I met Heather Farrell, the author of the newly released book Walking With the Women of the New Testament (Cedar Fort 2014), several years ago after we interviewed her for the Mormon Women Project. Her work uncovering the less obvious women of the scriptures in her well-known blog, Women in the Scriptures, was inspiring to me, and I invited her to participate in an MWP Salon (one of our fundraising events) in which we would focus on the presence of women in the scriptures.
Heather took the lead in inviting Camille Fronk Olson and Ann Madsen to form a panel with her, and Courtney Kendrick hosted our Provo event. It was one of my most memorable evenings from the past few years of working on the Mormon Women Project. Each panelist explained how she finds women in the scriptures, studies the female presence, and understands her relationship to the Divine Feminine. I was so impressed by how Heather held her own and added rich insight alongside towering figures of scholarship and inspiration. It seemed obvious to me that Heather has a gift for identifying, celebrating and sharing the Divine Feminine presence in our existing doctirnal canon.
And so I was delighted to hear that Heather's formidable and self-taught skills were going to be put to good use in a new book, expressing her love for and hard-earned understanding of the women of the New Testament. In her book, Heather takes an encylopedic and yet highly accessible approach to exploring scriptural figures, their backgrounds, histories, spiritual lessons and applications for our day. Heather has managed to draw us into her highly personal relationship with the women of the scriptures while still educating us about their whos, whats and wheres. Her love for these women is evident in the poetic language she uses to describe their scriptural scenes, the reverence she shows for their plights and accomplishments. And she extends that love to all readers of the scriptures, encouraging us to seek for women, celebrate them and learn from them as she has. She generously shares her process for gaining insights, motivating each of us to find and love women in the scriptures as diligently as she has.
Heather doesn't stop with just giving us the feature woman's biographical sketch or outlining the factual details. She extraplolates universal lessons that make these women alive for us today. For example, in her discussion of Elisabeth and her relationship with the Savior's mother Mary, Heather identifies the blessing the women's relationship must have been to them:
The story of Elisabeth and Mary demonstrates that when God gives us a commandment or inspiration he always give us multiple witnesses to proclaim the truthfulness of his word. Mary must have felt quite afraid and alone as she faced her future life. She was betrothed and pregnant and didn't know how her future husband would react, but she knew she faced the possibility of being stoned to death. She also didn't know how her family would react or how she would be able to explain to them her situation. What a blessing for her to have Elisabeth, who through the power of the Holy Ghost was able to discern what had happened to her and who was able to give her the emotional, spiritual, and physical strength she needed to go forward on the hard path she had accepted from the Lord.
She then likens these lessons to her own experiences, and by doing so, invites us to do the same:
Just like he did for Mary, God sends people into our lives to pave the way for us to accomplish our divine missions on this earth. He sends people to us who will guide us onto the right path, who will validate our feelings and bear testimony to the promptings, dreams, visions and revelations that we have received from the Lord. I know that for me my sister-in-law was my "Elisabeth" and it was her example and encouragement that guided me and sustained me when I was fearful about becoming a mother. She gave birth to her first child just six months before I gave birth to mine and she was the one I turned to when my fears overpowered my faith and when I began to doubt myself and the Lord. She, like Elisabeth did for Mary, bore testimony to what I knew the Lord had told me and gave me the courage to go forth in faith.
She concludes by bringing in the observations and teachings of our current leaders:
I have also felt, like Mary and Elizabeth so beautifully demonstrated, the power that comes from friendships between older women and younger women. Sister Bonnie Oscarson taught, “I love the example we have in the first chapter of Luke which describes the sweet relationship between Mary, the mother of Jesus, and her cousin Elisabeth…This young maiden and her cousin, who was “well stricken in years,” shared a common bond in their miraculous pregnancies, and I can only imagine how very important the three months they spent together were to both of them as they were able to talk together, empathize with each other, and support one another in their unique callings. What a wonderful model they are of feminine nurturing between generations...."
Through this repeated pattern of comprehensive, expansive and highly personal exploration, Heather invites us in to love these women as she does.
The book is contructed in an artful way that will facilitate its use as a reference tool for scripture study. The entries are just the right length to consume in single settings, or to look up as demand arises. As I personally look for more examples of women -- past and present -- to use as examples in talks and lessons at Church, I'm particularly grateful for the increased understand I have of some of these women and the way their stories can inspire us today. Many of the women in the scriptures and in this book remain nameless, but it is books like this that allow these women to live in our hearts and in our discourse, even if their names no longer live with them.