On Monday night, I found myself eating dates, sniffing frankincense, and talking about sex with a group of women old enough to be my grandmothers. How did this happen you might ask? I attended a Bible study!
Bible studies have never really been my “thing.” But, I kept hearing about this amazing interfaith group of women who gather to eat, talk about the Bible, and build community. They call themselves Eve’s Daughters in acknowledgment of their common religious heritage. I’d always thought about going, but something—school, work, and excuses—always managed to prevent me. Thankfully, my wonderful pastor, Maria, knows that the easiest way to gently compel me to attend an event is to ask me to cook for it. And so the ever-wise Maria asked if I would provide dinner for Eve’s Daughters this month. I agreed.
After cooking all Monday afternoon, I dutifully arrived at the Synagogue lugging three large pots of soup, six loaves of homemade bread, and a slight case of the nerves. I had no clue what to expect, no idea if the ladies would like my meal, and almost no experience with the text we were going to be studying. I was excited about discussing the sensual, controversial Song of Songs, but I wondered if the experience would feel like watching a Hollywood sex scene with my parents—awkward!
When I peeked into the classroom a half an hour early, the room was already bustling with women setting and decorating tables, filling pitchers of water, and arranging chairs. Everyone stopped when I timidly darkened the doorway and turned her attention to warmly welcoming me and helping to unload my heavy burden.
When all the women had arrived, we gathered in a circle to pray over the meal. Maria said a prayer in English and Rabbi Alison followed in Hebrew. I was not surprised that many of the Jewish women recited the Hebrew with Alison, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that many of the Presbyterian women had also memorized the Hebrew prayer.
We all got our food and spent the next half hour simply eating and talking. “Okay,” I thought, “here’s a Bible study I can get in to!” We took turns sharing about our families, hobbies, work, thoughts about current events, and favorite foods. I was the youngest woman in the room by 20 years (at least!) and I loved it.
After a brief introduction to the text, we split up into small groups to read and discuss the ancient, poetic Song of Song. My small group’s conversation ranged from our initial reactions, to stories about our significant others, to thoughts about the generational differences in notions of love and sex. We bemoaned the apparent demise of romance in the 21st century and the devaluation of what making love really means. Even though most of these women were in their 60’s and 70’s…I was right there with ‘em! One woman recounted how her heart used to race wildly when she saw her future husband’s headlights coming down her street. She said, with a deep sigh, that she could only hope that her granddaughters feel something like that when they text with their most recent crushes.
To end the session, the rabbi and the pastor had chose fourteen beautifully descriptive verses from the Song of Songs, each with a taste or smell associated with it. The leaders took turns reading the verses as we consumed the corresponding food or smelled the relevant object. While Maria read about apples, pomegranates, nuts, and fig trees, we ate fresh, crunchy apple slices, ruby red pomegranate seeds, salty almonds, and sweet dried figs. While Alison read about cinnamon, frankincense, flowers, and myrrh, we closed our eyes and breathed in the scent of each one. I’ve never experienced any poem like this, let alone a Biblical one. We were all entranced!
The value of this humble gathering was, perhaps, best demonstrated after it was over. The themes of love, respect, and empowerment seemed to continue even as we cleaned up. Women who are old enough to remember very painful stereotypes about one another were eager to help clear and wash dishes, to offer one another flowers and food to take home, and to chat excitedly about next month’s class. After only one night, I feel like one of Eve’s daughters. And I, too, can’t wait for next month.
Oh, and they loved my soup!