Artist Elise Bergsten wrestled with the passage of 1 Timothy 5:3-16 and produced this gorgeous piece that stands as a personal tribute to overcoming adversity and as a memento to the universal journey through life that we all take.
Grandmother's Shrine, Detail (Interior)
Grandmother's Shrine, Detail (Exterior back)
Grandmother's Shrine, Detail (Exterior right side)
Grandmother's Shrine, Detail (Exterior left side)
Grandmother's Shrine, Detail (Interior top shelf)
Grandmother's Shrine, Detail (Interior middle shelf)
Grandmother's Shrine, Detail (Interior bottom shelf)
Artist Curated by
1 Timothy 5:3–16
3 Honour widows that are widows indeed. 4 But if any widow have children or nephews, let them learn first to shew piety at home, and to requite their parents: for that is good and acceptable before God. 5 Now she that is a widow indeed, and desolate, trusteth in God, and continueth in supplications and prayers night and day. 6 But she that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth. 7 And these things give in charge, that they may be blameless. 8 But if any provide not for his own, and specially for those of his own house, he hath denied the faith, and is worse than an infidel. 9 Let not a widow be taken into the number under threescore years old, having been the wife of one man, 10 Well reported of for good works; if she have brought up children, if she have lodged strangers, if she have washed the saints’ feet, if she have relieved the afflicted, if she have diligently followed every good work. 11 But the younger widows refuse: for when they have begun to wax wanton against Christ, they will marry; 12 Having damnation, because they have cast off their first faith. 13 And withal they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house; and not only idle, but tattlers also and busybodies, speaking things which they ought not. 14 I will therefore that the younger women marry, bear children, guide the house, give none occasion to the adversary to speak reproachfully. 15 For some are already turned aside after Satan. 16 If any man or woman that believeth have widows, let them relieve them, and let not the church be charged; that it may relieve them that are widows indeed.
This passage is referred to as “The Widows List”. Paul was giving guidance to others for the new church, and most of the passage is in regards to defining requirements that a true widow ought to meet in order to merit help from the church.
Widows seemed pretty unfortunate, whether they fit into the narrow rules or whether they were left outside of them. Widows that brought property to their marriage or widows that had sons that could inherit their father's property and take care of their mothers were the most fortunate. I found that there were three different words for widow in the original Hebrew that differentiated between three types of widows. The widows list only pertained to widows with no means and no family to take care of them. As the passage makes clear, these widows still had a very small eye of a needle to fit through to receive help from the church.
I researched the passage and the historical context, and found myself processing my own feelings regarding marriage, various ways humans become trapped by their circumstances, and the concept of "widow" as helpless victim versus the opportunity of any human to make choices about how they act within their life circumstances. We humans have the ability to be free within very difficult conditions.
I was reminded of the Hero’s Path, written by Joseph Campbell:
We have not even to risk the adventure alone for the heroes of all time have gone before us. The labyrinth is thoroughly known…we have only to follow the hero path. And where we had thought to find an abomination we shall find a God. And where we had thought to slay another we shall slay ourselves. Where we had thought to travel outwards we shall come to the center of our own existence. And where we had thought to be alone we shall be with all the world.
The widow story that is most personal to me and is also a hero’s journey is that of my maternal grandmother, so I reflected about her life, the ways in which she was trapped within very difficult circumstances, and how she lived her life in response to those conditions. She lived for more than two decades as a widow, and was fortunate to have property and means to live independently during that time.
This three-dimensional piece is a shrine honoring my grandmother. It has three levels, which represent many different trinities:
Father, Son and Holy Ghost. Maiden, Mother, Crone. Death, Life, Transcendence.
Elise Bergsten was educated at the University of Wisconsin where she in majored in Fiber Arts. Her recent work is in paper and mixed media collage, and explores archetypal symbols and humanity’s search for meaning.