Dorothy Yoder Nyce, Lyrics and Narration; Peggy Jenks, Music Composer
Created when Staff members at Kodaikanal International School, south India, 1986
First seen through production with KIS Middle School students
This chapter appears in Decades of Feminist Writing, DYN self-published, 2020
During the 1976-77 school year our family lived in Cambridge, MA, the four of us attending schools: John at Harvard School of Education, Lynda Grade 2 and Gretchen Kindergarten at Peabody Elementary, and I part-time at Episcopal Divinity School or Andover Newton Seminary. During the fall semester I attended a lecture at Andover Newton by Old Testament professor Phyllis Trible on the biblical book titled Ruth. I clearly recall leaving that lecture hall saying to myself: ‘If how she/Trible interpreted this account is what can be done with scripture, I’m determined to pursue it.’ Her lecture, published as “A Human Comedy” in God and the Rhetoric of Sexuality (Philadelphia: Fortress Pr., 1978, 166-99), introduced me to her fine method of interpretation. In addition to including a lecture on Ruth/Naomi content when teaching “Bible and Sexuality” during nine semesters at Goshen College, I enrolled for a summer course on “Jonah and Ruth” with Trible as guest prof at Notre Dame University, and attended seven of eleven years (2003 – 2013) of the lecture series presented in her honor at the Divinity School at Wake Forest University.
After studying Greek during a seminary summer language course plus several semesters of delving into Greek Readings and several New Testament segments, I studied Hebrew language through focus on translating every word of the book of Ruth. Language courses demand memory effort. Assigned to write a disciplined paper on Hebrew use of the concept redeem/redeemer within Ruth and elsewhere within Hebrew scripture, I concluded that ‘to reflect, research, consider several possible ways to understand such a term is what “redeemed” for me a memorization-laden language course.’ Prompting pleasure for me was the prof’s comment at the end of my paper: “Well, you always provoke me to new thoughts. . . I thoroughly enjoyed this.”
When on staff at Kodaikanal International School in the state of Tamil Nadu, south India (1986), I cooperated with Peggy Jenks music faculty member, to create a musical titled “Naomi and Ruth: From Death to Life.” By then fairly familiar with the four-chapter biblical text, I recall hiking a short distance from campus to a hillside cabin’s front porch, Bible in hand with paper and pen. Intent to enable middle school age children to tell Ruth’s story via a musical for a Sunday evening event, the lyrics and narration evolved through a day’s concentrated hours of writing. Peggy Jenks then took the lyrics to a piano and composed fourteen engaging songs, along with multiple repeats of phrases. Remarkable is the fact that she taught all of those songs to middle school students during their music class. They learned words and music solely by listening to her sing and play the piano, without music scores. I regret not to include the score here although I have a tape recording of that first performance.
Other distinct details marked the musical. Peggy’s son learned/acted the Ruth character’s part. Ten characters—Narrator, Naomi, Elimalech her husband, Mahlon and Chilion her sons, Ruth and Orpah wives of the sons, Boaz older land owner, unnamed relative of Elimalech, and a head servant—plus a group of seven women and a chorus of servants, village women and townsfolk—produced the work. Students of families of Hindu and other faith loyalties attend school at KIS, so openness to the universal One God’s relating with people of all nations emerged naturally. School staff as well as secondary and elementary friends, most of them boarding students, attended the event to commend the performance held in the chapel. The story reflects a period of time over 3,000 years earlier; it begins in Bethlehem, shifts to Moab, and returns to Bethlehem. Costumes and settings reflected ancient Jewish tradition. The musical could be performed by adults and older youth too.
“Naomi and Ruth: From Death to Life”
SONG: COME, WALK ALONG (sung as characters enter)
Come walk along with me; we’ll meet the future together.
Come, walk along with me; we’ll greet the future together.
Although the future is unknown; although we cannot see ahead,
Come walk along with me; our feet are heavy and sometimes light;
Come walk along with me; our faces smiling and sometimes not.
Walking, we go; Talking we go, Stalking and slow,
then faster when we see the sun’s bright ray.
Running as we clearly see the way,
Come walk along with me. Tell me your story and I’ll tell mine.
