Excerpts from a ‘Biblical Edition’ of the Vagina Monologues
Introduction by the Authors: Mary, Martha, Mary, Eve, Mary…some biblical women are part of our common cultural language. But what do we really know about them? What is the truth and what is the patina of ages of misogynist commentary? And what about the women who are less commonly talked about?
When we took a class at Union Presbyterian Seminary called “The Bible from the Underside”, we started thinking about all these questions and more. As we looked to the Scriptures and discovered how much these stories had been distorted, watered down, glossed over, over-sexualized, and silenced, we knew we had work to do. With an offhand mention of Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues and how powerful it would be – at times heart-wrenching and at times great fun – to explore the Bible through that lens, this project was born.
We began by reading, scrutinizing, questioning, and wrestling with the stories themselves, all of which come straight out of Scripture. The women, our sisters in Christ, our mothers in faith, spoke to us with energy, eagerness, attitude, and wry intelligence. They sparked ideas and conversations, jokes and lamentations. They took us by the hand and led us into their worlds, their hearts, and their minds. We wrote nineteen monologues and performed them with members of the class in the spring of 2013. The next year, we added four more monologues and performed it again the next year. In May of 2014, we finished our seminary careers and this project through an independent study, diving back into the commentaries for a finished project of forty-five monologues and five moderated group sessions
Trigger Warning: All the stories and material presented below are based on Scripture, and the Bible contains stories that some may consider sexually graphic as well as stories of rape and sexual assault. While we hope to build awareness, solidarity, and healing by give narrative voice to those stories in these monologues, some of these re-tellings may trigger traumatic memories for survivors.
For those who are challenged by the use of the medically and anatomically correct word for women’s genitalia, ‘vagina’, that has been used to increase honesty about current gender relations, we welcome your reflections on frankness and equality in approaching biblical figures and models of faith. —The Editors.
Direction notes: This play is designed to be performed with minimal sets and costumes, letting the stories speak for themselves. The setting is a discussion group for women.
Moderator: Thanks for showing up to tonight’s meeting. Hope there were enough parking spaces for your camels…Donkey for you, Mary. We hope in this space you can reclaim your voices and your vaginas. […] We won’t have time to share all of our stories tonight, but if you would like to learn more, the Bible is a wonderful resource for these tales. We will tell our stories tonight by mutual invitation. Sarah, would you like to tell your story first? Then, please invite someone else to share.
God brought life through my barrenness.
But before there was laughter, there was sorrow.
My story begins in the later years of my life.
One word: menopause.
With every hot flash, I was reminded that my ability to have children was no more.
With every month that passed by, there was no blood to give me hope that I might still bear a child to Abraham. Abraham never stopped loving me, but…
there was always that question in his eyes.
What kind of woman doesn’t produce children??
I was that woman. 90 years of wisdom, but no child to pass it on to.
Hagar… she looked down at me, laughed at me with the other women, felt that she was better than me for bearing MY husband a son.
But even in my darkest moments, God was there; God had not written off my vagina yet.
A child would pass through it, through its sagging walls and dusty passageways.
My sorrow would become joy.
A son, son of my laughter, Isaac.
A son of MY old age.
Yet, even if I had not had a child,
Even if I had not had Isaac,
God had not written me off.
God loved me for the woman that I was, and God loves me for the woman that I am.
God loved my vagina, regardless of whether a baby had passed through it.
There was life in me, a creative and innovative force, energy to contribute to the world.
Even though the world only saw me for my child-bearing inability.
Even in sorrow, even in barrenness… God brings life, God brings joy.
The vagina is just one part of a woman.
It is a passageway to life, but it is not the only way.
God brought life through my vagina, but God also brings life through the work of my hands, the work of my brain, and the work of my heart.
And God doesn’t stop bringing life, even when menopause sets in.
Moderator: Thank you, Sarah. Who do you invite to speak next?
