Baseball, Boot Camp & Ballet:
Reflections on Biblical Womanhood, Alphabetically Arranged
Pitcher Connie Wisniewski was selected Player of the Year (1945) in the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, featured in the publication Major League Baseball. That season, she won 32 games, lost 11, and achieved a previously unheard of .81 ERA. The “Iron Woman” pitched and won a double-header against the Racine Belles and led the win-loss percentage (pitching) for three consecutive years. She also played on the league’s first All Star team in 1946.
Fellow ballplayer Magdalen “Mamie” Redman remembered Connie as a mentor to her and other rookies: “She got us together and coached us… She was a big star. She didn’t have to do what she did. That was the kind of person she was.”
Connie died in 1995 in Seminole, FL; she hailed from Detroit, MI. She started playing softball at 11 years old.
I celebrated my twentieth birthday in basic training, preparing for Warrior Week, the pinnacle of physical readiness and applied combat skills knowledge; the transition week that trainees begin, and Airmen finish. Mid-week we took on the iconic obstacle course, a 1.5 mile-circuit of low-crawling, high-climbing, rope-swinging, log-balancing challenges. Along the way to a station with three walls of varied sizes, a drill instructor barked, “Just pick the next one available!” Turning the corner revealed a line of male trainees in front the tallest one, launching from a platform, up and over the top.
Another drill sergeant, with an unusual, bright countenance and demeanor, intercepted my heavy jog toward the shortest wall and steered me toward the middle. “You got this one!” The chasm between the platform and the wall was greater than I expected. I took a breath and a couple seconds to muster the necessary effort to squat-jump the distance and height. I thought I would fall, but reached enough to get my arms over the top, inch up with my feet, and push my palms into the wood to get one leg over. Below, my male wingman called to me, “C’mon, female! You can do it!”
COMING OF AGE
I grew up watching the original Roseanne series with my mom, which we still quote to this day. In a favorite episode from season one, pre-teen, tomboy Darlene is devastated by her first, unmistakable sign of womanhood. Roseanne finds her tossing all her sports equipment into a garbage bag.
“What are you doing? You love this stuff,” she says, retrieving a baseball and glove. Darlene laments she’s “probably going to start throwing like a girl now, anyway.”
“Definitely,” Roseanne says, “and since you got your period, you’re going to be throwing a lot harder.” Darlene ignores the banter and insists her future is not dressed in panty hose and makeup. “That’s not the kind of woman that I want to be,” she says.
“Then why are you throwing away all your stuff? These are a girl’s things, Darlene, as long as a girl uses them.”
DEBORAH, A RESUME
“Villages were deserted in Israel, deserted, until I, Deborah, arose, a mother in Israel arose” (Judges 5:7)—a woman of flames, whose name derives from the verb dabar (to speak), and also means bee.
Judge: held court in the district between Ramah and Bethel, under the Palm of Deborah, where the sons of Israel came for counsel and verdicts.
Prophetess: delivered divine military strategy that resulted in a fatal sting for Sisera’s army, and sweet victory for Israel.
Worship Leader: sang on the day of victory, “Listen, O kings! Give ear, O rulers! I, to Adonai I will sing, I will sing praise to Adonai” (v. 3).
“—then the land had peace for forty years” (v. 31).
I changed schools halfway through fifth grade, but I already knew McGlinnen Elementary’s dirt diamonds. My dad had brought me and my siblings there to play catch and lob easy pitches for us to practice pop flies. What I didn’t know was the clique draft for the upcoming junior high season was already in full swing. On my first day I wore purple sweatpants and an oversized black t- shirt featuring my uncle’s rock band, The Deadbeats. I didn’t make the cut.
One spring afternoon, Mr. D took us outside for gym class. He chose two captains to build teams. He observed for a few selections, then said, “Pick the girls too.”
Todd—a classmate with whom I shared a mutual disrespect and who probably owned the popularity line—pointed and said to his captain, “Pick Donna. At least she can hit the ball.”
Crowdfunded TV series The Chosen has received wild accolades and criticism for its extra-biblical, albeit plausible, character backstories. In the episode “Unlawful,” redeemed Mary Magdalene has a traumatic experience with a demoniac, which drives her to a tavern and back into her old ways. She’s drunk, gambling, and taunting a man who doesn’t seem to mind her sole-female presence until he plays a poor round, and she embarrasses him.
