Book Review – The Friendship of Women, The Hidden Tradition of the Bible

Reviewed by Gladyce Janky

Friends. Pause and consider your many friends, those you will greet today and those from your distant past. Recall what it is that draws you to them and them to you. Which friend(s) take you places you would never go on your own? Who is the friend that is your “second self” (51), the one who fully accepts you? Who is the friend whose name you cannot remember but who’s light and love helped shape you into the woman you are today?

Friends are essential for our well-being. There is an inextricable connection between human relationships and mental health (3). We need friends. Women’s friendships, many unnamed or mentioned only in passing, play important supporting roles in the biblical text. Sr. Joan Chittister, in The Friendship of Women, The Hidden Tradition of the Bible, invites us to consider more closely twelve women and their friendship characteristics: Lydia (growth), Prisca (self), Debrah (wisdom), Phoebe (support), Esther (leadership), Mary of Bethany (trust), Veronica (presence), Elizabeth (acceptance), Ruth (availability), Anne (nurturance) Miriam (joy) and Mary Magdalene (trust and joy). In many instances, we know very little about their backstory. Yet, carefully reading the text, we can glean more about their personalities, contributions to our faith, and the importance of women’s friendships within God’s plan for salvation history.

In Lydia’s story, we hear she listened to God and the Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what Paul was saying (Acts 16:14, NAB). She is a woman of considerable means and influence among the wealthy in Thyatira. Lydia convinces Paul to stay in her home, baptizing everyone. Thus, with Paul, she forms the first Christian church in Europe (Acts 16:15, NAB). She is a leader, self-confident, a free woman, a woman of faith, and a seeker. In today’s terminology, Lydia is a life-long learner, using her talents and resources to further God’s message and support her friends. Her dimension of friendship is the desire to draw from another (Paul) the strength we need to go beyond where we would ever go alone (6). The Lydias in our lives invite us to see our true worth and encourage us to dare to imagine who we have the potential to become.

Mary Magdalene’s is the last story. Scholars believe she was a woman of means and the leader of the women who supported Jesus out of their own resources. She understood who Jesus was long before anyone else (81). The Magdalene friend characteristic is intimacy exhibited through trust and love and a willingness to become immersed in the life of another in times of agony and celebration.

I hear at least two invitations within this book. The first is to revisit the biblical women’s stories to enrich my understanding of how their unique characteristics contributed to our faith, especially the success of Jesus’ ministry. The second is to reflect on my friends, noticing how we support, encourage, and love each other. Not every woman is part of my innermost circle, but each offers a dimension of friendship that widens my lens of self-understanding and the world; as noted by Anais Nin, each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world arrives (XIX).

Invitation: Offer a prayer of gratitude for each friend who has shaped the woman you are.

each of us is indispensable as long as there is someone,
somewhere in the world, whose life breaths in time with our own (XI).

Edition Details:
Format: Paperback
Language: English
Release Date: April 2006
Publisher: Blue Bridge
Length:112 Pages
Weight: 0.30 lbs.
Dimensions: 0.3″ x 5.1″ x 8.0″


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