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Presbyterian pastor preaches on a proverbial prototype

The Rev. Dr. Anita Wright is the Chapel service preacher ahead of International Women’s Day

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Dale de Vera via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — From childhood, the Rev. Dr. Anita Wright, the pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church in Montclair, New Jersey, has thought Wonder Woman — especially Linda Carter’s version — was wonderful.

“She is beloved because she is strong and capable, always fighting for justice and freedom for others and for herself,” Wright said during her Chapel service sermon on Wednesday, which can be viewed here, with Wright entering at the 12:03 mark. Wright’s written resources are at the center of the PC(USA)’s Celebrate the Gifts of Women observation and are available here.

Preaching via Zoom, Wright used Proverbs 31:10-31 — “Ode to a Woman of Strength” — as her text.

Wonder Woman’s theme song attests to her attributes, Wright said: “Make a hawk a dove/Stop a war with love/Make a liar tell the truth.”

“All our hopes are pinned on you,” people in need tell this superhero. “You’re a wonder, Wonder Woman.”

“The theme song celebrates all the powers she possesses, but it also puts a lot of pressure on her,” Wright noted. “It’s wonderful, and we’re excited about it, but it’s exhausting. It would take supernatural power to do all she does.”

The same may be said of the “capable wife” described in Proverbs 31, which Wright called “the prototype that every woman should be.” She’s celebrated for the way she cares for her children, guides her servants, purchases the best clothes, prepares for a rainy day, trades with the merchants, sets up a business — “oh, and supports her husband,” Wright said, calling it “exhausting” just to list some of the things that this more-than-capable woman does.

The Rev. Dr. Anita Wright

“I mean, who can do all of this?” Wright said. “Yes, she’s lovely as a concept, but she weighs heavy on women as someone to emulate.”

The reality is, “She’s a combination of a lot of women that were known to the author,” Wright said. While she’s an amalgam, “these verses have often been highlighted as some type of attainable, desirable woman for whom all women should aspire.” But “this woman is fictional. She did not exist as a single person.”

The question becomes, “Is there anything we can learn from this mythical Wonder Woman in Proverbs 31 in the celebration of living, breathing real women?” Wright said. “Absolutely there is.”

The first thing is to celebrate the gift of caring. This woman worked both in her house and in her community. She was “active in the local economy while using her resources to care for those who were less fortunate” than she was. While she cared for the poor, “she did not neglect herself in order to do it,” Wright said.

The next thing to celebrate is her creativity. She “perceives her merchandise is good, and she trades it with the merchants. She uses the profit to buy a field, clothes, and provisions, and to hire servants,” Wright said. “She uses her energy, intelligence, creativity, imagination and love to sustain herself, her family and her community.”

“Was this woman Presbyterian?” Wright asked with a smile.

“My ancestors knew how to stretch a dollar, to take a few items from the cupboard to feed their family and oftentimes those in the community as well,” Wright said. “In the same way, we look inward to discover the gifts we have and celebrate how we can use them to create something wonderful.”

“You rejoice in the fact that you took a seed of an idea and grew it into something marvelous.”

The third gift we celebrate from this amalgam of a woman is collaboration. “She collaborated and coordinated so she could achieve more,” Wright said. “She was the best of a whole bunch of women with a whole lot of great qualities.”

It’s through collaboration “we are freed from this idea we have to do it all ourselves” and released “from this notion you have to be a superwoman. No, you don’t have to do all of that. You are a wonder all on your own,” Wright said.

“My good friends, this is the good news of the text. If you are like me and you found it hard to situate yourself in this text, there’s still room for you,” Wright said. “The celebrated woman, the ideal woman, the venerated woman, the woman to whom you can strive to be is one who cares for others. She is creative and she is collaborative.”

“You don’t have to be mother, a wife, a businesswoman, heterosexual, and wealthy with a husband to be celebrated as a woman of quality,” Wright said, identifying several Wonder Woman-like qualities: protecting the downtrodden, preparing for the future, living life as a single mother or as a woman struggling to make ends meet, as a woman “who has decided she is going to center her own care, a woman who loves, who sets boundaries and who fights for justice” for single mothers, adoptive mothers, aunties and wives, daughters and sisters, for trans and queer woman and a slate of others — “all women in every walk of life through all space and time, today and every day — we celebrate you, God’s wonder women.”

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