So much richness in the retreat I went to Friday night and Saturday. It’s hard to believe that so much rich teaching could be packed into such a short time.
The shortness of the time – 24 hours – was the hardest part. I don’t think anyone slept very well on Friday night, as one often doesn’t for the first night in a strange place. But we didn’t get a second chance to sleep better. It seemed we got there and had to turn around and head home right away. I felt extra tired on Saturday, and the bleak grayness of the day (which was rainy/misty and only about 40 degrees) didn’t lend itself to providing much energy. And yet it was still completely worth it. I didn’t come home physically rested, but I didn’t expect to. I did come home spiritually enriched, and that was a blessing.
Dr. Kenneth Bailey is an amazing Bible teacher. I have had the privilege of listening to many good teachers of the Scriptures. There have been a few teachers in particular at whose feet I have felt especially privileged to sit, and I count Dr. Bailey among those. With his long years of experience in the Middle East, and his many years of prayerful listening and careful scholarship, he brings a faithful yet incredibly fresh perspective to the Biblical text. He opens up the Scriptures in ways that sometimes literally take my breath and bring tears to my eyes.
Many of the teachers I’ve had over the years, going back to the late 1980s at Eastern, have given me deeper insight into the place of women in the Scriptures and in the Kingdom. I have always been incredibly thankful for that. But it is not something I have spent a lot of time thinking about specifically in recent years, and I was amazed, as Dr. Bailey unfolded his teaching on women in the New Testament, to realize how much I have unconsciously absorbed that is not helpful – attitudes and assumptions about women’s roles, worth, and place that are culturally shaped but not gospel shaped. We get these tapes playing in our minds and hearts sometimes that are so quiet and unobtrusive they’re like muzak on elevators – but the messages can really hurt us. Then we “flee to the life of Jesus” (as Michael Card puts it) and we discover the truth that set us free.
It is always amazing to realize anew how radically freeing the gospel is, and to see again and again how deeply and tenderly Jesus cares for all of creation and every single person in it. As Dr. Bailey flew through passage after passage (amazing how much he got in during three sessions) the insights were flying around the room like a flock of birds, and every diverse note seemed to sing the same song. It takes *male and female* to be the image of God. And we are at our best and most gospel-shaped when we are not fighting, not trying to oppose each other, not trying to trump or one-up the other, not trying to jockey for positions of power over each other, not lording it over each other, but joining hands at the table to work together, love together, serve Jesus together, radically thankful for the grace that makes us all forgiven and free, radically assured that we are equally broken, equally saved by grace, equally called and gifted, equally needed to share his love in this messed up world. And that we manifest that love best together, because there are things unique in both women and men that reflect the character of God.
The other wonderful thing about those 24 hours was how lovely it was to connect with women: past and present. I had time in the Scriptures with women who have shaped our heritage of faith since the church’s beginning. I had leisurely time at three meals to get to know four ladies in my parish better. I was there because a woman friend from afar gave me the gift of the retreat. And in what felt like a total grace note, in our closing Eucharist, we “happened” to sing two songs which incredibly represent, for me, two very different spiritual seasons in my life shaped very strongly by two different women. I learned these songs while learning from those two women, Evelyn (in my childhood) and Lucille (in my 20s). Along with my mother, they have been some of the deepest influences ever in my spiritual life.