Women of the Gospels: Elizabeth – A Curious Woman (by Enuma Okoro)

by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

Today we continue our Women of the Gospels series with a guest post from the amazingly talented Enuma Okoro.Enuma writes from Durham, NC...until she can relocate to Paris full-time! Her spiritual memoir, Reluctant Pilgrim: A Moody Somewhat Self-Indulgent Introvert's Search for Spiritual Community (Fresh Air Books, 2010) was a winning finalist in the 2010 USA Best Books Award and received the 2011 National Indie Excellent Book Awards Winning Finalist in “Spirituality and African-American Non-Fiction.”

Enuma is also co-author with Shane Claiborne and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove of Common Prayer: Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, (Zondervan, 2010). Her writing has been featured on ABC’s Good Morning America, The Huffington Post, Sojourners, Her.meneutics, the Christian Century and more. Her next book ,Silence, will be released this September 2012. She blogs at Patheos. Follow at Tweetenuma


“After those days his wife Elizabeth conceived , and for five months she remained in seclusion. She said, ‘This is what the Lord has done for me when he looked favorably on me and took away the disgrace I have endured among my people.’” 
- Luke 1:24

Elizabeth, what a curious woman. 

We usually flicker past her storyline as the old barren woman who gave birth to John the Baptist; the convenient character that propels the drama in the first chapter of the Gospel of Luke. 

Elizabeth, what a curious woman. 

She’s the gray-haired pregnant lady whom Mary went to visit after the Annunciation, after the Angel Gabriel said his famous lines about virgin births. 

Elizabeth, she is a descendant of Aaron. She is the wife of Zechariah of the priestly order of Abijah. 

We read of her always in relation to someone else. We pick up her story only when it is pertinent to the storied lives of other seemingly bigger characters.

We easily forget that she was a woman with her own full and complicated narrative. We forget that she was a woman who knew something about unceasing prayer, about unmet desire, about humiliation, about deep sorrow and pain. 

We forget she was a woman whose body couldn’t seem to perform in the most significant way women’s bodies at the time were relied upon and given any public affirmation of worth. 

We forget that her barrenness caused her time and again to painfully question whether or not the God she worshipped had chosen to curse her.

We forget that when Elizabeth prayed she did so in her barren body. She prayed with that which she yearned for God to bless and touch. She could not confront God without being bodily reminded of God’s silence.

We forget that we do not know the details of the years in which Elizabeth was barren. To be barren does not simply mean to be unable to conceive children. It is rarely that clean and sterile. The truth is we do not know how many, if any, miscarriages Elizabeth had. We do not know how many times she endured the pain and sorrow of her own lifeblood being discharged from her body. We do not know of the messiness of her pain.

Elizabeth, what a curious woman.

Her own “thorn” was lack of children but who knows what her undocumented experience might speak to so many women today with their own respective “thorns.” 

I have always wondered about Elizabeth; what it was like to live that long with her unanswered prayers and still cultivate the sort of faith that made her “righteous before God.” 

I have wondered how her prayers bore open her heart to God in deepening vulnerability, and what she did with her longing each time she failed to conceive.

I have wondered what shape the practice of lament took in Elizabeth’s life. 

I have wondered what was happening each exact morning, or evening of afternoon in which she decided to drop her hands and let her tattered threads of hope flutter to the floor. “She was getting on in years.” Surely she had dropped hope and picked it back up more than once.

I have wondered about her inner dialogue the minutes after she discovered she was pregnant. I have wondered if she was thankful for the months of silence, when her mute husband could not interrupt her own thoughts and musings. 

I have wondered if Elizabeth cultivated a “room of her own” long before Virginia Woolf made it popular. 

I have wondered how long it took for Elizabeth to trust that this pregnancy would actually take. 

I have wondered if she kept a quiet but firm grip on a thread of commonsense in her pocket with each day she left foolish hope grow just a little more.

Like so many women today, Elizabeth’s story is only partially told. You have to dig for the whole truth, and even then you come up short. 

You have to look behind the seemingly happy ending, and remember that she was a woman whose life was probably shaped by sorrow, discomfort, doubt, pain and yearning. 

But who wants to hear that part of the story? 

Isn’t it great that we get the happy ending? Isn’t great that we get the woman barren woman who is suddenly pregnant and we hear her praising God?

Who wants to catch echoes of any painful refrains, of any “Hannah-like” sobbings except without the answer, of any midnight bargaining and heart-wrenching pleadings? 

Who wants to know what it did to seasons of her marriage, to seasons of her identity as a woman?

Who wants to know about the envy or angry or guilt and possible repentance after each new announcement of some other woman’s pregnancy? 

Who wants to know about the complicated details that added up to somehow making Elizabeth the kind of woman who when we do eventually meet her in Luke 1 can grasp after hope one more time after years of bitter disappointment. 

The complicated details that add up to making Elizabeth the kind of woman who can speak of God’s favor when her prayers are finally answered long past her own convenient timing. 

Who wants to hear about the complicated details that add up to making Elizabeth the kind of woman who after years of wondering if God hears her, if God cares for her, If God has even cursed her, can still name her child,  John; “God is Gracious.” 

Who wants to know about the strength, the fortitude, the courage and the incredible resilience of a God-fearing woman? 


Want more? Check out Enuma's blog.

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