Her name was Damaris. Ever wondered about her? She appears in the form of an afterthought, (one of Luke’s “oh, by the way” comments), as one of the “few” who believed upon hearing Paul’s speech in the Areopagus (Acts 17:22-34). Some biblical commentators guess that to have been mentioned as a woman she could only have been of high social status. This might accord with the fact that Christian tradition also identifies her as the wife of Dionysius the Areopagite (the one other person who is named among the “few” who believed and who later went on to become the Bishop of Athens’ fledgling church). The Eastern Orthodox church actually sets aside a day for Saint Damaris, but for Reformed Protestants like myself, Damaris takes her place in a long line of forgotten saints and sinners, many of them women whose contributions to the church and the world will remain shrouded in mystery and known (with the exception of a small collection of biblical scholars) only to God.
Yet that anonymity does not make Damaris’ contributions any less meaningful, or her commitment to building God’s people up with the love of God any less a compelling witness. Often our best mentors and role models are those whose presence is easily taken for granted. (I suspect any parent who sacrifices their professional aspirations to rear children can appreciate this truth.) Such persons may dwell inconspicuously “in the margins” of a life’s main plot line, but the imprint they make is unquestionable.
Recently, I was reminded of this truth as it often plays out in our churches when standing in the International Museum of the Reformation in John Calvin’s Geneva, Switzerland. There, a panoply of male Reformers and their writings, from Calvin and Luther to the lesser known, bedecks the many exhibit rooms, each representing a century-long “chapter” in the story of the Reformation from the sixteenth century to the present. Women theologians and philosophers only make their debut by name in the very last room devoted to the twentieth century, and I was surprised and a bit rueful to think that I only now was making acquaintance with most of them. Amy Plantinga Pauw makes a similar observation about women’s representation in mainline ministry settings: they “remain heavily concentrated in associate positions, in small and struggling churches and in alternative ministry settings,” she writes in the most recent issue of The Christian Century.
The other day at the grocery store my two-year-old daughter, Sam, was introducing herself very loudly in the latest dialect of English (if you could even call it that) to anyone in the dairy section who might listen. “She’s making herself known- and that’s a good thing!,” someone exclaimed- and yes, I had to agree, it was a good thing.
But Damaris’ legacy is not ultimately about making herself known. It is about making known, in her own unique “dialect,” the God she has encountered in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ . I only hope that more and more women in the church will, like Damaris, find their voice wherever they are called to minister.