Sarah: I invite the Levite’s Concubine
The Levite’s Concubine
I left town to spend a few days in my father’s house, let things cool off a little. My husband wanted me to come back. He came all the way there to get me. He said he was going to speak tenderly to my heart, but mostly he and Daddy argued and caroused. The same old thing we always fought about. I thought he might have changed in my absence.
When we finally left for home, we knew it would be a long journey through strange places. I agreed with the servant that we should stop in Jebus for the night, but my husband insisted on going on to Gibeah because it was a Benjamite town.
We sat in the town square until well after dark, and then a man came and took us to his home. His wife was sweet, and we got along. He was feeding us when we heard something outside that made us all jump. The man motioned for us to be silent and went to the door. It was the townsmen. Apparently word had gotten out that there were visitors, and they wanted to see my husband. We all knew it wasn’t to get to know him better.
I don’t know if the man panicked or if he had had this in mind all along, but he…he pushed me and his wife out the door and shut it tight. I can’t tell you anything more about that night. I don’t know how many of them there were. I never opened my eyes or my mouth. Each time I thought it was over, it wasn’t. The sun came up, and no relief.
Finally they had had enough, and I went back to the man’s house, where I fell down on the doorstep. When he saw me there, my husband picked me up, put me on his donkey, and took me home. I was so broken, so spent, that I don’t remember when exactly I died. I know he cut me up, but I don’t remember feeling it. Everything hurt already.
Now I am Israel, I am twelve, I am no more and I am always. My vagina was the first part of me to be broken, and the rest followed. My vagina is priceless and worthless, vulnerable and meaningful. My vagina is a vanguard.
Moderator: Thank you. And now we have a meeting of a support group for women who have faced sexual abuse.
Bathsheba: You can say it, moderator. Women who have been raped.
I am the daughter of Eliam, wife first to Uriah the Hittite, then wife to David.
Yes, I had to marry my rapist, who was also the murderer of my first husband.
My story begins normally enough. I had finished my period, and, as was customary, I was purifying myself on the roof of my house. But that month, the king was watching from the roof of his house.
He sent messengers to get me. One can’t simply not answer the door when messengers from the king are knocking. And thus, I came to David and he lay with me.
My rapist was both known to me and had power over me. He was the king of my country, anointed by God. The prophet Samuel had warned against kings like this, kings who take what is not theirs.
I say three words in the entire account in 2 Samuel. Those three words that change the course of the story, “I am pregnant.” When women get raped, they can still get pregnant; don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
And I was pregnant. Oh, God, I was pregnant. I despised this growing creature within me, a reminder of my powerlessness against my rapist. But, then I heard the news. Nathan told David that because of his deed, the child that was born to me would die. At first I felt joy, but then I felt guilt, then sadness. What sort of mother was I to be if I rejoiced over the death of the fruit of my own womb? But yet, what sort of love could I give it if it were to live?
The official account reads, “The Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bore to David, and it became very ill.” The gossipers loved that. Did you hear? Uriah’s wife bore a son to another man, but not just any man – the king!
My story does not end with the child’s death, and I refused to play the victim. I bore more children for David, including Solomon. And to the end, I never let David forget how our relationship began and his sins against the Lord. As he lay dying, I went to David. He asked me what I wished, and I told him – that Solomon shall be king. And he listened.
Woman with the Issue of Blood
When I was ten, I stood up from playing and noticed a dark spot in the dirt. It was on my robe, too, and I will never forget the way my mother looked at me when I told her. Proud and sad. Wistful. I had never seen her that way, at a loss for words. From then on, I had to be unclean for a week every month. Mother said to stay away from my brothers until I could be purified. Suddenly my vagina mattered like it never had before. I had only brothers, and I wasn’t like them anymore. Even the younger ones counted more than me. It was awful at first, but I grew to accept it, even like it a little. I was a woman! Something the boys could never take from me. They had to work all month long, and I got a break. They were the same all the time, and I was changing and growing. It was scary that I couldn’t control my bleeding, but it was awesome that no one else could either.
