“Every woman has a story AND every woman’s story matters to God.”
The idea and power of “naming” has its roots in biblical history. In Genesis, God grants the “adam” the power to name creation and consequently, the earth and the things thereof, taking on meaning and manifestation. When Hagar encounters the “holy other” in the wilderness, Hagar is the first person of Scripture to name God out of her own theophanic experience: “El Roi” she calls God – “The God Who Sees Me.” When Moses appears before God on behalf of the Israelites, Moses petitions God to grant God’s holy name because the people request it. “What is Your name?” Moses asks of Yahweh. God replies: “I AM WHO I AM. Tell the Israelites: “I AM” sent me to you.”
Naming, therefore, provides identity, purpose, definition, and even power; thus, the aphorism: “It’s all in the name!” For the purposes of this study, in part, Tabitha’s Daughters will consider the power of naming, as we unpack the meaning and methods of our theological approach and application: Womanist theology.
The word “theology” is defined as the study of God. It combines two Greek words “theos” (meaning God in Greek) and “logy” meaning the study of. Theology is the study of God. Womanist theology is a particular “study of God,” wherein its foundational roots are found in a word: “womanish.”
ABOUT THE MOTHER OF “WOMANISM”
Alice Walker, the author of many books, and of course the classic rendering, “The Color Purple,” is consider as the grand Madea of womanism. Her definitions of this word and its meaning in African-American history and culture provided the fertile ground for the religious/spiritual expressions of womanism, the precursor of womanist theology. It started with a word:
“womanish” – Opposite of girlish. From the black folk expression of mothers to FEMALE children: “You acting womanish, i.e., you are acting like a woman.” Wanting to know more and on a greater depth than is considered “good” for one. Acting grown-up. Interchangeable with another [black] folk expression: “You tryin’ to be grown!” [ir.vanderbilt.edu – “Womanist Theology – Emilie M. Townes]
From this ideological framework, the mothers of womanist theology (Katie Cannon, Emilie Townes, Renita Weems, Delores S. Williams) began to build the foundational methods of this religious/spiritual construction. Dr. Delores S. Williams was the first to use the term “womanist theology” in 1987. Dr. Katie Cannon was the first, in 1985, to apply the term “womanism” to a religious discipline. These “mothers” built out a new way of doing theology – a way to bring the Black female experience to Scripture.
For us, as Tabitha’s Daughters, we enter into the scriptural texts, using this framework because we bring the lens of being Black and being female to the feminine narratives that we study.
HOW DO WE WORK IT?
In consideration of the woman (actually girl or teenager) we will study Abishag. Her story helps us to understand how womanist theology operates. Let’s consider her scriptural record:
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1 Kings 1: 1-4; 1 Kings 2: 12-18; 1 Kings 2: 19-25
The beautiful young “virgin” (who probably was just that) is a pawn in the “Game of Thrones” between Solomon and his older brother, Adonijah. The complexity of the circumstance is a study in itself because through the story of Abishag, we are acutely aware of the intrigue and political manipulations of King David’s sons, and even one of his eight wives, Bathsheba, as a play is made for his throne. Abishag is most likely a preteen or teenager, who is described as “very beautiful’ in the text. While we consider this as a gift, in ancient times beauty could easily translate as dangerous for an unprotected girl/woman. We will remember this descriptive being applied to Bathsheba (who was molested and manipulated by David) and Tamar (who was raped by her half brother, Amnon). Abishag is also entangled in a dangerous liaison because of her beauty.
King David is approximately 70 years old and stricken with physical ailments and possibly senility when they bring the young girl, Abishag, to him as his bed companion. It is supposed by his senior administrators (the king’s men) that bringing a young girl to his bed chambers, as his “nurse” will renew his vitality and sexual potency. This did not happen, as the text reveals to us: “BUT, the king did not have relations with her.” Scholars suggest that at the time of King David and Abishag’s interactions, she may have be as young as twelve years old. The Hebrew word for “virgin” here is “na’arah.” This Hebrew word connotes an age mentionable of 12 1/2 years for a female. As a contemporary point of interest, it is certainly notable that the restoration of King David’s vitality and sexual potency would be assumed to come from a teenager, than from one of his eight wives, including Bathsheba!
When Adonijah, rejected as the heir apparent to King David’s throne, through the successful manipulations of Nathan and Queen Bathsheba, asks for Abishag as his wife, the reader is unsure of whether or not he has romantic intentions, or as Solomon assumes, Adonijah is making a bid for the throne through obtaining King David’s last bed mate. Solomon interprets this request from his half brother as a aggressive political maneuver, and arranges the death of his brother because of his attempt to marry Abishag.
