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On the Outside Looking In

I have often pondered these two sets of verses - positioned almost as brackets at the beginning and end of Proverbs, a book that understands and describes wisdom as she:

"Wisdom cries out in the street; in the squares she raises her voice. At the busiest corner she cries out; at the entrance of the city gates she speaks?" (Proverbs 1:20-21)

"Her husband is known in the city gates, taking his seat among the elders of the land...Give her a share in the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the city gates." (Proverbs 31: 23, 31)

Given that there aren't many places in Scripture where that pronoun is used, particularly as reflective of God and God's character, it's worth paying attention to - and finding comfort in. Even so, I have been wont to discover it in these particular passages.

In ancient civilizations cities were often surrounded by a formidable gate, more like a wall, really. All the visitors, tradespeople, and merchants, even enemies, would have to pass through it to get into the heart of the city; the place where life was lived, business was transacted, teaching was done, families were raised, relationships were developed. Considering such, it seems achingly significant that she is depicted at the gate, not inside the city. She is on the outside looking in. Uncomfortable.

I can relate. As a woman leader I often feel like the she described in Chapter 1, as though I'm sitting just outside the action, crying out to passers-by, hoping they will hear and understand my perspective, my experience, my voice. In a male-dominated, male-normative world, it's hard to get inside, into the heart of the action. I have a lot to say, I deeply want to be heard, but I just can't seem to get past the gate. It's frustrating, lonely, and awfully familiar.

Things go from bad to worse when I ponder the verses from Chapter 31 where this particular woman's husband is respected at the city gate. I'm left wondering why she's been left out of that equation; as though her worth is measured through his. And that feels pretty familiar too.

Still, I am wooed by the repetitive imagery throughout these few sentences. It is oddly compelling, and that it does feel familiar offers me a strange form of comfort. When I come to these texts with curiosity instead of resistance, I realize that I am not alone sitting here at the gate. Rather, I begin to see that this woman is with me (as are so many others within Scripture). The text speaks to, acknowledges, and even honors my outside-looking-in reality.

August14, 2007 at 9:39 AM

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