” facilitated by Elisabeth Greene and Mitra Motlagh.

LadyMidrash

 

Elisabeth sets the stage for their dramatic presentation of poems from her book Lady Midrash, explaining that midrash is the ancient Jewish storytelling tradition that asks “what if?” to fill in the gaps in scripture. In the introduction of her book Elisabeth writes: “Lady Midrash is inspired by the question, ‘what if?’ If women were important to scripture’s writers, or if the authors themselves were women, what would their stories reveal? How would received narratives change? Would we think about religion differently? As Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb asks in She Who Dwells Within, ‘How might women have told their stories if they were central, rather than peripheral, characters in the Bible?’”

In her foreword, religion professor Kendra Weddle writes: “In Lady Midrash, Greene uses sounds scholarship, attentiveness to details, creativity, and imagination to listen to women who are in the Bible but who have mostly been lost to us. This is accomplished in a number of effective ways from changing or providing new names, to bringing focus to cultural identity, to shifting the attention from male autonomy to female actor. The result is that women who usually are unnamed, unexplored, or even erased, are brought to our awareness so that we might hear their voices, might consider what they would have told us if they had been given a chance.”

At the CFT Gathering, Mitra Motlagh joins Elisabeth to perform dialogues and monologues from Lady Midrash. Here are two of the poems:

Eve

(The first woman)

Eve knew what she was doing.

She saw the knowledge—

life, breath,

and understood the love,

that it was good.

And there was evening

and morning

the seventh day.

 

On her way out of the garden,

done picking fruit

and naming things,

she picked up a flaming sword

of truth

to crush a snake,

realizing she’d never kick the habit

of discovery

or names.

 

Woman she was,

she called the other, man,

since he was part of her

but not all.

She learned to cover herself

against the world’s thorns

and saw to the care of its creatures,

its landscapes;

she walked with Wisdom,

she considered the universe

and love,

and saw that it was good.

Miriam

(The prophetess)

With experience

taking out of the water,

and assuring safe passage through,

Miriam sang with tambourine,

before she introduced

red algae into the Nile.

 

Her brothers could argue over

who stood on the shore

with arms outstretched,

but meanwhile Miriam

felt the gale force winds

begin to sweep the sea

and the reeds.

 

As they crossed,

Miriam led,

following the Shekinah.

Had God spoken only

through Moses?

 

Elisabeth invites workshop participants to ask “what if?” about the stories of biblical women. We form small circles to explore questions such as: What if Eve meant to take the apple? What if Miriam led the slaves through the Red Sea? What if Rahab wasn’t a prostitute? What if Jezebel wasn’t evil?

In another small group activity we use our imaginations as we work together to write a midrash. Elisabeth invites each circle to choose a biblical woman such as Sarah, Rebecca, Leah, Lady Wisdom, Bathsheba, Mary, Priscilla or any other woman in scripture and to emphasize a neglected part of her narrative, reverse her reputation, change the ending of her story, or in some other way change the way she is characterized in scripture.

Back in the large circle we take turns reading the poems we’ve created. The room is filled with excitement as we take part in reclaiming and recreating the stories of biblical women through midrash.

I had the honor of writing an endorsement for Elisabeth’s book Lady Midrash: Poems Reclaiming the Voices of Biblical Women. Here’s what I wrote that’s on the back cover of the book:

“With creative imagination and careful scholarship, Elisabeth Mehl Greene reclaims the sacred value of biblical women. These compelling narrative poems give honor to the cursed, voice to the voiceless, names to the nameless, agency to the powerless, recognition to marginalized females and the Female Divine—thereby affirming all women in the image of Divine Wisdom. The enlightening foreword, introduction, and end notes also make Lady Midrash ideal for church study groups, academic classes, and personal exploration.”

Read a review of Lady Midrash by Presbyterian minister Jean Rodenbough, published in Christian Feminism Today.

 

ElisabethGreene_headshot-290x290

 

Elisabeth Mehl Greene is a writer and composer working in a variety of creative writing and musical genres. Greene’s work of poetry, Lady Midrash, is published by Resource Publications. Greene received her doctorate from the University of Maryland and is currently a fellow at the Prince Alwaleed bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding at Georgetown University. On her website you will find her blog and some of her music.

 

 

 

MitraMitra Motlagh received an M.A. in Counseling from Western Seminary in Portland, OR and a B.A. in Theatre and B.A. in Writing/Literature from George Fox University. She has contributed her poetry and theatrical knowledge in collaboration with Elisabeth Mehl Greene on various projects, including a libretto adapted from the memoir Reading Lolita in Tehran and several musical pieces. Mitra is honored to continue this collaboration by performing selections from Lady Midrash, and she looks forward to using diverse approaches to helping people embody a more empowering narrative.

2 thoughts on ““Lady Midrash: Reclaiming the Voices of Biblical Women,” workshop facilitated by Elisabeth Greene and Mitra Motlagh at Christian Feminism Today Gathering

  1. That’s awesome! I love that y’all wrote poetry together, and history changin poetry! I’m sure there are a lot of women mentioned in or erased from the Bible that would appreciate recognition! Reminds me of the quote: “No well behaved woman ever makes history”! <3

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