Brief Book Review: The Women’s Lectionary

The Women’s Lectionary:
Preaching the Women of the Bible throughout the Year
By Ashley M. Wilcox

Who should read this? Ashley Wilcox intends this lectionary as a resource primarily for preachers and urges them to take a year to focus on women in the Bible and feminine images of God. I suggest that many others — catechists, teachers, Bible study groups, and anyone wanting to learn about and reflect upon the stories of women in the tradition — would find this volume thought-provoking and enriching.

What’s the main point? This volume is a lectionary based on women in the Bible and feminine images of God. The texts follow the liturgical calendar and may also appear in the Revised Common Lectionary, Year D, or other alternative lectionaries. The author includes commentaries for each text, which offer background, suggestions for preachers, and questions that could be used not only by preachers but individuals or small groups for reflection and discussion.

Why is this book significant? The author lifts up and probes the stories of the many inspiring and influential women of Scripture, women whose stories are too often overlooked, misinterpreted, or omitted in lectionaries. She also explores images for God that can lead Christians to deeper reflection and relationship with the Sacred.

Kudos. Kudos to Ashley M. Wilcox for asking a poignant question, “What if the church took one year to focus on the stories of women in the Bible?” What if…?  The Women’s Lectionary helps us to imagine the “what if.”

Wilcox, Ashley M. The Women’s Lectionary: Preaching the Women of the Bible throughout the Year. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2021. 294 pages. $45.00. ISBN: 9780664266196.

REVIEWER: Anne Koester
Anne Koester is Senior Compliance Specialist,
Protection of Minors Policy Manager,
and Adjunct Instructor of Theology at
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

In This Issue: Yale Journal of Music & Religion 7, no. 2 (2021)

The Yale Journal of Music & Religion (YJMR) is a peer-reviewed, open-access journal publishing scholarship on sacred music in all its ritual, artistic, and cultural contexts across a range of methodologies.

Liturgy and Musical Inculturation in a Post-Apartheid South African Catholicism
Austin Chinagorom Okigbo
There is a developing trend within mainstream South African Churches to incorporate styles of traditional African music and cultural elements in liturgical functions. This is happening in places where such ideas were hitherto unwelcome because mission churches witnessed the denigration of indigenous African cultures by Europeans during the eras of both colonialism and apartheid. Inculturation Theology underscores the current drive for liturgical transformation. It comprises a part of Black Theology in South Africa, which developed as an intellectual framework for liberation during the time of the anti-apartheid struggles. Using the ethnographic study of the cultural mass at Emmanuel Cathedral in Durban, I suggest that through liturgy and musical inculturation, modern Zulu Christians are reinventing their indigenous cultural forms, which previously had been suppressed in the mission churches. I argue further that Zulu Christians use the process of liturgy and musical inculturation to articulate their religious experience as African people, as well as fulfill their aspirations to maintain their Christian heritage without losing their African and Zulu identities.

Bodies of Silence, Floods of Nectar: Ritual Music in Contemporary Brahmanical Tantric Temples of Kerala
Paolo Pacciolla
The Tantric concept of sound (nāda) as universal life-force has seen worldwide diffusion over the last few decades but such a fame does not reflect academic interest in the impact of Tantra on music. Indeed, while a number of essays have been written to demonstrate the contribution of Tantrism to the evolution of Indian religions and culture, its contribution to music has been left largely unexplored.

The word Tantra refers to a pan-Asian religious phenomenon spread over numerous centuries and including a wide number of sects having different and even opposite philosophical and theological approaches which may be addressed from the perspective of the concept of the body. In fact, the divinization of the body or the understanding of the human body as the major Tantric metaphor of the cosmos and its processes is the most important uniting factor of such diversity. The tradition of Brahmanical temple Tantrism practiced in contemporary Kerala, with its own map of the body, interior practices and rituals including music, helps an understanding of the concepts and ideas embedded in Tantric ritual practices and musical forms. It adopts the human body as the model for temple architecture and also for musical forms and intends the ritual activity as a re-enactment of the process of enlightenment.

By adopting a multidimensional approach including ethnography, musical analysis and textual sources, this article studies how ritual music is structured and attributed meaning in the Brahmanical temple Tantric tradition of contemporary Kerala. It reconstructs a narration behind the contemporary ritual procedure associated with the pouring of water and other substances (abhiṣeka) on the icon of the deity and argues that the ideas embedded in compositional forms mirror and complement such narration.

