If you pay close attention, you will come upon the word (or concept) model in some form or other on many pages of this week’s issue. Although it is a familiar concept, in my opinion we don’t hear about it nearly as much as we ought. Writers have lamented in these pages and elsewhere: Where are the role models (especially for the younger generations)? A very good question. Even more specifically, to whom can women look? Listen up. A book is coming along that may indeed enflesh the model, or at least offer the means to better model our lives. (And frankly, it is not a book for women only.)
The Story of Ruth: Twelve Moments in a Woman’s Life (Eerdmans, 96p $28, hardcover), by Joan Chittister, with art by John August Swanson, is scheduled for July publication. It is offered as a model for contemporary women seeking a full spiritual life. In the final analysis, writes Chittister, the biblical women Ruth and Naomi are simply metaphors, models for all the women of the world who push and prod and guide and give support to the rest of us through all the trying moments of life, however momentous, however mundane....The Ruths and Naomis of the human estate make the world go round. No one of us can get through the phases of our separate flowerings without their promptings. Without them growth is static, the worst happens, all of life’s inevitables look impossible. In other words, they are our rock and fortress, our stalwart guide through life’s labyrinths and our unfailing friend (sort of like the woman behind every great man?).
When put that way, identifying our Ruths and Naomis becomes a lot easier. We remember them especially for the lessons they taught us (consciously or unconsciously)based on their own lived experience. And that’s where The Story of Ruth holds sway. Each of its 12 chapters explores a defining moment, a formative experience related to the biblical story, and talks about what it means to be a woman of God today. These include loss, transformation, aging, independence, respect, recognition, empowerment and self-definition. There will no doubt be as many interpretations (and applications) of these as there are readers of the book. We are, after all, the sum of the influences on usand more.
Many fine women have graced my own life, in particular my (91-year-old) mother, for whom I am now mother. She is the embodiment of those musical Irish eyes that are smilinga woman of grace, patience, insight, spunk and, above all, a woman of God. There were Dominican sisters and Josephites, too. (Don’t ask my preference; I’ll never tell.) Thanks to my algebra coach, Sr. Thomas Aquinas (Tommy Q to the in’ students), I will never forget her All the x’s on the left-hand side; all the whole numbers on the right-hand side; when you change the sides, you change the signs). It has a real sing-songy sound, I know; but it does the trick. And Sr. Anne Regis, who made Latin one of my very favorite subjects. I summon that learned wisdom every time I do the New York Times crossword puzzle. And the Franciscan Sister of the Poor, Mary Benedict, who, though not able to count me among her successful recruits, had a permanent and indelible impact on my spiritual development. I’ve likewise been inspired and enriched by many in the secular worldin business, law and, of course, literary circles.
Memories of these women and all who have contributed to my formation, not only as a woman but as an independent adult person of faith, well up on nearly every page of Chittister’s book. It is chock full of gems such as this: Change points are those moments in life at which we get inside ourselves to find that we are not, at the end, really one person at all. We are manyeach of them lying in wait to come to life.