When I was thirteen, it started lasting longer every time, going from a week to ten days over the course of that year. By the time I turned fifteen, I was unclean more often than I was clean, and soon there was blood all the time. I thought twelve years was long before that, but I had no idea how slowly time could go. No work, no livelihood or husband, no friends. I was only alive because my mother insisted on feeding and housing me. Then after twelve years, I heard about a rabbi called Jesus. He could heal, they said. He could heal anything. And he was coming here.
After I heard that, I couldn’t keep still. I didn’t know much about him, but I wanted to make sure I would be among those he healed. I thought about confronting him. I thought about pulling him aside from the crowd to make him focus on me. I even thought about kidnapping him if he was unwilling. When the day came, I was still undecided, so I just set out from the house, shaking and sweating, and joined the crowd.
When I saw him, I stopped breathing for a moment. I only saw the back of his head, and still I knew I would not need to kidnap him or fight to be healed. It was free, and all I had to do was draw close. What a relief! No confrontation, no public encounter between a rabbi and an unclean woman.
I elbowed my way among my neighbors who had ignored me for a decade, getting closer to him every minute. He strode with purpose, so I had to be fast to close the gap between us. When I finally did, I was out of breath and a little woozy, but I managed to brush my hand against the fabric at his right ankle. As I slowed down in order to become part of the crowd, he spun around and looked at each face, saying, “Who touched me?” I couldn’t tell if he was angry, just hurried, or something else entirely. His disciples looked a little alarmed at the question and pointed out that everyone had been pressed up against everyone else, but he insisted that he had felt power leave him. I could tell he wouldn’t leave until he knew, so I knelt and confessed. Then he told me it was my faith that made me well.
Since then, life feels surreal sometimes; it had been so long since I had company or regular interactions. Finally my vagina is a welcome and friendly part of me, not an erratic stranger I have to harbor. I can trust our rhythm, count the days until bleeding begins and ends, and see it for what it is: a source of joy and life that connects me to my God.
Moderator: Thank you, Woman with the Issue of Blood. Who do you invite to speak next?
Woman with the Issue of Blood: I invite the wife from Proverbs 31.
Proverbs 31 Wife
“Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the city gates.” (Proverbs 30:30-31)
It had been a long day.
The first time I heard my ode, I burst into tears.
The last section of my ode was exactly what I needed to hear.
I needed this praise to have the strength to keep going.
I am a working mom.
I didn’t even have the time to write my own ode.
What exactly is exhausting about being a working mom?
Well, this is what my Proverbial biographer observed:
I seek wool and flax, and work it with my willing hands.
I rise while it is still night to provide food for my household.
I consider a field, buy it, and by the fruit of my hands, plant a vineyard.
My lamp does not go out at night.
I also open my hand to the poor and reach out to the needy.
I have clothed my family in crimson.
I clothe myself in fine linen and purple.
I make linen garments and sell them, supplying the merchant with sashes.
I am the epitome of strength, dignity, wisdom, kindness.
I look well to the ways of my household.
My children call me happy, and my husband praises me.
Ode to me, a capable wife.
I am not just a wife. I am a mom. I am an entrepreneur.
I am a working mom.
Even just hearing my resume makes me tired.
And my Proverbial biographer missed a few things.
It captures the exhaustion of long days and long nights.
It observes the delicate balance of family and business.
Yet, it passes over the fighting of morning of sickness while fixing family dinner.
It skips over the times of mothering to childhood illnesses and tough days at school.
Marriage is a partnership, but there are some things that only a mom can handle.
And after a long day, I often don’t have the time and energy for myself.
This ode remains completely silent about my needs.
Yes, women think about it too.
No need to be prudish: SEX!
It’s nice to be affirmed physically.
To be romantic, to be carried away.
Husband, get off the couch and remember the romance of our wedding night!
So, working moms, here is my ode of encouragement to you.
Working moms, the work that you do is God’s work.
God has called you to be a mom and to follow your professional call.
You love your children just as God loves them.
You pursue a career that God has called you to.
Live into it, despite the stress and craziness.
Know that you are not alone: God is with you.
