In June, I was lucky enough to participate in a conference at the Centre for Biblical Studies in Cluj, Romania. The papers we presented will be revised and published in a volume of The Bible and Women series, translated into German, Spanish, Italian, and English. I’ll tell you a bit more about this event later.
Although Romania was never on my list of must-see places to visit, I do very much enjoy traveling, and especially to international meetings of New Testament scholars. After receiving the invitation last fall, I did a quick Google search of birding spots in Romania. Highlights included the Danube Delta Biosphere Reserve and the Carpathian Mountains. Since many of the most exciting and joyful activities of our marriage have involved birding, Tim agreed we should look into the options for a birdwatching tour of Romania.
We were fortunate to locate Neophron Tours, with Dimiter Georgiev its managing director. Like most birding guides, Dimiter has an encyclopedic memory of bird identifications, their special habitats, flight patterns, nesting habits, and varieties of songs and calls. He ably led us on our search for 160+ species of birds, on the water and the shore, in fields and steppes, in the air and high in the mountains.
As you may know, birdwatching is a soul-restoring activity for me. On this trip, I thoroughly relaxed from the mental and emotional intensities that come at the end of the academic year. A 3-day boat trip through the Danube Delta brought the gentle rocking of the boat, the lapping of wavelets on its sides, a persistent breeze, the bright sun, and the silence of my companions as we listened for birds. Need I say that many naps were taken?
Late one day, we putted slowly across a lake area dotted by large numbers of lily pads with white and yellow flowers. These pads supported the nests of Common Terns and Black-necked Grebes, along with any number of croaking green frogs. The motor turned off, we drifted along, very close to the birds who were not that alarmed.
Then, at the other side of the lake, I saw an activity I had heard about but never observed: the mating dance of two Great Crested Grebes. The birds approach each other, necks bending and bowing , forehead and “ear” feathers fanned out, entranced with each other, then swimming or diving away. It was magic. A miracle. A solace. A delight. A sign of God’s presence.
I suspect most of you have seen enough Romanian birds now, so I’ll get back to the scholarly conference. Other delightful experiences awaited me there, including:
- engaging conversations with Professor Korinna Zamfir, of Babes-Bolyai University in Cluj, the organizer of the meeting;
- delicious meals with Professors Angela Standhartinger and Marianne Bjelland Kartzow whose writings on the Pastoral Letters have enriched my own; and,
- lively discussions about early female deacons, graduate students, and the movie “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” with Professor Ekaterini Tsalampouni of Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.
My assigned topic was “Mothers in the New Testament Letters.” I felt a bit daunted to tackle this topic because there aren’t very many “real” mothers mentioned in these letters. I wondered what I would talk about. Here’s a paragraph that describes my dilemma:
Like all of you, I have had my own particular experience of being mothered. My mother was a married White college-educated woman, who liked to sew, lead our Girl Scout troops, and teach kindergarten. During the 1950s and 60s, we lived in a mostly White, American, middle-class very small town in a farming region. Years later, I had married and moved to Chicago, and I became a mother myself, giving birth to two infants. I snuggled and breastfed them, cleaned and clothed them. As they grew, I provided for their economic and social needs, for their educational and religious training. And now I support them as adults who are parenting their own funny, delightful, and sometimes irritating children. I have been in a mothering role for nearly 40 years. I could talk for a long time about my regrets and delights in being a mother (and so could my children and spouse). My personal experience serves to remind me of how little we actually know about the mothering accomplished by women in the Roman Imperial world.
When a scholar sits in their study, researching and writing a paper alone, it can be hard to imagine the audience who will listen to and interact with their thoughts. One worries that the paper will receive highly-critical questions or perhaps extremely bored indifference. (Academics [even those studying the Bible] can be very competitive and ambitious!) I’m glad to say that the scholars and papers at this conference were welcomed with generous attention along with insightful additions to their arguments.
So, these are a few of my summer encounters: birds and feminist biblical scholars. Actually, when I think about it, what could be more restorative?