The Dance of Ādi Śakti: The Goddess in the Songs of Bharati and Nazrul
Achintya Prahlad
C Subramania Bharati (1882-1921) and Kazi Nazrul Islam (1899-1976) were significant poet-songwriters of the Indian freedom struggle. Their works explore a wide range of themes – political, philosophical, romantic and devotional. Both poets were educated in rāga music, which is prominent in many of their songs. Bharati wrote in Tamil, while Nazrul wrote in Bangla. It is highly unlikely that they read or were influenced by each other’s works. However, one finds several similarities in their poetry, especially the importance given to the goddess Ādi Śakti in her various forms, Kālī in particular. The goddess plays a major role in their national consciousness; yet, they are not sectarian in their approach, and believe strongly in an inclusive Indian nation. Both of them criticize caste and patriarchy, and turn the worship of the goddess into a revolutionary act. Neither was confined to one religion or to the worship of only one deity, or to one genre of poetry. Bharati, a Tamil Brahmin, challenged the supremacy of his own caste. Nazrul, who was from a Muslim family, sang songs of Islamic and Hindu devotion alike. The goddess occupies a special place in both their hearts. Crucially, both poets used religious imagery propelled by music to convey their progressive and liberationist ideals to a large public. My work is a comparative exploration – the first, to my knowledge – of their songs on the goddess. I choose three broad aspects of the goddess: the beauty within the terrifying; the goddess as a child or daughter; and the goddess of the nation. Through these, I examine points of convergence in their poetry, the musical interpretations of their works, the influence of their contrasting cultural backgrounds, their views on women and caste, and how the goddess inspires them to contribute to the struggle for a free India.

Sermon and Song: A Musically Integrative Homiletic
Catherine E. Williams
For centuries the interdisciplinary dyad of sermon and song has been in the toolkit of effective preachers. Yet scholarship on conjoined preaching and singing has been relatively sparse, despite the abundance of strong biblical, historical, and cultural warrants for its effectiveness as a means of proclamation. Seminary students have been known to graduate without ever seeing the synergistic combination of sermon and song in a preaching syllabus. With the help of musical analogue Theme and Variations, this essay illustrates a variety of ways this preaching method works for musical and “non-musical” users alike. It highlights the spiritual and cultural value of this blended form of preaching to communities of color, particularly in Black preaching traditions. Ultimately the article shows the need for preachers and teachers of preaching to more honestly engage with the values and needs of increasingly diverse students and congregations by giving the homiletical dyad of sermon and song a more conspicuous place among sermonic methods taught in seminaries and practiced in pulpits.

Nadia Chana reviews Kirin Narayan, Everyday Creativity: Singing Goddesses in the Himalayan Foothills (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2016).

Carolina Sacristán Ramírez reviews Andrew Cashner, Hearing Faith: Music as Theology in the Spanish Empire. Studies in the History of Christian Traditions 194. (Leiden: Brill, 2020).

Brief Book Review: Claiming the Call to Preach

Claiming the Call to Preach:
Four Female Pioneers of Preaching in Nineteenth-Century America
By Donna Giver-Johnston

What’s the main point? Donna Giver-Johnston uses the hermeneutical framework of feminist scholar Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza to focus on the experience of nineteenth-century American women who claimed the call to preach. The author examines the ways in which their call was shaped by their social, cultural and religious location and suggests how the experiences of these women can inform the conversation in the twenty-first century about women’s call to preach.

Why is this book significant? It urges Christian communities to listen anew to the actual experiences of women and honor their claim of the call to preach.

What will most inspire you? The fascinating and powerful call narratives of Jarena Lee, Frances Willard, Louisa Woosley, and Florence Speaking Randolph. They were women who acted with wisdom, courage and perseverance.  Thank you, Donna Giver-Johnston, for telling their stories.

Kudos. The author skillfully draws upon history, theology, practice and stories of struggle and success. She weaves together various threads, which makes this book a compelling read and one that invites reflection and discussion in both academic and pastoral circles.

Next steps. Giver-Johnston writes that through this volume, she hopes to “extend the conversation and enliven the dance.” This is a remarkable invitation. We need to listen to the stories of women who know the call to preach and lift up these narratives to inspire and persuade and we need to provide avenues for people to encounter the Mystery of Christ in the stories and preaching of women. We have for too long overlooked these call narratives and the vital need for the voices of women who are called to preach to be heard.

Giver-Johnson, Donna. Claiming the Call to Preach: Four Female Pioneers of Preaching in Nineteenth-Century America. New York: Oxford University Press, 2021. 321 pages. $99.00. ISBN: 9780197576373.

REVIEWER: Anne Koester
Anne Koester is Senior Compliance Specialist,
Protection of Minors Policy Manager,
and Adjunct Instructor of Theology at
Georgetown University, Washington, D.C.

“How Not to Preach”

columbus ohio amboFr. John J. Conley, S.J., of Loyola University Maryland offered a tongue-in-cheek reflection over at America earlier this week on what has become a popular topic, “how not to preach.” Conley points to Pope Francis’ exhortation, Joy of the Gospel, and the much anticipated document from the Congregation for Divine Worship, a Directory on Preaching. 