Come walk along with me. Share your troubles and I’ll share mine.
Come, walk along. Come, sing a song. Come, walk along with me.
Scene 1: Begins on a road from Bethlehem to Moab.
Narrator: Come, walk along. Join the characters as they tell their story which took place about three thousand years ago. You may question at times, why must life be so tough? You will see dramatic changes. You will notice that God interacts with people in their ordinary lives. You will meet ancient cultures and customs. So, come, walk along with me.
Elimalech: What a journey we’ve had! You’ll remember this for years to come, my sons.
Mahlon: That’s for sure! The effects of famine really were obvious.
Chilion: Remember that dying child by the road . . . .?
Naomi: Stop, son. Say no more about that sight. Just be glad we’re leaving. I don’t ever want to watch you die!
Mahlon: Don’t worry, mother. We’ll live a long time in Moab.
Chilion: But why do we have famine in Bethlehem while only thirty miles away in Moab there is plenty?
Elimalech: Some things we don’t understand. God must have a reason . . . but we can’t figure it out.
Naomi: At least God is with us . . . and we have each other. So, we will survive.
Elimalech: Yes. Let’s get settled in Moab. We people of Israel have a history of wandering from place to place. That’s our story.
Mahlon: After we set up camp tonight, tell us more of that story again, Father. It never bores me.
Naomi: Maybe, if our minds are busy, we won’t think about our aching stomachs.
Narrator: And so, the family of four entered Moab. They found a plot of land to rent and soon made friends. But life proved hard once again. The father . . .Elimalech by name. . . died. Away from her homeland and now without a husband, Naomi had to depend on her sons. Before too long, each one married a young Moabite woman whose names were Orpah and Ruth. We find the five around an evening fire.
Naomi: You four seem so discouraged.
Mahlon: We have good reason to be.
Chilion: Our wives haven’t had any children.
Mahlon: God is so unkind to do this to us.
Ruth: I do feel responsible.
Orpah: Maybe your God did not want you to marry us foreign women.
Naomi: But you have been so faithful . . . good workers, too.
Chilion: I don’t want to dismiss you, Orpah. But you know our law.
Mahlon: Yes. After ten years without a child, we have the right to divorce you.
Orpah: And now we’ve been married nine. Oh, dear . . .
Mahlon: Mother, what if we never . . .
Naomi: That would mean that my man’s name would be forgotten. Oh, Elimalech, to think that you might never be remembered—good as you were.
Ruth: But let’s not give up!
Mahlon: You’ve said that before. But God doesn’t seem to hear.
Chilion: Well, tomorrow’s another day. Good night!
Narrator: Discouraged as the family was, their troubles were not yet over. In fact, death came again. Naomi wasn’t the only one to experience the dreadful life of a widow. Widows were considered outcastes. The two childless women watched their husbands die. They cried out in despair. God seemed to have disappeared. Old Naomi gave up too. With no future for her in Moab, she decided to return to Bethlehem—to wait there to die.
Naomi: What a different tone I have today compared to when my three men and I walked here from Bethlehem.
Ruth: Mahlon often talked about that trip.
Orpah: Chilion said that you often sang while walking along.
Naomi: But now my tune has changed. I must return alone. In fact . . . you’ve come far enough. I’ll go the rest of the way by myself.
Orpah: But, Naomi, you can’t do that!
Naomi: There’s no future for you . . . with me.
Ruth: But is there any hope if we stay here in Moab?
Naomi: Perhaps you could marry again.
Orpah: And still be childless? No thanks!
Naomi: At least you’re not old like me. You can’t count on my having another son to marry.
Orpah: Oh, don’t say it that way! (pause) But I ache; my feet are tired.
Naomi: Then, go on back, like I said.
SONG: WHY DON’T YOU SEE?
But, don’t you see, the daughters replied.
We can’t turn back; what would our husbands say? (Repeat)
Go, go on back, she cried. You’ve come far enough with me.
Turn, turn around, she cried. “There’s nothing to be gained.”
But, don’t you see? The daughters replied.
We can’t turn back; what would our husbands say? (Repeat)
Even more upset, the mother grieved and grieved.
Your men are dead; they’ll never speak again.