“A woman should know her place,” he seethes. She fires back, “I suppose you’re going to show me?” He gets up to confront her but is blocked by the bartender, allowing her to get away. Later, Simon and Matthew find her and urge her to return to the disciples’ camp.
“I can’t face Him…” she slurs. “He already fixed me once. I broke again.”
The common definition of grace is God’s unmerited favor.
Alternate definition: the empowering presence of God.
In the “Worshipping Warrior” chapter of The Deborah Anointing*, Michelle McClain-Walters writes, “There is a grace being released upon women to discern and destroy the works of the true enemy of our destiny—the devil. Our problem has never been men or tradition or a glass ceiling, but the spiritual forces that motivate them. This revelation will keep us focused on the mission God has given us to destroy the works of the devil.”
The usual suspects of said spiritual forces are fear, insecurity, unworthiness, and a Jezebel spirit.
In Hebrew, nouns are classified as masculine or feminine.
Magen (m): shield; usually a smaller, lighter, defensive or offensive tool used in close combat.
Tsinnah (f): shield; larger, full-body protection. Sometimes covered with spikes or other protrusions to further deflect or increase damage.
“But the white-heteronormative-cisgender-rape culture-patriarchy, tho’!” decry womyn, spelled with a Y. These feminists and their ilk advocated for the spelling change of “women” to “womyn,” presumably an attempt to remove “men” from within the word. Interesting choice, given the fact that Y is the designator of the male chromosome.
KEVLAR IS HEAVY
The rush-and-roll is a quick, evasive maneuver to gain ground while avoiding enemy fire. At the Master Sergeant’s command, we had to spring up from a prone position, rush a few yards, drop to the ground, and roll to one side. And again: up, rush, drop, roll to the other side. When he signaled my group to go, I miscalculated the amount of force needed to compensate for my 40 extra pounds of flak vest, helmet, M-16A rifle, and cold-weather camo. I was literally swept off my feet, and dropped flat on my back.
I lay there like a flipped turtle, teary-eyed because I was embarrassed, and embarrassed because I was teary-eyed. I took deep, sucking breaths under which I cursed my predisposition to exorcize all strong emotions this way, as the words of a female drill sergeant ricocheted in my brain: Don’t cry. Don’t cry. It’s a sign of weakness.
I was able to twist enough to get my hip under me, so I could turn over and push up from the ground. The Master Sergeant saw everything. He took me aside saying, “Hey, come talk to me for a minute.” Whatever he spoke over me in tranquil encouragement to try again must’ve worked. I completed the exercise, however heavy and slow, and that set the tone for the entire day: press in, press on, press through the sweat and the tears.
When daylight waned, and I could finally shed the extra weight, I caught up with the Master Sergeant. A wise, teachable spirit would’ve asked, how do you effectively lead a team when they call you “Jon Cryer” behind your back? But I said, “Thank you for your patience. It must really suck to have chicks like me in your class.”
He answered, “You are not a chick. You’re an Airman. And this is a tough course. I’ve had grown men fall out. The important thing is, you didn’t give up.”
Judges 4:1 introduces Deborah as isha lapidot. There are two translations of this title. The most common in English Bibles and biblical commentaries is wife of Lappidoth. McClain-Walters describes Lappidoth as the prophetic picture of a Godly husband: one who helps empower his wife to use her God-given gifts and does not interfere with her God-given destiny. Although Scripture does not explicitly state this, McClain-Walters explains that Scripture calls for a man to sacrifice for his wife, which may be exemplified by the lack of details about Lappidoth; in this story, he fulfills a supporting role.
Alternatively, Rebbetzin Monique Braumberg argues that lapidot may be translated as a feminine noun, rather than a name, so Deborah’s title may actually be translated woman of torches/flames—and fire is often symbolic of passion, empowerment, refinement, and a light in the darkness.
I suspect both readings are accurate. Scripture is rife with treasures revealed in wordplay.
The aesthetic of ballet is the sense of elevation. Ballerinas seem to barely touch the floor, to float, to fly. Yet every inch from finger to toe tip is extensively trained; every movement is controlled and intentional. It takes years of extraordinary pursuit of strength, flexibility, stamina, and balance to make it look so delicate and effortless—so who in their right mind would start taking ballet at 34? Seriously, who does that? But when I met Ms. Liz, who was still teaching at 79, she said, “You’ll get better and better, and before you know it, you’ll be doing partnering and lifts and all kinds of things.”
