At the Well and on the Road: Women Back-Talking God

  • Do you ever argue with God? What’s it like? If you don’t, why not?

  • Don’t you just love this kind of mischievous Jesus? Surely he wasn’t serious and pious all the time, right? Maybe he and the disciples got up to practical jokes? Discuss.

  • What do you think about the five husbands conundrum? What interpretation(s) appeal to you or challenge you?

  • What the hell is Jesus doing in rejecting the woman on the road’s plea for her daughter’s healing? But really, though.

  • Does God change? How would your experience of the world be different if God does change?

  • Who is the outsider now? To your community? To you personally? Be honest, even if you don’t speak it aloud. Who is beyond the pale for you?

  • When you do make connections with those “outsiders,” are you speaking in a way they can hear you? Are you hearing what they are speaking? But are you really?

  • Find some markers or pens or crayons. Whatever you like to doodle with. Sit comfortably with the image of the Woman at the Well in front of you.  (If you prefer, photocopy it first—you have permission to do it just this once…) Take a deep breath. Maybe another one. As you continue to breathe slowly and deeply, allow your mind to slow down, soften your gaze. Contemplate all the times you’ve had questions about God. You needn’t cling to them, just allow the feelings of wanting to ask questions, having them answered or having them shut down, flow through you with your breath. When you’re ready, use the markers or pens or crayons to write questions in her hair. They could just be single words that evoke questions. Doodle question marks or anything that arises in you. Continue to breathe deeply and slowly, being gentle with yourself and those who come up in your questions. When you’re ready, come back to yourself. What do you notice?

  • With what/who did you identify?

  • What surprised you about these stories?

  • Who is your family of choice? Why did you choose them?

  • When do you notice that you’re actually there in the moment? What does presence feel like to you?

  • What are you preparing for? How do you prepare?

  • How are you cool and fine?

  • When have you felt that God was not there? When have you said, “Lord, if you’d been here…”? What did you learn from that situation?

  • Try using the illustration of Mary and Martha as a jumping-off point for meditation. Ask a close friend or partner if they’ll try this with you. Agree to a length of time before you start—set a quiet, soothing alarm. Sit comfortably in chairs or on the floor as close as you like. Gently hold hands or allow your hands to rest against knees—be as comfortable as you can with the other. There may be some giggling to start, it’s totally fine. Look into each other’s eyes—typically it’s easier to choose one eye to focus on. Let your gaze soften as you look into your friend’s eye. Pay attention to your breathing, slowly breathing in and out. Look into your friend’s eye: see them as they are, see them as created by God, see them as beloved. Know that they are seeing you the same way. When the alarm sounds, slowly come back to yourself and turn it off. What do you notice?

Mary and Martha: Jesus’ Family of Choice


  • With what/who did you identify?

  • What surprised you about this story?

  • What place does politics have in the church? It’s not going away, so how do we respond to it?

  • How do you respond to someone who speaks out against you or who just seems vaguely to dislike what you’re doing? Hopefully you don’t behead them at a feast, but no judgment from me. What resources do you use to change the situation?

  • Have you ever used your body to get what you want? Maybe in a sexual way, maybe not. Maybe even in a totally legit, long-term relationship?

  • How do we get done what we want to get done? How do we play politics to further God’s justice in the world? How much brutality and sacrifice of our own bodies do we allow even now to do what needs to be done? And could there be another way?

  • Try using the illustration of Herodias as an icon for meditation. Sit comfortably and relax your gaze. Allow your eyes to move over the image. Notice, distantly, what draws your attention, what loops your eyes make as they move across the image. What do you settle on? What disturbs you? Look into Herodias’ eyes in silence and feel her looking back at you. Breathe slowly and allow your emotions to bubble up—fear, loss, awe, confusion. Sit as long as you feel called to, then slowly come back to yourself. What was that like? What did you learn from Herodias?

Herodias and Herodias: Not so Sexy after All


  • With what/who did you identify?

  • What stood out for you in Priscilla and Phoebe’s stories?

  • Who were the church ladies for you growing up? What did you learn from them?

  • Share a story about a woman who has given you much, to whom you are greatly indebted.

  • How is your own existence an act of rebellion? How could it be?

  • What is in your ordinary, daily life which speaks of great love?

  • Try using the illustration of Paul’s church lady as an icon for meditation. Sit comfortably and relax your gaze. Allow your eyes to move over the image. Notice, distantly, what draws your attention, what loops your eyes make as they move across the image. What do you settle on? What disturbs you? Look into her eyes in silence and feel her looking back at you. Breathe slowly and allow your emotions to bubble up—fear, loss, awe, confusion. Sit as long as you feel called to, then slowly come back to yourself. What was that like? What did you learn from her?

Priscilla and Phoebe and Lydia and Rhoda: Paul’s Church Ladies


  • Could Mary Magdalene have been Jesus wife? How would that change your experience of faith or of God?

  • What difference would it make to you if Mary’s occupation as a prostitute were somehow definitively proven or disproven? Not just historically, but to this story and to your understanding of sin and redemption.

  • A friend of mine once said, “God always heals, God doesn’t always cure.” When have you been healed?

  • What does it feel like to give away your money?

  • How would you recognize Jesus if he popped up in your life all of a sudden? Or, rather, “when he popped up”?

  • What does it mean to you that Jesus rose from the dead? Not in theological formulations that you hear in church—your own words, your own experience. Why does it matter to you?

  • What do you weep for now?
    Try using the illustration of Mary of Magdala as a jumping-off point for meditation. Find a palm-sized object—a stone or hard-boiled egg or whatever. The item doesn’t matter. Sit comfortably and close your eyes. Hold the object in the palm of one hand, resting the other hand on top, enclosing it gently. Feel its weight, its temperature, its texture. Breathe in and out slowly, imagining the object absorbing all the pain and heartache you carry with you. As you continue to breathe slowly, let your outbreath fill the object with grief and bullshit and your inbreath fill you with lightness and forgiveness and possibility. As you continue to breathe slowly, imagine the object shifting purpose. Now, instead of a repository of pain, it is a source of strength, warming your body and spirit, filling you with light and life. When you are ready, come back to yourself. What do you notice?

Mary of Magdala: Who Lives, Who Dies, Who Tells Your Story?