Now don’t be rude. I’ve pain enough to bear.
But, don’t you see? The daughters replied;
We can’t turn back; what would our husbands say? (Repeat)
I am too old now, to give to you more sons.
Stay, here in Moab and other husbands find.
But, don’t you see? The daughters replied;
We can’t turn back; what would our husbands say? Why don’t you see? Why don’t you see?
Naomi: Why don’t I see? You know very well. Now let’s kiss each other good-bye.
Ruth: But you can’t survive, alone! (starts to cry)
Naomi: I don’t need to; you do. I’m worth nothing. God has gone against me. Why should you support me?
Orpah: Because you’re the mother of my husband. (cries)
Naomi: You don’t have one!
Orpah: That doesn’t mean that we should desert you.
Naomi: Stay here in your own mother’s house. I wish I could depend on God to bless you. But I can’t. . . not anymore.
Orpah: Okay, Naomi. I’ll kiss you. (sobbing) Though parting is not easy . . .you have truly been a mother to me. (both weep in silence; Orpah turns around and leaves.)
Naomi: Ruth . . . Go with your sister-in-law. Perhaps your gods will listen.
Ruth: Perhaps they won’t.
Naomi: Anyway, I insist.
Ruth: But, so do I. I’m going with you.
Naomi: That’s foolish . . . for you a young woman to stick with me, an old widow!
Ruth: Naomi, don’t force me to change my mind. I have decided. I love you . . . and I always will. (Ruth reaches out to Naomi.)
SONG: A WOMAN LOVES A WOMAN
Where you go, I will follow; where you go, I will follow.
Where you stay, I’ll stay with you. Your people shall be my people too.
Your God shall be my God. Your God shall be my God too.
And where you die, I shall also die, and there I will be buried; and there I will be buried.
(Repeat all, this fine tune.)
Narrator: The two walked on toward Bethlehem. On their arrival, the local folk whispered words: Isn’t she Naomi? Who’s that with her? Where’s Elimalech? And didn’t they have two sons? That must be Naomi: Though she’s aged a lot, her name still means Pleasant or Sweet. Overhearing them, Naomi retorted (bitterly):
Naomi: Don’t call me Naomi, if you mean Sweet one. No one could be more bitter. So, call me Mara. I left from here . . . with husband and sons. But look at me; I’m empty, alone, and worthless. My men are all dead. God destroyed them all. The One who you think is Al-mighty . . . I call All-cruel!
SONG: THE SUN NO MORE SHINES (lights off as song ends)
What have I done? I’m in a mess. Why does the sun not shine on me?
Where have you gone? I feel alone. Why won’t you shine; come shine on me.
Once we were four, my three men and me.
The sun warmed us, a happy family.
Your hand, it hit me not one time, but three, not one time, but three, not one time, but three.
Your hand, it hit me not one time but three. Oh, sun, when will you shine on me?
Scene 2: Begins in a small hut in Bethlehem
Ruth: Why don’t I go to a field today; barley harvest is beginning, I hear. I’ll look for others who are gleaning.
Naomi: That sounds good, Ruth.
Ruth: Not knowing where I’ll be able to reap, I don’t know when I’ll be back.
Naomi: You’re brave to go alone, being a stranger here. I wish you well.
Ruth: These people have welcomed you back. So, I hope some land owner will allow me to pick up after his cutters . . . for the two of us.
Naomi: Well, you can always reap from the field corners. Those are always left unpicked for the poor. But we’re not the only poor ones around.
Ruth: I’ll do what I can.
Naomi: Go, my daughter.
Narrator: To the open fields she went. And “by chance” she joined those reaping the crop of a wealthy, older man named Boaz. Coming out to check on the workers, he noticed the young woman. Because of her age, not the kind of work that she did, she was identified as a maid. Boaz asked his head servant about her.
SONG: WHOSE MAID IS THIS?
(Boaz): Whose maid is this; to whom does she belong?
Does she belong to a local man or does she come from a distant land?
Whose maid is this; do you know?
Whose maid is this; to whom does she belong?
And why is she working in my field, behind my servants and all alone?
(Head Servant): The blessing of God be upon you, Sir. The maid you see is a Moabite.
