Sunday, November 04, 2012

Ruth and Naomi: Whither thou goest, I will go

“Ruth’s Wise Choice,” 1907 Bible card by the Providence Lithograph Company (Wikimedia Commons)

Love between women is honored in the lives of Biblical figures Ruth and Naomi. Some churches observe their feast day today (Dec. 20).

Ruth’s famous vows to Naomi are often used in weddings -- heterosexual as well as same-sex marriages. Few people realize that these beautiful promises were originally spoken by one woman to another:

“Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.”
(Ruth 1:16)

The old-fashioned King James translation, still beloved by many, begins, “Whither thou goest, I will go…”

In the Bible Ruth was born to a pagan family and married the Jewish man Boaz. In Judaism she is honored as a convert. Ruth is an ancestor of Jesus Christ, listed in his genealogy in the gospel of Matthew. It reports mostly a male lineage, and Ruth is one of only four women who are included.

Naomi was the mother-in-law of Ruth and Orpah. After their husbands died, Naomi urged both of them to remarry. But Ruth refused, declaring her love in words that have extra meaning for LGBT people because they were spoken between women.

Were Ruth and Naomi lesbians? The same Hebrew word (dabaq) is used to describe Adam’s feelings for Eve and Ruth’s feelings for Naomi. In Genesis 2:24 it says, “Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.” The way that Adam “cleaved” to Eve is the way that Ruth “clung” to Naomi. Countless couples have validated this interpretation by using their vows as a model for how spouses should love each other.

The openly lesbian interpretation dates back at least to 1937, when the novel “Pity for Women” by Helen Anderson was published. The two main characters, Ann and Judith, recite Ruth's famous vow to show their commitment as a lesbian couple.

Contemporary Christian singer-songwriter Marsha Stevens of Florida used their vow as the basis for the song she wrote for her legal wedding to Cindy Pino: “Wherever You Go.” She sings about how Cindy grew up feeling alone as “a guest at every wedding, an extra place at meals,” with nobody recognizing her lesbian relationships as family. But the mood shifts after a chorus with Ruth’s vow to Naomi :

Now we stand on sacred ground, our families near,
Law allows these holy vows, your home is here.

“Wherever You Go” is available for listening and download at BALM (Born Again Lesbian Music) Ministries: http://balmministries.net/track/323379/wherever-you-go

Enjoy a selection of Bible illustrations that celebrate the love between these two women of spirit. If you look closely, it sometimes seems that they are about to kiss.

Ruth and Naomi from ChristianImageSource.com



The previous two images are details from larger scenes that show Orpah leaving while Ruth stays with Naomi.

Ruth clings to Naomi (ChristianImageSource.com)

“Naomi and Her Daughters-in-Law” from Doré's English Bible, 1866 (Wikimedia Commons)

“Ruth and Naomi” by Brandon Buehring

Artist Brandon Buehring included Ruth and Naomi in his “Legendary Love: A Queer History Project.” He uses pencil sketches and essays “to remind queer people and our allies of our sacred birthright as healers, educators, truth-tellers, spiritual leaders, warriors and artists.” The project features 20 sketches of queer historical and mythological figures from many cultures around the world. He has a M.Ed. degree in counseling with an LGBT emphasis from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He works in higher education administration as well as being a freelance illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Ruth and Naomi’s love has been illustrated by many artists, including the great English Romantic painter William Blake.

“Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab” by William Blake, 1795 (Wikimedia Commons)

The hardships experienced by Ruth and Naomi are often overshadowed by their famous vow of love and their association with the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. Ruth is revered as a Jewish convert and an ancestor of Jesus. But Ruth and her Israelite mother-in-law were so poor that Ruth had to survive by picking up leftover grains of barley in the fields after harvest. Gay Israeli artist Adi Nes brings home the reality of their poverty by showing the pair scavenging onions from a contemporary street littered with trash after an open-air market. They are posed like the peasants in Millet’s “The Gleaners,” a painting well known for showing the dignity of society’s poorest members.

“Untitled (Ruth and Naomi)” by Adi Nes

The careworn faces of Ruth and her beloved Naomi become visible in a second portrait by Nes. He shows that their love for each other is all they have as they sit together among discarded crates. For more about Adi Nes, see my previous post "Adi Nes: Gay Israeli artist humanizes Bible stories."

“Untitled (Ruth and Naomi)” by Adi Nes

The painting below, “Whither Thou Goest” by Trudie Barreras, was commissioned in 2004 by Rev. Paul Graetz, pastor of City of Light / First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta, for a sermon series that he was doing on the Book of Ruth.

“Whither Thou Goest” by Trudie Barreras, 2004
Acrylic, 18” x 14.” Collection of City of Light / First Metropolitan Community Church of Atlanta, GA.

A billboard featuring Ruth and Naomi is part of the Would Jesus Discriminate project sponsored by Metropolitan Community Churches. It states boldly, “Ruth loved Naomi as Adam loved Eve. Genesis 2:24. Ruth 1:14.” The website WouldJesusDiscriminte.org gives a detailed explanation.


Ruth and Naomi billboard from from WouldJesusDiscriminte.com and WouldJesusDiscriminte.org

For more info on the billboards, see the previous post, “Billboards show gay-friendly Jesus.”


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For more on Ruth and Naomi, visit the following links:

Queering the Church: Ruth and Naomi

Pharsea’s World: Homosexuality and Tradition: Ruth and Naomi

Stroppy Rabbit Blog: Naomi and Ruth in art

Conjubilant with Song Blog: “Song of Ruth” hymn by Fanny Crosby, 1875

Rut y Noemí: El amor entre mujeres en la Biblia (Santos Queer)

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Special thanks to CJ Barker for the news tip.
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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

6 comments:

CJ Barker said...

