Scripture Focus: Proverbs 31:29
29 “Many women do noble things,
     but you surpass them all.”

Reflection: The Impossibility of Proverbs 31
By Erin Newton

Growing up with Proverbs 31 as the “checklist” of being a woman felt impossible. The excellence required stood in direct opposition to the predetermined lifestyle for women set by our brothers in the faith.

  • Be productive (vv. 13-16). This woman is entrepreneurial and hardworking. Her job takes her out of the home, and she invests with financial freedom. I was told to dream only of home and let my husband decide our (or his) finances.
  • Be strong (v. 17). This woman was physically strong. Knowing her work required heavy lifting or strenuous tasks, she probably didn’t worry when her biceps bulged. I was told my body was a blessing and a curse. I should keep a “feminine” frame (be thin) to remain the weaker vessel.
  • Be talented (vv. 18-19, 22, 24). She works in agriculture and husbandry. She makes clothing and textiles—a “Jane” of all trades. I was told I could have hobbies, as long as they stood in the shadows of my role in the family. I felt like Elizabeth Bennet responding to the supposed qualifications of a woman: “I never saw such a woman. She would certainly be a fearsome thing to behold.”
  • Be a wise teacher (v. 26). She is revered for her instruction—a feature that usually only comes from extensive learning. I was told my speaking had limits and boundaries. I was accepted if it was within the walls of a classroom not a church, on a Saturday not Sunday, behind a lectern not a pulpit, called a devotional not a sermon, and under the title of teacher not pastor.
  • Be extraordinary (vv. 10, 28-29). She is so rare she can hardly be found. She is not like everyone else. She excels in every possible way. She is a rare gem and worthy of honor and praise. I was once called special and one of a kind—by another married man who was supposed to be my religious leader.

I do not mind having her as an example for my life, but the Church sometimes prevents that which it demands. She sets a high bar filled with opportunity, independence, and strength. She is probably Woman Wisdom, making this the bookend of female encounters in Proverbs. If she is the ideal for all women, she is also the ideal for all men—not as a requirement for one’s spouse but as a required way of life.

Divine Hours Prayer: The Call to Prayer
Sing praise to the Lord who dwells in Zion; proclaim to the peoples the things he has done. — Psalm 9.11

– From The Divine Hours: Prayers for Summertime by Phyllis Tickle.

​Today’s Readings
Proverbs 31 (Listen 2:50)
Psalm 48 (Listen 1:28)

Read more about Lady Wisdom
After the cloying voice of the temptress, and vivid descriptions of her hapless victims, a new voice speaks out in Proverbs—Lady Wisdom.

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