She has come back with Naomi, a widow too, and was begging to gather in the field.
The blessing of God be upon you, Sir. The maid you see works very hard.
She came today at early morn without any time to rest, without any time to eat.
Boaz: I see; I see. So, this is the maid who has come with old Naomi. I’ve heard good things about her.
Yes, of course, let her glean. In fact, I’ll tell her myself. Call her here.
(Ruth is called from her work to meet Boaz.)
Boaz: They tell me that you are Ruth, the Moabite.
Boaz: I’m glad that you’ve come to my field. You honor me. Don’t bother going anywhere else. Just follow right in with my workers. And when you get thirsty, go over to the jugs for a drink. Join my crew for lunch too.
Ruth: (bowing) Sir, I appreciate your kindness.
Boaz: Don’t mention it.
Ruth: But I don’t understand. I am a foreigner here. How can you do me such a favor?
Boaz: I’ve heard about you. And all the reports are good. You’ve taken care of Naomi. The news is all over town. May our God repay you, especially since you were willing to leave your homeland.
Ruth: You are most kind. Your words make me feel welcome. Even though I’m not one of your maidservants, I’ll work carefully.
SONG: LET HER REAP (song and dance)
We were told to let her reap, let her reap, let her reap. We were told to let her reap in among the sheaves.
Not in corners for the poor, for the poor, for the poor. Not in corners for the poor; please come to the field
Pull out fresh grain from the stacks, from the stacks, from the stacks. Pull out fresh grain from the stacks
so she can pick it up. (Repeat all)
Narrator: When evening came, Ruth returned to her mother-in-law. She took with her what was left from her lunch plus all of the barley that she had gleaned. Her day’s work had yielded thirteen kilos—an obvious sign of hope.
Naomi: My daughter, well done! Where were you? In whose field? God’s blessing be upon whoever he was.
Ruth: The man who owns the field is named Boaz.
Naomi: (pause/remembering) Oh, Boaz. Why, he’s even a relative of ours, a fairly close cousin, I think.
Ruth: He encouraged me to stay with his workers—through both the barley and wheat harvests.
Naomi: That’s good. Men in other fields might try to take advantage of you. But blest is this kinsman of ours.
SONG: BLEST BE THE MAN
Blest be the man. Boaz is his name. He’s kind to both the living and dead
Blest be the man, related to us. Our future looks brighter now than before.
Blest be the man. Blest be the man.
Scene 3: Begins in a small hut in Bethlehem
Naomi: Ruth, I have a plan.
Ruth: What is it, Naomi?
Naomi: This Boaz, with whose maidens you work, is our relative, right?
Ruth: Yes . . .
Naomi: Well, why not meet him again tonight? He’ll be with his people winnowing the grain on the threshing floor.
Ruth: So, what do you suggest?
Naomi: That you get yourself cleaned up and then that you show up, after Boaz has eaten and drunk his fill. Notice where he lies down by a pile of grain. Then approach him. I think that he’ll be in a mood to cooperate with us.
Ruth: (pause) Um. . . Naomi, I’ve come to trust you. I’ll give it a try. This may be our chance to find someone to look after us.
SONG: ALL THAT SHE TOLD ME
All that she told me I will surely do. All that she told me I will surely do.
I have washed and combed and put on my perfume. All that she told me I will surely do.
All that she told me makes a lot of sense. All that she told me makes a lot of sense.
While the man is old, the night is young. All that she told me makes a lot of sense.
All that she told me shows how much she cares. All that she told me shows how much she cares.
Naomi took risks, I can do no less. All that she told me shows how much she cares.
All that she told me is part of God’s plan. All that she told me is part of God’s plan.
With God before us, how can we go wrong. All that she told me is part of God’s plan.
All that she told me is part of God’s plan, is part of God’s plan.
(Dim lights, threshing floor, Boaz by a mound of grain; Ruth sits down near him. Her movement causes him to stir, he half sits up. Startled conversation begins in a whisper.)
Boaz: (stammering) Uh, Uh . . . Who are you?
Ruth: I am Ruth. I’m the stranger who gleaned in your field today.
Boaz: Oh, yes, Now I recognize you. You’re Naomi’s daughter-in-law. But what brings you here?