Take care of yourself; remember whose you are.
And may you be fulfilled and supported by all of those you are caring for.
Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,
But a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised.
Give her a share in the fruit of her hands,
And let her works praise her in the city gates.
Moderator: Thank you, Proverbs 31, wife. Who do you invite to speak next?
Provers 31 Wife: I invite the women of Corinth.
Women of Corinth
Taking turns to read Paul’s letter, passing one sheet around, like it’s being read for the first time:
“…for God is a God not of disorder but of peace. As in all the churches of the saints, women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only ones it has reached?”
(Open space for gasps, ‘Oh no he did-n’t,’ ‘Did Paul write that?’, other reactions.)
Woman 1: Excuse me, Paul. Did the word of God originate with you!? Or are you the only one it has reached?!?!
Woman 2: God is a God not of disorder but of peace… Paul is not preaching a peaceful doctrine here.
Woman 3: Yeah, I’ll show Paul disorder.
Woman 4: (Sadly) How can Paul write this? I have felt and seen the Spirit of God move through me and other women in the church. Has he not seen or felt what I have seen?
Woman 5: I have had no husband and desire none. I want to come to church and ask questions, be a part of theological discourse.
Woman 1: Well, my husband is dead and I do not desire to remarry. Is Paul suggesting that I remarry in order to know about God?!
Woman 2: A woman’s place is in the House… And the Roman Senate!
Woman 3: Yeah! We will not be silenced in the church.
Woman 4: How can it be shameful for women to speak in the church? Do we not proclaim that Jesus came into the world for all people? Not just men?
Woman 5: We need to draft a letter in response to Paul. For our daughters, for our nieces, for our granddaughters, for ourselves. We shall not be silenced.
The women of Corinth, called to be apostles of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
To Paul, who has equally been called to be an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God,
Grace to you and peace from God our Creator and the Lord Jesus.
We write as your sisters in Christ, saddened by your recent letter, casting us into silence and removing us from the life of Christ’s church. When you founded our church, you welcomed us as your sisters in Christ, encouraging us in our faith and commitment to Christ.
And now, you invite us to drink of the same Spirit, but we must do so silently. What female insubordination have you heard about that you write such hateful words?? We find ourselves left with many questions – for you and for God.
We are subject to God, but we humbly recognize that the Word of God did come to earth in the womb of a woman. Throughout the centuries, God has brought about new creations through women, and Jesus called women to follow him. We worship a God of peace, and your message did not reflect our understanding of God’s peace.
Please come visit soon; we would love to discuss this matter with you in the church, where we will continue to fully participate in, worshiping the Word of God, which brings life and not death, songs of praise and not subjugation, radical inclusion and not dismissal.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you, and our love be with you in Christ Jesus.
Moderator: Thank you, women of Corinth.
On behalf of everyone here, I want to thank you for sharing your stories. Be sure to have some dates and honey on your way out, and you can get your animal parking tickets validated at the front desk. We hope that you continue to reclaim your voices and your vaginas and invite other women to our next gathering that they may share as well.
We will remember your stories and pray that the peace of God may find you throughout all of your days. Go in peace.
ABOUT THE AUTHORS: Rachel Shepherd (left) and Miriam Foltz (right) are both 2014 graduates of Union Presbyterian Seminary in Richmond, VA. Rachel is an Interim Associate Pastor at Second Presbyterian Church in Little Rock, AR. She loves food, travel, and good conversation, along with too many other things and people to list. Miriam lives in St Louis where she is forming a UKirk (Presbyterian Campus Ministry) chapter for local colleges and universities. She loves running in St Louis’ Forest Park, reading books from St Louis’ public library, and seeking God’s face in the city of St Louis.
Rachel and Miriam are excited to be in the process of finalizing and submitting the entirety of Daughters of Eve for publication. If you are interested in learning more, please email Miriam Foltz or Rachel Shepherd.
Read more articles from this issue, “Hearing the Voices of Peoples Long Silenced”: Gender Justice 2014!