Silence In Heaven: A Book of Women's Preaching Co-edited by Heather Walton and Susan Durber, SCM Press, £9.95 AFTER THE WORD OF God has been preached for centuries by men, women are stepping into their shoes and finding the shoes don't fit. This book is about finding new paradigms for preaching and theology as the contributors explore the difficulties and opportunities that befall women of the cloth.
This is not, therefore, a representative sample of women's sermons but a pioneering work to reflect and reinforce the changes taking place. The editors have based their selection on certain criteria: women are visible in the text; taboo subjects are voiced such as rape and sexual abuse as well as the joy of sexuality and procreation; biblical texts are read from a new standpoint a feminist one; the needs of women preachers will re-fashion the sermon.
But if ideology sounds daunting, the sermons are moving, inspiring and sometimes profound.
Take "The Massacre of the Innocents" by Susan Durber. She begins by asking how many Christmas cards depict this event in the Christmas story? Shepherds and cribs are a familiar scene but not bloodied babies and slaughtered toddlers. The massacred innocents do not appear in cutout Nativity scenes, nor are they acknowledged in the traditional nine lessons.
Durber then relates the story from a mother's perspective. She reflects on the Three Wise Men: "They call you wise men, but any fool could have seen what would happen. Did you really think that Herod would be pleased to know he had a rival?... You were late in coming, they say. I wish you had never come at all. Because of your foolishness, my sons lie cold in my arms and their time is over".
Today's suffering children, of Bosnia and Somalia, are also pawns in the disputes of powerful men, and Durber helps us to face that suffering by showing us a God who shares in the pain.
In telling their stories and engaging the recipient in imaginative listening, these women may be closer in spirit to Christ's teaching.
The preacher offers a text and we share in the task of interpretation. The imagin'adon, when loosened, brings freedom.
And in rejecting authoritarian, prescriptive preaching in favour of an address where words are not "eternal truths" but situated knowledge, knowledge for someone, this collection resonates with an age that distrusts the Grand Narrative. But here, as elsewhere, we find the big truth in the simple story.