36 Now there was at Joppa a certain disciple named Dorcas: this woman was full of good works and almsdeeds which she did.
37 And it came to pass in those days, that she was sick, and died: whom when they had washed, they laid her in an upper chamber.
38 And forasmuch as Lydda was nigh to Joppa, and the disciples had heard that Peter was there, they sent unto him two men, desiring him that he would not delay to come to them.
39 Then Peter arose and went with them. When he was come, they brought him into the upper chamber: and all the widows stood by him weeping, and shewing the garments and robes which Dorcas made, while she was with them.
40 But Peter put them all forth, and kneeled down, and prayed; and turning him to the body said, Dorcas, arise. And she opened her eyes: and when she saw Peter, she sat up.
41 And he gave her his hand, and lifted her up, and when he had called the saints and widows, presented her alive.
42 And it was known throughout all Joppa; and many believed in the Lord.
I grew up with my grandmother and her friends getting together weekly for Dorcas. I wondered, of course, who Dorcas was and what she meant, but I never bothered to ask or look it up. It was much more fun to speculate.
I only recently looked up the scripture where she is mentioned to update the website page on the Dorcas group. This is what I got: “This woman (Dorcas) was full of good works and alms deeds, which she did.” Act 9:36. That’s it. Oh, and that she was a widow, or might be a widow, and she had died and her friends who also were widows were unhappy and appealed to Peter to save her. She was a seamstress, hence her legacy having to do with women gathering together to sew and chat and give.
I thought that maybe I wasn’t the only person who didn’t actually know who Dorcas was, so I dug a little deeper. Here’s what I found out. She is also called Tabitha which means ‘gazelle’. Again, I looked at a bunch of different translations and each one was slightly different. I still can’t help but wonder the centuries of oral traditions and translations, and yet there is still so much importance given to each individual word. Here’s two things that come up with Dorcas, whose story is a mere seven verses.
- She is called a disciple. She is a student and teacher of God and Jesus and she does the work of God and Jesus.
- The widows show Peter the “robes” she has made. Whenever the word ‘robe’ is used, it is usually in a place of change, often death to life.
In some translations, Peter is shown the inner and outer robes that Dorcas has made. The inner robes likely symbolize the newness in spirituality and the outer robes symbolize newness in purpose. She would truly have been a disciple of God in that case. It would make sense that she would change the inner and outer lives of the persons around her, the widows. She would affect them spiritually and physically. All aspects of gathering together as women and particularly as women who have experienced loss.
We don’t know for certain if Dorcas would have been a woman of means or simple a woman who worked hard and then used her spare time to doing the good work of giving back to the poor around her, as well as listening and teaching. If she was not a woman of means, her work would have been hard. Spinning and weaving and working with what would have probably been flax would have been labor intensive work.
Regardless, she was a friend to the poor and the widows. When she died, the women would have been losing a much needed and loved leader. These women called on Peter, who was a wanted criminal, to come and aid them. Their bravery was strong. Their faith was strong. These were not weak women.
Peter came and raised up Dorcas and faith in God and Jesus spread.
Dorcas’s good work lives on. We have our own Dorcas group here: sewing, chatting, planning, and doing the hands on work of the church and community in their extra time.
There’s a scene in Gone With the Wind after Scarlett is attacked. The men go out to take care of the situation. In the meantime, the women wait and worry about whether their husbands will return home safely or not. They are all sewing while Melanie reads David Copperfield to them. They busy their hands with work while also reading to keep their minds busy. As a group, they have a place to feel safe and useful, while they wait. This is what I think of when I think of Dorcas: doing good work and gathering together to learn. Finding purpose while having no other outlet but to sit and wait.
Dorcas societies had their height in the 1800’s. They were complementary of each other and not competitive. They made clothing and helped to meet the physical needs of the poor. In their circle, they would chat, gossip, support one another through deep life lessons, talk spirituality and God, process grief, and even politics.
In the American colonies, women were often in charge of the household expenses. One of the first circles began when the women took to spinning their own wool and fabric to avoid the Fabric Tax of the British. Churches had friendly spinning competitions. The women, and these sewing circles, were instrumental to the revolt against Britain. They were part of the resistance and when the war came they made socks and hats and uniforms during the war. They were complementary, not competitive.
Women, and these circles, were instrumental in the abolition of slavery; while their hands worked they discussed. Through sewing circles, the suffrage movement grew. Here a juxtuposition came into play: to sew or not to sew. Those on the ‘no’ side pushed against traditional roles of ‘women’s work’ while others used sewing as part of the platform: we are still women, not trying to be men, but we still deserve a vote.
And thru the centuries and decades we move.
Think sewing circles are antiquated? Nope: there is a recent resurgence in sewing and knitting circles. Who knows where it began…actually, I don’t think it began, I think sewing circles never faded they just have never been in the lime light, but in the more recent past:
–more women are gathering together to teach one another and create small hand made products and create small businesses of home made products to protest big industry.
–And, remember the Brain hats for the March for Science?
Where are these movements and circles more needed than now? A circle, groups of circles, growing. Circles that are complementary and not competitive. Don’t we need safe, sacred circles to gossip (kindly), grieve, and grow intellectually and spiritually? Places to connect in a disconnected world? Doesn’t there seem to be a greater need for a warm sock, a brain hat, and a gift from a stranger?
Circles create a space of hope, community and upliftedness. We truly SEE one another as individuals, even as we do the group work with our hands busy while we digest the news, the politics, and our own struggles…
The Dorcas Society .org strives to find “the potential in every human being”. Let’s find the good.
GOOD begins in small connected circles of friends and community where we can listen, share, and that GOODness spreads from that space with a sock, a scarf, a hat, a plate of cookies, a letter, a gift, to communities near and far. Goodness spreads.
Be full of full of good works and alms deeds. Watch it spread.