New Testament Women and the Piercing Embrace of the Following Life

Flannery O’Connor is known for her short stories, but she packed images large and alarming into her economical word count. Murder, road side ambushes, and the cast of grotesque characters who populated her writing reinforced her oft-quoted credo:

“You have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.”

In Pierced and Embraced, Kelli Worrall borrows one of O’Connor’s “large and startling figures” to write in bold script a parable of the gospel. The story of a defenseless old woman being violently gored by a bull portrays the shocking nature of grace as O’Connor’s protagonist is stabbed through the heart with one horn and encircled about the waist by the other.

It was the piercing that grabbed Kelli’s attention in the midst of her struggles with infertility and the heartbreak of three miscarriages. She raged against the unfairness and felt abandoned by God until He helped her to see the embrace of His love that came alongside the piercing. She began to study the lives of women in the New Testament and was startled to note that Jesus’  manner of dealing with women was a uniquely gentle pursuit of their hearts.

One by one, Pierced and Embraced recounts the stories of seven New Testament women, their encounters with the Savior, and His impact upon their lives. At the same time, Worrall weaves in her own story of a challenging childhood, her marriage and career, the adoption of two children, and a growing faith and obedience.

  • Prophetically warned that a sword would pierce her heart, Mary of Nazareth embraced and was embraced by the call of God to a one-of-a-kind journey that put the power of God on display in a humble, faithful life.
  • The woman at the well found, at the end of Jesus’ piercing questions, a grace-filled embrace of her need and her longing — and then a new identity as “an instrument of change in the lives of many others.” (80)
  • Pierced physically, emotionally, and spiritually by life, we all hurt. The woman with the hemorrhage had experienced life’s piercing, but received the embrace of acceptance and healing when she placed desperate and believing hands upon Jesus’ garment.
  • Used as bait in a moral and theological snare for Jesus, the woman caught in adultery was about to be executed by a cadre of the self-righteous.  Jesus turned the tables, and skewered her accusers with His piercing interrogation. Expecting death and shame, the guilty received forgiveness and hope for a new beginning — a hope that encourages this present-day believer to come quickly for the embrace of forgiveness and the all-important words:  “Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on sin no more.”
  • Worrall experienced the piercing anguish of God’s waiting room in the six year process of an international adoption. Mary and Martha waited on pins and needles for Jesus to heal their dying brother Lazarus. When Jesus shows up, He works in ways that no one could have predicted, but the lesson reveals that the jolting embrace of a wild and powerful Savior leaves His followers convinced of His presence and His love.
  • The woman with the alabaster jar pours out her worship with abandon and beauty and yet experiences piercing disapproval. Jesus’ rebuke of the scolds in the room is an embrace to all the beauty-lovers, the lavish prais-ers, and the devoted followers who put the glory of God ahead of practical concerns and even their own reputation.
  • Chosen to know Jesus and to make Him known, Mary Magdalene has been the subject of much speculation through the centuries since her eye-witness experience of the resurrected Christ. Pierced by sorrow and then embraced by a commission to be Jesus’ “apostle to the Apostles,” Mary received the privilege of being the first herald of the resurrected Christ.

Because He is timeless and immutable, Jesus continues to work in the lives of women, drawing us into conversation, commissioning us to share His message of Truth, and piercing our hearts with the conviction that His words are true and His path worth following.  May we find grace in this following life to lean into His gentle embrace as we are transformed and empowered for our own beautiful offerings of service and worship.


This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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53 thoughts on “New Testament Women and the Piercing Embrace of the Following Life”

  1. I love the women of the New Testament, Michele, so I’m sure I’d like this book. Jesus’ relationship with women exemplified his grace, love and inclusion of women in his ministry – something many religions have seemingly overlooked.


  2. Thank you for this wonderful post of women of the New Testament.
    I am sure most women can relate to most, if not all, of these women.

    I am your neighbor at LMM.


  3. I really could have used this book a few years ago! I helped co-lead a teenage girls’ Bible class on the women of the New Testament when my youngest was a teen. There’s not a whole lot of verses about women, but the stories that are there are valuable.


    1. Yes, and this book does an especially good job of sharing the stories of the women, but focusing on Jesus’ dealings with them, His compassionate heart. I hadn’t thought about its usefulness as a resource for teaching youth, but you’re so right.


  4. This sounds like a great book- some of these are among my favourite Bible stories and it’s always good to explore them further and discover what they have to say to us today.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I’ve not read O’Conner yet but her name keeps coming up in my search for classics. I love the way this author took the thought of piercings and found so many applications and examples in the Bible. How wonderful that He who was pierced for us works in and through the piercings we experience to draw us closer to Himself and shine His light through us.


    1. She was a powerful and gifted writer, and I’ve never seen anyone else take her work and apply it in this way, so I was fascinated. I went through a phase of reading her work and anything I could find biographically about her quite a few years ago. There’s a new bio I want to read someday.


  6. I think my mom would have loved this book. She outraged pastors and church folks at the beginning of the women’s lib movement by saying Jesus was the one who started it. She spoke up often and loudly about how He lifted women up from all kind of circumstances, giving affirming and giving them dignity. It sounds like Worrall shows them the same honor. Thank you for sharing her work.


  7. Michele, this sounds like a wonderful book. It looks at these women from a very different perspective in using the word “piercing”. Thought provoking for sure but then, you always seem to be reading books that do just that – provoke. Thank you for sharing from your readings!


    1. We’re reading quite a few of the same books these days, Joanne, and I have certainly enjoyed your insights. I’m behind on my “launches” but will begin Holley’s book this evening, so . . . I’m getting there!


    1. Yes, and we forget that these biblical women also spent time in the in between space of not knowing the end of their story. Jesus clearly steps in and changes the ending for each of these women.


  8. Our Reverend is a woman and she speaks often of women in the bible, it is fascinating. I had 3 miscarriages and suffered infertility for a while, it was hard to understand God’s plan, but now I am blessed with 3 living children who have strong belief in God and are amazing little people. I have to trust in his plan and one day hope to be reunited with the babies I have in Heaven #mg


    1. Such a healthy and God-honoring perspective, Mackenzie. I loved the way Kelli shared her journey toward that and tied it into the stories of biblical women.
      Thanks so much for reading and for taking the time to comment.


  9. Thanks for the book review. There;s so much trash out there today, it’s great to know that there are uplifting and affirming stories out there that we can confidently read!


  10. How sweet the reminder that He has a gentle heart for us. Makes me feel special, and warm, and free. ❤ Looks like a fabulous message, Michele, thank you for sharing. 🙂 xoxo


  11. Loved how your reflections cause me to pause, Michele. I read and re-read trying to figure out which woman I most identify with. What stuck with me is the Samaritan women becoming an instrument of change. Praying that our encounters with Jesus cause us all to spread His message.


  12. This sounds like a really interesting concept for a bible study. I’ve never done a series on New Testament women. Jesus always had time for women and they play such an integral part in the new testament and yet it’s always the Pauls and Johns that we remember. #mg


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