Sometimes the stories we tell ourselves change because our perspectives shift over time. When I visited Basilica de Santa Cecilia in Rome the second time, I worried that the year that had passed had exaggerated my recollection of the place. Happily, not so!
The beautiful courtyard in front of the church was still dripping with bougainvillea.
Its interiors still sang with their soaring heights.
Intricate mosaics still glittered magically, and the wonder I felt over the talent and tenaciousness of the artists remained.
But most of all, my sense of awe over the history of this church was the same. In fact, it had grown.
This beautiful edifice is a basilica that was built over a house church hosted by Cecilia in either the second or third century, depending on which historian’s record you read. Although lore has grown up around her, Cecilia’s story contains many beautiful parts that form the scaffolding of what we know of her life:
- Cecilia followed Jesus in the early church when there was tremendous persecution.
- She was part of a wealthy family, and she devoted her home and land to the church as a meeting place.
- She, her husband, and her brother-in-law were martyred for their faith.
- Between her sentencing and her death, Cecilia is reported to have led 400 people to the Lord, leading them to be baptised.
- In addition to evangelism two of her gifts seem to have been faith and music. Because she sang through harrowing circumstances, she is now the patron saint of music in the Catholic church.
The inspiration ignited by Cecilia’s story had buoyed me for a year, growing my desire to live boldly and serve whole-heartedly. Hers is a story of a woman that has influenced my own.
As our Women of Influence tour of Italy toured from church to church in September, our trip director, Wendy Schulz, asked me, “Do you notice all the women represented in these places?” Alerted to something I was missing, I started to really pay attention to the women who were preserved in the churches in Rome. Wherever I looked, there were depictions of faithful women created during a time much closer to the life of Jesus than we live in today. During a time when most could not read and the Bible wasn’t yet printed and widely available. Stain glass windows, portraits, sculpture, mosaic and other art were visual representations meant to spark oral history, and the stories of women were everywhere.
It made me wonder… where have all the stories of women gone?
When You Know You Know
I’ve started asking myself questions that I’d love for you to ask yourself too:
When is the last time you’ve:
- Seen a woman held up in church as an example to follow?
- Heard a sermon preached about a biblical woman as a model for godly behavior for everyone in the room?
- Had a woman last quoted at your church? (This happened at mine last Sunday, and I rejoice!)
How familiar are you, a woman, with the stories of the women in the Bible?
Are we experiencing faith communities that display the full image of God in both male and female representation?
Are we speaking to both halves of the church, both male and female?
These are questions that both complementarians* and egalitarians** should ask to keep ourselves honest.
We Can Be Keepers and Tellers
Maybe you’re like me, and it’s your knee-jerk reaction to blame others for things that disappoint us.
I’m disappointed that the powerful God-stories of women– both in our Bibles and in our communities– have been neglected. It would be easy to sit back, fold my arms, and blame churches, denominations and pastors for their disappearance.
But that’s not helpful and wouldn’t change a thing. Not one thing.
Instead, I’m being challenged with a challenge that I want to pass on to you. Let’s be the keepers and tellers of women’s stories. Let’s apply our tender hearts to listening for them and collecting them. Let’s use our strong voices to tell them.
We can take two practical steps to steward the stories.
Study Women in Scripture
During COVID, my friend Wendy and I decided to form our own Bible study around women in the Bible. We took turns choosing, and then we dove deep. We used concordances to study a woman’s name across the whole of Scripture, we took notes, and we discussed our takeaways. Once we had dug as deeply as we could on our own, we researched through outside sources and read commentaries.
The study of women in Scripture is rich and deep, and it’s the perfect place to start. If you are doing this on your own, I suggest beginning with some women you may not know as well as you think you do: Huldah (Most seasoned Christians that I know don’t even know who she is, so don’t be embarrassed if this is you!), Miriam, Priscilla.
Go Where the Stories Live
The power of seeing and standing in the places where these stories happened is indescribable. My biggest I-can’t-believe-this moment in September was when I taught about Timothy, Eunice and Lois on the steps of the Mamertine Prison where Paul was held while he wrote II Timothy. As my friend Laura so aptly said, “Being there makes you more aware!”
When we’re traveling through our world, either close to home or in a far-away country, we can start looking for the stories of women. We can watch for where God is at work in women’s lives and tell these inspiring tales wherever we go.
And we can invest in special times to collect stories too.
Registration is now open for the Women of Influence modern pilgrimage to Rome and Tuscany. I’d love for you to come along with us to dig deep into the stories of biblical women– Phoebe, Priscilla, Mary, Eunice and Lois– as well as women of the early church– Helen, Prassede, Cecilia and others.
If you’d like more information about the trip than you can find at the link above, Wendy and I are hosting an informational call on Tuesday, November 15th at 7:30 pm Eastern Time. Email me at [email protected] for the link if you’d like to join us.
In this group, we’ve committed to being godly women who speak up in godly ways. Let’s cultivate our stories and tell them too. Let’s step up with confidence as an important part of God’s community when there’s a chance to share what He’s done in and through us.
Learning and carrying the stories of women is one way to strengthen our own. It’s a practice I want to champion!
*Complementarian and **Egalitarian- You may not be familiar with these terms, so I wanted to help familiarize you with them. I personally know godly complementarians and godly egalitarians, and I believe this is a secondary issue to be treated with great love and grace in the body of Christ. Here is a site that I think defines them well and handles the differences fairly.