Ruth: I’ve one more favor to ask of you.
Boaz: Well, God bless you. I hope that this one is as easy to fulfill as the first.
Ruth: Would you agree to take care of me?
Boaz: What a joy! An honor! All the town folk know how worthy you are. So, don’t worry. I’ll do what I can.
SONG; TALKING IN THE DARK SHEDS A LOT OF LIGHT
(lights dim throughout, with a streak of light)
Talking, talking, talking in the dark; talking in the dark sheds a lot of light.
Risking, rousing, reaching in the dark; thinking, feeling, dreaming in the dark.
Talking in the dark sheds a lot of light.
Asking, answering, asking, answering; waiting, wondering, waiting, wondering, prompting promising, prompting, promising – talking in the dark sheds a lot of light.
Talking in the dark sheds a lot of light. Talking, talking, talking in the dark sheds a lot of light.
Talking, talking, talking in the dark; talking in the dark sheds a lot of light. (Repeat) Sh!
Ruth: Thanks, Boaz. I do feel hopeful . . . much more secure.
Boaz: Good. Don’t be anxious. But you must realize that there’s one man who is a closer relative than I. We’ll need to see first if he’s willing to take care of you.
Ruth: Oh! . . . I didn’t know about him.
Boaz: But I’ll check that out, first thing in the morning. If he can’t, then I am willing We’ll have to wait and see . . . Oh, before you leave, spread out your shawl. You can’t go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.
Ruth: Thanks so much . . . for everything. You too are a worthy man.
Narrator: With that, she returned to Naomi who eagerly asked her how the encounter had gone. Ruth handed her the gift of barley. Old Naomi, who once thought that she was utterly empty, was no longer to be without. God was seeing to that. But what would the other relative decide? They could only wait and see.
SONG: WAIT AND SEE
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is wait and see. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is wait and see.
We want to know what will result, with no delay. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is wait and see.
To wait is like a test, suspense, or mystery. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is wait and see.
Yes, wait and see is what these women had to do. So, wait they did; they kept their “cool.”
They did not rest; they did not sleep. They waited and waited and waited and waited.
Sometimes the hardest thing to do is wait and see. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is wait and see.
We want to know what will result, with no delay; Sometimes the hardest thing to do is wait and see.
Scene 4: Begins at the City Gate
Narrator: As the next day began, Boaz set out, as promised to find his relative. In those times, there was a unique cultural custom for a family when a husband died without child. The law expected the dead man’s brother to marry the widow, or at least assist her to have a child. The child born extended the life, or memory of the man who had died. When there were no immediate brothers, the next nearest relative was to carry out the duty. We look on now as Boaz “just happens” to meet the relative at the city gate where legal decisions were often made.
Boaz: Friend, good morning.
Relative: Shalom to you, too.
Boaz: Come and sit. I have some business to discuss.
Relative: Go ahead.
Boaz: (motioning) City elders, this is something for you to be in on too. So, ten of you . . . please join us. Naomi, Elimalech’s widow, wants to sell his small plot of land. Since you are the closest relative, you have first rights to buy it. If you want to buy it, fine. If not, I’m next in line.
Relative: I will redeem it.
Boaz: Good enough. You know that in buying the field, you also assume responsibility . . .(pause) for Ruth.
Relative: What’s that? What do you mean?
Boaz: Well, she is a widow, you know? So, the buyer of the field must restore the name of the dead. In other words, you agree to raise a child with Ruth. When he is old enough, he then becomes the owner.
Relative: But I can’t afford that! I could buy the plot if it would continue to be mine. But because of my own children, I simply cannot support Ruth and another child right now. You go ahead and redeem the situation. I can’t!
SONG: I CANNOT REDEEM IT
As much as I would like to, I cannot redeem it. At first, I said I would; the fact is I dare not.
More than land is in the deal; I cannot redeem it. Two more folks to feed is more than I can handle.
Listen, elders by the gate, I cannot redeem it. As a symbol of my vow, my sandal I will give.
My sandal I will give to Boaz; he will take my place. Boas the redeemer; he will take my place.
[Boys chorus join in, Repeat as many times as needed.]