It was Davidic worship dancing that led me to ballet. It’s named after King David, who danced before the altar of Adonai. Its structure and technique come from Israeli folk dancing, which is usually done in a circle, representing a border around Israel. The Davidic (or Messianic) perspective is inviting the Lord to dance in the center as we dance around Him. Davidic dancers also use arm movements, lifting in praise, bowing in worship, and swaying—a wave offering before the Lord. Our footsteps are a mixed multitude of Israeli folk and other styles, like ballet. Classical dance training is not required or necessary for Davidic worship, but ballet is so foundational and disciplined that it naturally enhances the technique and aesthetic of other styles.
In fact, ballet is what gives expressive styles like lyrical and contemporary their technique; while these styles look, and perhaps feel, more free than “rigid” ballet, it is the ballet structure that allows for the “wild abandon” aesthetic without looking like interpretative “dance” by somebody named Sunflower Rain at Burning Man. But I digress.
As I fell in love with dance worship, I desired formal lessons, like a bride preparing for her wedding day.
During a typical barre session, Ms. Liz said, “Plié and relevé. Core tight. Back straight, heart to heaven—and smile, God loves you—plié, relevé, and hold. Let go of the barre. Take your time. Focus your eyes on something big; it will help you balance.”
I focused on a poster of five ballerinas from the waist down, in a v-formation. Four of them in pointe shoes and fifth position: feet turned out, heel to toe. The front ballerina is posed in fourth-crossed position—similar to fifth but more open—and she’s wearing combat boots.
I’ll be damned if my heart didn’t burn within me. Scripture says David danced, and he was a man of war. He is a shadow-and-type of Messiah, who scripture also describes as a man of war and one who dances with shouts of joy over us. There was a shift in the spirit, strong enough to knock me off my relevé, as the identity of the worshipping warrior was revealed to me—suddenly, my entire life made sense.
In the episode “Daughters and Other Strangers,” Roseanne and Darlene fight about Darlene’s early acceptance to college. At first, Roseanne rejects the idea of her not-yet-17-year-old moving two hours away to Chicago, but she reconsiders, worried that she’s ruining her daughter’s future. In the meantime, Darlene claims she’s no longer interested. Roseanne doesn’t buy it, and presses her until Darlene relents. “What if I get there and find out I suck…Why can’t I just stay home like a normal kid?”
“Because as I have told you for your entire life, Darlene, you are not normal. You dress funny. You’re weird. You’re too smart for your own damn good. Face it, Darlene. You’re special. And I think you could be something great.”
OY VEY…THE INTERNET
A recent video circulating through social media shows a pastor shouting at a co-ed group of Canadian authorities attempting to intimidate them during their Passover service. “Get out!” he screams, “Don’t come back without a warrant!” Almost every comment read something like, “Finally! Somebody standing up to these government thugs!”
Then there’s that guy: “Of course they sent a woman! Paul said, ‘I do not permit a woman to have authority over a man!’”
PAS DE DEUX
Ms. Liz on ballet partnering: “Ladies, every jump starts and ends with a plié. Gentlemen, you gently push down on their waist to cue them to plié. But ladies, you have to plié and really jump! He’s going to lift you, but you have to do your part too. The deeper you plié and the higher you jump, the easier it makes it for him to lift you—and then you’ll go a lot higher!”
The book of Esther is a riveting chess match. The Grandmaster slowly develops humble Hadassah into Queen Esther, crowned with grace and favor, making her the most powerful piece in the famous Mordechai-Haman game. The intense exchange suggests an inevitable, bleak outcome. At a pivotal moment, it appears necessary to deploy a potential queen sacrifice, as Mordechai says, “who knows whether you’ve come into your royal position for such a time as this?” Esther vows to fast and pray—to fight from a position of submission—and approach King Ahasuerus unsummoned, accepting that she may be laying down her life: “If I perish, I perish.”
But the Grandmaster lures the opponent into a trap built by his own hubris; in the endgame, the queen is face-to-face with the dark king, and her king protects her.
REPENTANCE IN REVISION
The original, eight-year-old draft of this essay had anti-biblical and perhaps even blasphemous sentiments. This redeemed, completed version is dedicated to the Editor: the Author and Finisher of my faith.
May Adonai make you like Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah is a typical Shabbat blessing over the young women and girls of the household. The idea being they will fruit the next generations and become matriarchs themselves. It’s a beautiful and important impartation, but (Messianic) Rabbi Eric Tokajer posits it is so much more.