Great compilation as usual Kitt!


You may have done this in previous years, but since it doesn't hurt to repeat, thought I'd add mention of Marsha Stevens-Pino's song "Wherever You Go," which celebrates this story. She wrote it for her wife, Cindy, and it was part of their wedding ceremony. She gives some really great background on it's composition, and what it means to her, here, in a 2006 interview with Queer Music Heritage:

http://www.queermusicheritage.us/NOV2006/QMHNOV06NETB.MP3


(whole program on queer Christian Music here:http://www.queermusicheritage.us/nov2006.html)

(transcript of the interview here:
http://www.queermusicheritage.us/nov2006s.html)

This is what she had to say about the song:

"Please tell me about 'Wherever You Go.' "

"Oh, that one's a song for my wedding. We got married when we could become legal spouses in Vermont. We planned this big wedding and Cindy's mom…although Cindy's mom has always said, I love you no matter what, but she was just really reticent to accept the idea of a wedding. She just didn't want to hear anything about it. And so I finally decided the way to get to her was to write a song that made her cry. So, I just thought, you know, every time I've heard the promises between Ruth and Naomi from the Bible read…they read those all the time at straight weddings, "wither though goeth I will go, wherever thou lodgest I will lodge, thy people shall be my people and thy God, my God," that was one woman to another, and every time I hear it at a straight wedding I want to go, whoa, that's our scripture, you go find your own, you know, go find "a man shall leave his mother and father and cleave to his wife" or use one of those, don't use ours, that's ours.

So I thought I'd have to have that at my wedding because nobody else can swipe it. And so I basically just wrote a song about Cindy and how she grew up in this big Catholic family, and went to everybody else's wedding. And, you know, was always the attendant, or whatever, as somebody else's wedding; always went to somebody else's house for Thanksgiving, somebody else's house for Christmas, you know, because she wasn't considered to have a family. So she grew up always being the fifth wheel, the guest, the bridesmaid, the whatever, you know, and I thought so here we are finally, finally where our society has said, nope, you don't have to be the outcast, you can be the one that has a family of your own, and that's the one thing that I can offer you because I'm pretty parapathetic, you know, I wonder around, I don't have a home, I don't have a lot of money, I don't have a lot that I can offer her, but I can offer her a family of her own. So, that made her mom cry, and so her mom came to the wedding, and sat in the front row, and gave her away. It was great."


And here's the words to the song:

Wherever You Go
Marsha Stevens-Pino

You were young when you first knew you would be alone,
Holidays and family ways would never be your own.
A guest at every wedding, an extra place at meals,
But nothing ever seems to feel quite the way home feels.

(Chorus)
Wherever you go, I will go,
Wherever you live, I will live.
I will love your people,
Your God will be my God.
Where you die there I will die
And be buried by your side.
May God grant our love to grow and never end…

Now we stand on sacred ground, our families near,
Law allows these holy vows, your home is here.
I don’t have land or riches. I bring my heart alone.
But this one gift I offer you – a family of your own.

(Chorus)

Wherever you go, I will go,
Wherever you live, I will live.
I will love your people,
Your God will be my God.
Where you die there I will die
And be buried by your side.
May God grant our love to grow and never end…
(tag)

And may you find your home in me, my Beloved and my Friend.


People can listen to it (and buy the album) here:

http://christiangays.com/mp3/player_marsha/index.html

Kittredge Cherry said...

I am a fan of Marsha Stevens music, so I definitely appreciate the wealth of info that you provided, CJ. I will take some time to follow your links and enjoy her song based on Ruth’s vow to Naomi. I haven’t heard “Wherever You Go” before, so thank you for bringing to my attention here for the good of all. I plan to add an appropriate link to her song in my main post in the future.

Anonymous said...

But ruth married with boaz?

Kittredge Cherry said...

Regarding how Ruth married Boaz even though she loved Naomi, sometimes lesbian or gay people will marry someone of the opposite sex for financial security and social approval, but their orientation is still homosexual.

Anonymous said...

THERE IS NO INDICATION OF HOMOSEXUALITY IN THIS BIBLE STORY.
YOU HAVE COMPLETELY MISSED AND DISTORTED THE MEANING OF IT.

The story opens in Moab, a pagan country east of Judah and the Dead Sea. Naomi and her husband Elimelek fled there during a famine. After Elimelek and Naomi's two sons died, she decided to return to Israel.The rest of the book takes place in Bethlehem, the future birthplace of the Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Themes in the Book of Ruth:

Faithfulness is one of the key themes of this book. We see Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, Boaz's faithfulness to Ruth, and everyone's faithfulness to God. God, in return, rewards them with great blessings.

These characters' faithfulness led to kindness toward each other. Kindness is an outpouring of love. Everyone in this book showed the type of selfless love toward others that God expects from his followers.

A high sense of honor also dominates this book. Ruth was a hardworking, morally chaste woman. Boaz treated her with respect, while fulfilling his lawful responsibility. We see strong examples of obeying God's laws.

A sense of safekeeping is emphasized in the book of Ruth. Ruth took care of Naomi, Naomi took care of Ruth, then Boaz took care of both women. Finally, God took care of all of them, blessing Ruth and Boaz with a child they named Obed, who became the grandfather of David. From David's line came Jesus of Nazareth, Savior of the world.

Finally, redemption is a underlying theme in the book of Ruth. As Boaz, the "kinsman redeemer," saves Ruth and Naomi from a hopeless situation, he illustrates how Jesus Christ redeems our lives.

Kittredge Cherry said...

Ruth can have a lesbian orientation while remaining chaste and not expressing it physically with another woman.