I/He cannot redeem it; I/he cannot redeem it. Boaz will take my/his place.
Narrator: As you see, the people had a custom to symbolize this kind of agreement. The unnamed relative took off his sandal and gave it to Boaz. In receiving the sandal, Boaz agreed to buy the land from Naomi and to become responsible for Ruth. The city officials witnessed the deal made and wished God’s blessing of a child on Boaz and Ruth. Let’s listen in on the village women.
Woman 1: What joy there is today!
Woman 2: Why is that? Have you found a husband for your daughter?
Woman 1: Oh, no, nothing like that.
Woman 2: What then?
Woman 1: A son has been born to Naomi!
Woman 2: You mean that Ruth gave birth?
Woman 1: Yes, during last night.
Woman 2: Let’s call the women together, to celebrate!
Woman 1: We’ll meet at Naomi’s She must be overjoyed.
(More women gather around Naomi.)
Naomi: Welcome, welcome! You’ve heard the news?
Woman 1: Yes indeed!
Woman 2: We’ve come to share your joy.
Woman 3: You must be bubbling with excitement.
Woman 4: May God be praised!
Woman 5: The God of Israel has been good to you.
Woman 6: Yes, thanks be to our God who has not left you childless.
Woman 7: This child is a sign of life for you, even though you’re old.
SONG: A SON IS BORN TO NAOMI
A son is born, a son is born, a son is born to Naomi. Come celebrate, come celebrate
A son is born to Naomi. [spoken] And what shall we name him? [Response] Obed!
[slower] Thanks be to God who gave you a son.
Thanks be to God, this child will bring renown. Sing now to God; your life has been restored.
Sing now to God who loves both young and old.
A son is born, a son is born, a son is born to Naomi!
Come celebrate! Come celebrate! Come celebrate! A child is born!
Woman 1: Naomi, this child gives you joy, but let’s not forget Ruth.
Woman 2: Few daughters-in-law are so devoted . . .
Woman 3: And loyal!
Woman 1: She really loves you!
Woman 2: We know how you mourned your sons. But you know . . . Ruth is worth more to you than seven sons.
Woman 3: I agree. She’s a daughter worth more than seven sons.
Woman 2: I’m so glad we were here to name this child.
Narrator: The child was named Obed. Old Naomi took young Obed into her arms, determined to give him the best of care. What later made this child even more notable is the fact that Obed eventually had a grandson named David. And that David became the best-loved king in all of Israel. But without Ruth, the foreigner, there might never have been a David. This idea, of one generation following another, continues to be important to the people of Israel. To help them feel as one, they often recite the names of generations.
SONG: MANY GENERATIONS
[1st line spoken] Generations, generations: Many, many generations!
Ev’rybody is connected to someone who lived before.
Many names of generations—three score, maybe more.
Names like Perez, Hezron and Nashon, Salmon and there’s Ram.
Many names of generations. Don’t forget Amminadab. . . Amminadab?
Yes, Amminadab! Don’t forget Amminadab!
Boaz the son of Salmon, Obed became the vital link.
Many names of generations, Jesse next and then the king.
Who was the king? The famous David, Grandson of Obed, the babe.
Many names of generations, Obed, Jesse and King Dave.
Many names of generations, joined by Ruth the Moabite.
Ruth was loyal to Naomi; therefore, David came to be! [Repeat]
Narrator: Yes, that’s how it is. We are connected. Not only through birth or death. Not only as husband and wife. Because God is present among us. Belief in God, and in God’s being with us in all of our experience, we know a real sense of purpose.
Naomi: Thanks for hearing my story today. I have known both deep sadness and utter joy. I have known both death and life. I truly believe that God is present.
SONG: GOD IS PRESENT
God is present in this story (in your life) from the beginning to the end.
When this family left for Moab God was present on the road.
Even when the days seemed darkest, God was present in the dusk.
As the bitter turned to sweetness, God was present; then came trust.
God was present with Naomi, Ruth and Boaz; each was led.
In the same way be convinced that God is present in your life.
God is present, God is leading, God is present in your life. God is present in your life.
Immediately sing the Reprise: COME, WALK ALONG (as singers/actors exit)