In his blog commentary, “How We Should Bless Our Daughters,”** he describes Sarah as an example of women who hear from God and should be heard by their husbands; Rebekah is an example of self-determination, agreeing to marry Isaac sight unseen; Rachel and Leah are examples that “women/wives are not property to be bought and sold by men” as Jacob had to work, to sacrifice, for them.
Rabbi Tokajer concludes, “When we pray these words over our daughters, we are reminding them to never settle for being less than how G-d sees them and never settle for a man that sees them as less than how G-d sees them.”
Tears are not necessarily a sign of weakness or an attempt to manipulate men. Many times they are emotional and spiritual perspiration.
URBAN WARFARE TRAINING
Insurgents took out my lieutenant with a pellet gun. He slumped down the wall of the concrete stronghold. As lead for Fire Team Alpha, I was next to step into LT’s boots, but when the proverbial smoke cleared, the lead for Team Bravo took the head count and damage report. Whether by experience, instinct, or simple confidence, he took authority without hesitation. I wasn’t even mad. The mission got completed, and my fear of failure was alleviated. We conspired after the exercise. He agreed to continue to take over should anything happen to LT again. But the second LT saw me, he lit me up. “If something happens to me, YOU’RE IN CHARGE. Not [him]. YOU.”
Twenty-six-year-old me was an ungrateful, petulant child about it. Pushing-forty me gives thanks for the God-sent military men who pushed me, forward and up.
Another Shabbat blessing, the Eshet Chayil (Woman of Valor), is recited or sung from Proverbs 31 by a husband honoring his wife:
A woman of valor, who can find? Her value is far beyond rubies.
She is wise and discerning; strength and dignity are her clothing.
Her hands work willingly; she spreads out her palms to the needy.
A lesson of kindness is on her tongue; her children bless her.
Her husband also praises her: “Many daughters have excelled, but you surpass them all.”
Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears Adonai will be praised.
WHAT HE SAID
My husband-to-be told our pre-marital counselor, “She can do anything. She works, she goes to school, she takes care of our apartment, cooks”—I used to anyway. These days he’s the primary on meal preparation, including packing my lunches for work.
Such spoken sentiment is rare for him. He’s far more prone to acts of whimsy, like the time he customized a character in a Nordic legend-based video game: a female warrior, complete with sword and buckler. He said, “Her name is Wifey. She’s a shield maiden.”
1 Peter 3:1-7 is a hard teaching. If not read carefully and contemplated prayerfully, words like “submission” and “weaker” tend to be the ones that stick, and produce ridiculous rhetoric such as “marriage is a male construct to enslave women” or the doctrine of “barefoot and pregnant.” For some reason, the words “honor them” and “equal heirs” are far less retained, let alone recited.
Likewise are the phrases that speak of submitting to one another out of respect for Messiah, unbelieving husbands being won over by the pure, reverent conduct of their wives, and encouraging women to pursue holiness and not fear intimidation.
Humanity’s true enemy is the root of this divisive nonsense. His goal is to set men and women at odds so we are not walking in the power of our partnerships—especially within the marriage covenant. When viewed through the lens of Messiah and His Bride, our respective roles take on a deeper and prophetic significance.
YESHUA, THE LAST ADAM
“Now when they came to Yeshua and saw that He was already dead…one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately blood and water came out” (John 19:33-34).
The Hebrew word for “side” is tzelah, a feminine noun. God took from Adam’s tzelah to design a bride, saying, “I will make for him a suitable helper” (Genesis 2:18). The word for “helper” is ezer; this word is also used to describe the Lord as our help, often in the same verses where He is described as our shield and our deliverer: one who aids in battle, a rescuer who comes running in times of distress.
Ezer was the word He used before He formed her—before there was dinner to be made, before there were diapers to change, before the boss needed a secretary, before she tripped over the adversary—even before she was called woman, and Eve.
* McClain-Walters, Michelle. The Deborah Anointing. Charisma Media, 2015. p. 38.
**Tokajer, Eric. “How We Should Bless Our Daughters.” Eric Tokajer, 8 Nov. 2021, https://www.rabbierict.com/post/how-we-should-bless-our-daughters.
D.M. Gralewski is a writer and Davidic dancer with a day job. Her nonfiction works have appeared in the Agape Review and Ruminate. She studies ballet, lyrical, and Israeli folk dancing, aspires to writing poetry in Hebrew, and needs another cup of coffee.
Photo: Statue of Deborah. Monument de Joseph Sec, Aix-en-Provence, France. Public Domain.