Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Inland Register columnist helps craft book celebrating women’s role in religious history

Story and photo by Bonita Lawhead, Inland Register staff

(From the June 12, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

Inland Register columnist Mary Farrell (right) is one of five women who contributed stories to the volume Daughters of the Desert. (IR photo)

Daughters of the Desert is a slim book that could be described as more than the sum of its parts.

The book tells stories of women in ancient times whose stories are rarely told. The women come from the three Abrahamic religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. Each story has a explanatory note at the end, telling about its place in history and religion, like a mini-history lesson.

Finally, its publication is timely in the midst of the uneasy peace these days between the three religions. The book takes on added significance as a place where readers can further their understanding of the three religions’ relationship.

The authors are Mary Cronk Farrell, Meghan Nuttall Sayres, Claire Rudolf Murphy, and Sarah Conover, all of Spokane, and Betsy Wharton, who moved to Port Angeles after the book was completed. Farrell, Sayres and Murphy are Catholic; Conover was raised Presbyterian but is now a “theistic Buddhist.” Wharton, too, was raised Presbyterian.

The book, like Topsy in Uncle Tom’s Cabin, wasn’t born, “it just growed.” Farrell, who writes a column on family spirituality that is carried in the Inland Register and other publications, explained that getting the book together was an “untidy process that just evolved.”

She said that she and Sayres were the first to think about doing a book. They were in a children’s writing group and each had written stories about Biblical women. They discussed the possibility of getting them published.

“What we envisioned then,” said Farrell, “was a picture book.” By combining their efforts, they thought they might have a better chance of getting their work published. Also, they had both searched unsuccessfully for books about such women for their own daughters and felt their work might fill that void.

Then Claire Rudolf Murphy, a published author, was invited to add her expertise. Murphy, who also teaches writing, invited one of her students, Wharton, to join them.

With Wharton as a member, the book concept expanded to include Hebrew stories. Later Wharton invited her friend Conover, who had written a volume on Buddhism and was in the process of writing another book on Islam. The concept for Daughters of the Desert expanded to include Muslim stories.

The book’s 18 stories are divided into six from each of the three represented religions. The timeline ranges from the beginning of creation to 656 A.D. The women of the stories were chosen as they sparked the authors’ interest. The writers did exceptional work fleshing out the stories, not an easy task with an ancient culture and different religions.

The stories range from Eve, written by Conover from the Muslim tradition, to Lydia in the New Testament, written by Sayres, herself a weaver who has been to both Turkey and Greece. Farrell wrote about the Blessed Mother and Mary Magdalene; Wharton wrote two stories about Hagar; Murphy wrote about Salome, the mother of James and John. The five women found their own beliefs challenged as they discussed the stories and what should be included.

Their efforts resulted in a book like no other.

“We were doing something new,” Farrell said. That was good news since it would increase the book’s chances of being published. The group found their publisher, Skylight Paths, on the Internet. The women’s work fit the company’s publishing philosophy.

While each story has a single author, the book’s publication is an affirmation of the authors’ dedication and commitment.

Five-way e-mails and phone calls, many hours of research and “lots of discussion” were hallmarks of their work, Farrell said. Decision-making was a lengthy process because, said Sayres, “Everyone had to agree.”

The five women had originally titled their book If Women Were Scribes. If women had been scribes in those long-ago centuries, then perhaps more stories about women would have been written. But these five modern-day scribes make up for that lack; in their capable hands, Hebrew, Christian and Muslim women come to life, in a delightful and thought-provoking set of stories.

(Daughters of the Desert is published in hardcover at $19.95 by Skylight Paths, Rt. 4, P.O. Box 237, Woodstock, VT 05091.)

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