Episcopalian priest Elizabeth Felicetti doesn’t mince words in her important conversation on a woman’s value whether she is a mother—or not. Humans have value. Period. This she wisely asserts.
Felicetti’s Unexpected Abundance explores the lives of 25 childless women to show an important and culturally ignored fact: generativity exists beyond reproduction.
Readers move through history as Felicetti discusses these barren women and their worthy deeds such as familiar Old Testament matriarchs Miriam and Deborah and unknown ones such as Huldah, who “can be found in both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles, but not in church lectionaries.” This Hebrew prophetess was consulted by King Josiah and the high priest Hilkiah. Huldah spoke for God. I don’t recall hearing about her. Do you?
Next comes New Testament examples of barren people such as the Samaritan woman, Mary and Martha—and Jesus himself. Of the latter, Felicetti uses the many interactions Christ had with women to deconstruct “blessedness” as connected only to motherhood. She writes of Luke 11:27-28, “Christ here confirms that motherhood is not the sole means of blessedness: rather, our actions in response to God’s word create blessedness.”
Other figures range from Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Siena, and Queen Elizabeth I to Hildegard and Sister Helen Prejean (Dead Men Walking).
Interwoven in the anecdotes of historical figures is Felicetti’s own story. She and her husband struggled with infertility and career demands. Now childless in middle age, she explains why she wrote: “I needed a book with a happy ending that wasn’t a baby.”
Unexpected Abundance also addresses small-minded comments folks use to belittle women without children: “You need to give that man a child” to “You can always adopt.” As I read, my memories surfaced. The pastor’s wife at Mom’s funeral who chided me for not having children—but added that my college students must be my children. (Not really.) Or a friend who didn’t think I could understand the complicated triangle of a parent, child, and teacher. And so on.
What Felicetti helped me see is that while motherhood is incredibly special, it isn’t a ticket to the exceptionalism our Christian culture deems it to be. Few books address what author Vinita Hampton Wright calls our “idolatry of the family.” This one does—along with the sad narrowing of worth for women.
Felicetti’s unique gift is examining this conversation in Christianity. Childless women, asserts Felicetti, can have important and abundant lives. After all, love is a wide and deep thing. There’s no need for the box to be so small. Felicetti serves as an Episcopal priest in St. David’s of Richmond, Virginia. (Eerdmans).