Last spring I audited a seminar titled “Images of Mary Magdalene”. We began with the canonical gospels (stretching my Greek to the limit) and moved into the contemporaneous non-canoncial works - or the remnants of them uncovered at Nag Hammadi. (We ended with the films The Last Temptation of Christ and Jesus of Montreal!) The course began by asking us to write what we knew about Mary Magdalene, and many of us were surprised by how much of what we were certain of, was not attested to in any of the primary sources.
Joan Chittister’s book “The Friendship of Women: The Hidden Tradition of the Bible” focuses a less scholarly eye on the women of the Bible, the scriptures provide a point of departure for a series of reflections on the many facets of friendship. As a Benedictine nun and prioress, she brings a strong formation within a community of women to this book. While she does not explicitly recount her own experiences of living within such a community of faith, I suspect it enables her to see clearly not only the strengths that some aspects of friendship have, but their perils as well.
The book begins by positing that the spiritual and philosophical aspects of the friendship of women have been historically neglected. Taking community to be central to who we are as believers - even hermits base their vocation in the ascetic rejection of the “good” of community - she hopes we can grow spiritually from a clearer understanding of the gifts of friendship.
We’re among friends here - so let’s talk!
The most obvious question is which of the aspects of friendship did you find most appealing? Or revealing? The two reflections on Elizabeth (acceptance) and Ruth (availability) drew me in. The friends who walked with me through the death of my first husband, accepting where I was - were the women who I “[exposed my heart] to in the hope of finding healing hands”. Last week another friend asked me to read a draft of his essay on availability. Ruth gave me another way to read it.
I found I needed to have the scriptures in hand when reading each of the reflections (the back of the book gives the key references), that my memories of each woman were not enough to let me extract everything I could from the book. This may be my Ignatian bent coming into play, I want to start with scriptures, then walk in the door. I will admit that the looseness of the interpretation bothered me from time to time. (Would I really say that after having read this?) If you re-read the scriptures, did this enhance your reading of the book? Did it bother you how much was read into the scriptures?
Do you think there are essential difference between the friendships of women for each other, and male-female or male-male friendships? The author seems to suggest this is the case, but reaching into my own experiences, I found that all of the characteristics applied to the women, also applied to at least one of my male friendships.
What else struck you about the book? Would you recommend it to a friend?! I’ll be checking in from time to time to see where the discussion is going…