By Reverend Janet Staines
The book of Ruth is a woman’s story. It holds the many tensions that are familiar to women’s stories: barrenness and fruitfulness, old age and youth, isolation and community, tradition and creativity, with the movement from emptiness to fullness. It is a story of a relationship between two women within whom resides the means of hope for themselves and the preservation of a family. And the centre point of the whole story is between chapters two and three, where Boaz is recognised as a hopeful solution to the women’s problem.
Women’s stories often include surviving wars, grief, hardship, epidemics, migration, rebuilding, and technological, economic, political and social change. And yet many women are reticent to tell their stories. Who would want to hear my story? The cultural modesty and humility expected of women deny them the opportunity to celebrate their achievements that often come about through their relationships.
Ruth and Naomi’s story is one of friendship and intimacy intertwined with struggle and loss. They find agency in and through their relationship and create a space for honest, authentic relating. They are united by their desperation to endure and to find a way through. While the writer interprets and justifies their desperation as the means through which Israelite and a foreign culture meet and create blessings for future generations, their story is simply a story of survival.
An erosive sense of scarcity can create a dark side of competition in relationships. Intimacy and vulnerability can be used as a weapon, and we enviously see another’s gain as our loss. But in their survival, Naomi and Ruth learn to rejoice in each other’s joys, they develop a deep trust in knowing it is safe to be vulnerable, they grow a healthy balance of reciprocity, and they inspire a regenerative, collaborative and creative relationship. These are the cornerstones of covenant relating.