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A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church: Year W by Wilda C. Gafney

by
21 April 2023

A corrective translation, says Andrew Mumby

TO ANYONE interested in a fresh scholarly translation of the Bible for Sunday worship and preaching, or study or devotional use, I totally commend A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church. An African-American Episcopalian cleric, a professor of the Hebrew Bible, and a womanist theologian, Wilda (Wil) C. Gafney has produced a lectionary for a standalone “Year W”, and, so far, for Years A and B of a new three-year-cycle, with helpful videos and resources online.

Gafney’s question is: “What might the gathered people of God hear if black women translate the Scriptures with attention to gender — human and divine — the cultural context, and implications of the text?” All translations make choices, of course, inevitably reflecting the values of the translator(s): Gafney is open and purposeful about hers. She takes seriously the biblical doctrine that we are all made in the image of God, which can be hindered by the predominantly male-centred language used of God and the People of God in most translations — albeit often faithful to the predominantly male-centred contemporary context.

Gafney brings out those who are so often lost in translation through her selection of the actual lections, and through “expansive” translation: e.g. “The people — women, children and men — who walked in bleakness have seen a great light” (Isaiah 9). Where appropriate, Gafney uses the word “woman” or “daughter” to emphasise the feminine Hebrew grammar, which is, of course, lost in translation into ungendered English grammar, as in, for example, Isaiah 54: “Sing, childless woman” (Gafney’s version) v. “Sing, O barren one” (NRSV).

Gafney’s careful handling of the over-simplistic light=good, dark=bad binary that we often slip into — namely, “I am black yet beautiful” (NIV, NKJV) v. “My skin is dark and beautiful” (NRSV) — will come as a relief to many Black and Brown-skinned churchgoers.

Gafney’s stunning translation of the Psalms is the most strikingly fresh. Working against the overwhelmingly (though not exclusively) male language of God in the Hebrew texts to bring out female language of God further, Gafney uses a majestic variety of Names for the Author of Life, the Mother of All, She Who is Wisdom (many examples in the appendix). So, how do you react to this? In our diverse congregation, this has been moving and inspiring for some and challenging for others.

Ultimately, this lectionary helps to break down the idolatry of a male, imperial(istic) God. Decades ago, Sister Elizabeth A. Johnson CSJ wrote that “If women are created in the image of God, then God can be spoken of in female metaphors in as full and as limited a way as God is imaged in male ones” (She Who Is: The mystery of God in feminist theological discourse). Gafney gives us in an opportunity to put this into practice. Go on, give it a go and see what happens.
 

The Revd Andrew Mumby is the Rector of St Peter’s, Walworth, in the diocese of Southwark, and a General Synod member.

 

A Women’s Lectionary for the Whole Church: Year W
Wilda C. Gafney
Church Publishing Incorporated £26.99
(978-1-64065-474-7)
Church Times Bookshop £24.29

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