Following a number of stories of preaching gone awry, Conley offers this advice for those who will take to the pulpit this weekend:

First, fall in love with God’s word in Scripture. Let the great hymn of creation, fall and redemption become your personal theme song. Walk around in the Bible. Pitch your tent in it. If possible, learn biblical Hebrew and Greek. You are giving your congregation a word of hope that no government and no psychological technique can provide, because it is a hope rooted in Christ’s conquest of sin and death itself.

Second, love the people addressed by your sermon. A distinguished Protestant preacher once remarked that he began each week with an hour in his church. He walked up and down the aisle, imagining the various parishioners he would see on a typical Sunday. He asked God to show him how the sermon he was preparing could actually meet their particular needs and questions. It is in the persevering study of God’s word and in this loving intercession for one’s listeners that the Holy Spirit really begins to teach us how to preach.

Conley’s full column is available here.

When Pope Francis adds to his prepared homily text

Pope Francis celebrated the Solemnity of Saints Peter and Paul in Rome this morning, in the presence of a delegation of the Patriarchate of Constantinople, with the Lutheran choir from St. Thomas Church in Leipzig (where Bach once served).

As is his style, Francis deviated from the prepared text when he delivered the homily. It is fascinating to see what changes he made, as the comparison below illustrates. Francis’ last-minute changes all go in one direction: toward greater collegiality, more synodality, more emphasis on the Synod of Bishops, and more mention of the People of God. All this puts the primacy of the Bishop of Rome more firmly within a context.

Vatican Radio offers an English translation of Francis’ homily. The original wasn’t in English, you understand, but the English translation is presumably done from the original text prepared ahead of time. This is why I call it the “Original in English” below.

The Vatican website offers the final text of the homily as delivered in Italian.

Here are excerpts comparing the original and the final, with the added parts in red (my rough translation). Francis is offering three (he does everything in threes in his homilies) thoughts on the Petrine ministry, guided by the word “confirm.”

ORIGINAL IN ENGLISH: 2. The Bishop of Rome is called himself to live and to confirm his brothers and sisters in this love for Christ and for all others, without distinction, limits or barriers.

ITALIAN DELIVERY: 2. Il Vescovo di Roma è chiamato a vivere e confermare in questo amore verso Cristo e verso tutti senza distinzioni, limiti e barriere.

ADDED: E non solo il Vescovo di Roma: tutti voi, nuovi arcivescovi e vescovi, avete lo stesso compito: lasciarsi consumare per il Vangelo, farsi tutto a tutti. Il compito di non risparmiare, uscire di sé al servizio del santo popolo fedele di Dio.

TRANSLATION OF ADDED: And not only the Bishop of Rome, all of you, new archbishops and bishops, have the same task: to give oneself to be consumed by the Gospel, to be all things to all people. The task is not to be frugal, [but] to go out of oneself at the service of the holy faithful people of God.

ORIGINAL IN ENGLISH: 3. To confirm in unity. … And it [The Second Vatican Council] continues, “this college, in so far as it is composed of many members, is the expression of the variety and universality of the people of God”

ITALIAN DELIVERY: Confermare nell’unità:

ADDED: il Sinodo dei Vescovi, in armonia con il primato. Dobbiamo andare per questa strada della sinodalità, crescere in armonia con il servizio del primato.

TRANSLATION OF ADDED: the Synod of Bishops, in harmony with the primacy. We must go down this path of synodality, to grow in harmony with the service of primacy.

ITALIAN DELIVERY CONTINUED: E continua, il Concilio: «questo Collegio, in quanto composto da molti, esprime la varietà e universalità del Popolo di Dio»

ORIGINAL IN ENGLISH: 3. United in our differences: this is the way of Jesus! The pallium, while being a sign of communion with the Bishop of Rome and with the universal church, also commits each of you to being a servant of communion.

ITALIAN DELIVERY: 3.Uniti nelle differenze:

ADDED: non c’è un’altra strada cattolica per unirci. Questo è lo spirito cattolico, lo spirito cristiano: unirsi nelle differenze.

TRANSLATION OF ADDED: there is no other Catholic path to unite us. This is the Catholic spirit, the Christian spirit: to be united in difference.

ITALIAN DELIVERY CONTINUED: Questa è la strada di Gesù! Il Pallio, se è segno della comunione con il Vescovo di Roma, con la Chiesa universale,

ADDED: con il Sinodo dei Vescovi,

TRANSLATION OF ADDED: with the Synod of Bishops

ITALIAN DELIVERY CONTINUED: è anche un impegno per ciascuno di voi ad essere strumenti di comunione.