Was Abishag the the “dark and lovely” Shulammite of the Song of Solomon, who eagerly awaited her intended to rescue and marry her? Some biblical scholars believe so:
“The Shulammite could be Abishag, the beautiful virgin from the city of Shunem, who became David’s nurse in his old age. Abishag’s relationship with David was not consummated as a marriage. David’s son Adonijah requests to marry her in an attempt to strengthen his claim to the throne. Solomon understands the threat and eliminates Adonijah as a contender for the throne. Soon after these events Abishag may have returned home to Shunem and there become caretaker of Solomon’s vineyards leased to her brothers. Solomon on a visit to Shunem to inspect his vineyards sees her and seeks to woo her and add her to his harem. He invites her to return to the palace in Jerusalem where he continues his charm offensive.” (Song of Songs – Choosing True Love – Phillipe R. Sterling)
First, the BIO of Abishag – The Shulammite (Song of Solomon)
Abishag is described in the text as: “dark and lovely” – (Abishag is a deeply pigmented dark girl/teenager) – Chapter 1:5
Abishag is forced to take care of others before taking care of herself (robbed of her youth): “My brothers have been angry with me; they charged me with the care of the vineyards; my own vineyard I have not cared for.” – Chapter 1: 7 (The reference “my own vineyard” can be translated as a metaphor for “my own heart.”) – “The Interpreter’s One Volume Commentary on the Bible”
Abishag and the daughters of Jerusalem are warned by their female “community” not to engage in the actions of “love” before they are ready: “Do not arouse, do not stir up love before its own time.” – Chapter 2: 7b
Abishag is “sexualized” by her suitor: “Your very figure is like a palm tree – your breasts are like clusters. I said: I will climb the palm tree. I will take ahold of the branches. Now let your breasts be like clusters of the vine…..and your mouth like an excellent wine. Chapter 7: 8, 9, 10
Finally, in Chapter 8, there is an acknowledgement from Abishag’s brothers that their sister is still a child: “Our sister is little (immature) and she has no breasts yet. What shall we do for our sister when her courtship begins?” – Chapter 8: 8
ADULTIFICATION of Black Girls – (It’s all in the name)
“THERE IS NOTHING NEW UNDER THE SUN”
The word “adultification” is certainly a 21st century contemporary term, but can we apply it to the story of Abishag and the obvious attachment of how dark girls were/are robbed of their childhoods then & now?
Documentary: “Childhood Lost: The Adultification of African American Girls” – WQED Pittsburgh (YOUTUBE)
Ultimately, as students of womanist theology, and as former black girls ourselves, it is our responsibility to guard our girls from those who would attempt to erase their childhoods to exploit them. As the adults in Abishag’s life proclaim:
“If she is a wall, we will build upon it a silver parapet. If she is a door, we will reinforce it with a cedar plank.” (Chapter 9: 9).
Our girls deserve the same protection as their white counterparts. Their childhoods are precious and necessary to their physical and emotional health and pathway to a secure and safe adulthood. When we, as adults in their lives protect them, our girls will be ready emotionally and physically for all that adulthood brings, when the time is right.
Abishag, in her final remarks to her would-be suitor, assures us of this:
My vineyard, my very own, is for myself. (Chapter 8: 12)
Like Abishag, the Shulammite, our girls will be ready for adulthood when the time comes; but, until then, they have every right to enjoy and experience their childhoods. As their “mothers”, it is our responsibility and assignment to make certain they are protected and enjoy what rightfully belongs to them.
Questions for our discussion & consideration
Why does adultification of our [Black] girls happen? Are we in any way, as Black woman/the Black community, responsible for any of it?
Think about your own childhood. Were you in any way adultified? How did this affect your upbringing?
Why is this syndrome more applicable to Black girls than Black boys? Explain.
Our Sending Prayer
Lord, when I listen to your majestic voice in creation, my heart trembles.
Who can understand the wonder of Your ways?
Holy Spirit, Your breath alone brings life
And the earth fulfills Your commands.
Your power is too great to fathom. You hold the storm in Your hand.
And now, I ask in the name of Jesus,
To allow my heart to trust You in all things:
May my mind believe in Your will, no matter the situation ahead.
Let my soul experience: “Peace, be still.”
Amen (excerpted from “A Prayer in the Storm” – rachelwojo.com)
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