Luke 2:21-40 — and sadness

At the recent wonderful Network of Biblical Storytellers yearly Festival Gathering — worship and lectures and workshops and stories, stories, stories for 4 days! — one of the featured stories was Luke 2:21-40. This is the one about Simeon, a righteous man, and Anna, a prophetess and how they greeted the baby Jesus as the savior. Reading the story, Simeon did not resonate with me. I just thought it was a story…. at the gathering, well, it brought me to tears.

One piece of why I reacted that way may be, when Simeon (who is holding baby Jesus), says to God, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people, Israel.”

Simeon was told he would die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Now he can die and, moreover, he can die happy and full of hope and trust.

How beautiful that seems to me. What a blessing!

The news headlines today, and personal sorrows in family and friends, swirl about me: everything looks dark and hope flickers at best. Yet the thing is, we do not know the “end of the story”.

And that is what Simeon thinks he has, “the end of the story” — God through this baby’s life is going to bring salvation, light, glory to Israel and to the Gentiles. It’s all going to be good.

What, I wonder did Simeon think the next day? And the next week? Did he live another year or more? Did he keep track of the baby since (as we learn in the next story) his parents came every year to Jerusalem for Passover? Did his peace stay with him?

See in your mind’s eye the picture of Simeon holding baby Jesus (imagine holding baby Jesus!) and feeling — knowing in his bones — that this was the one, this was the Messiah. That picture just rips my heart in two with some strange combination of love and hope and pain. May we all feel “dismissed in peace” and not the bitterness and regret of old age.


Futher thoughts on Elijah and the sound of silence

In Kings 19:9-14 or so, is a very strange story. Elijah — the greatest prophet — is on the lam from Jezebel, in fear of his life and hiding in a cave. And yet he asks God to just let him die because he’s failed and is left alone of all the Israelites.

So God says, Go and look for I am going to pass by.

At the mouth of the cave, Elijah experiences a great wind, an earthquake, a fire and God was not in any of them. Then he experiences a sound of sheer silence.

Or perhaps, say the footnotes in my bible, a gentle little breeze. Or the sound of a light whisper. Or a “still small voice”. Did he hear something or not? Was the silence all or not? Was God in the silence or the whisperings? Where was God if he was passing by?

Recently, I had an experience of complete terror.

And it wasn’t a great wind, earthquake, or fire.

We were on a trip to Glacier National Park. The guide took us off path and had us sit and listen. For 10 minutes. It was completely quiet.

The silence was full of rustles, and the wind pushing the tops of the tall tall trees around, and the rustle of squirrels, and the call of birds. Branches would crack. We were not that far from other people. The silence was quietly alive, brimming with it, yet still silence.

I was completely terrified. I can’t truly explain it.  I could not have stayed quiet and still another second. I could feel my heart. The silence was as real as my heart, full of threat and mystery.

God says to Elijah (again): “What are you doing here?”

In my ten minutes of quiet in the midst of a wilderness, what would I have to say if God had said to me “What are you doing here?”

“I love you God and I think I am dying.”

I survived the silence. Was God in the silence? Would you have enjoyed it? How would you respond if God asked you “What are you doing here?”


Mountains in Matt 28:16-20

So as a storyteller, this passage sort of “gelled” when I realized it was on a mountain — not in the temple, or a locked room, or around a table — it was on a mountain. And Jesus is saying to “Go, therefore, to all nations” — from a mountain you can see (at least on a clear day) a long way. You have a feeling of seeing the whole world and far more, anyway, than your normal daily paths. I got a sort of picture in my mind of Jesus sweeping his arms out to the whole world. Or maybe even he pointed to Phillip and pointed in the direction of India and so on.

And then this verse — “And Jesus came and said to them…” Where did he come from? Wasn’t he there on the mountaintop? What’s going on?

“When they saw him, they worshiped him….

And Jesus came and said….”

I visualize that Jesus was floating in the air, descending down to the mountaintop. All could see him. And while some doubted — maybe something is wrong with my eyes — they all worshiped him. If we saw someone floating down to a mountaintop, clearly worship is a fine reaction!

So in giving the Tell, I tried looked up at “When they saw him…” and I swept my arms out and a little down, at “Go, therefore” to all nations…”

Just a tiny bit of movement to expand the story. I think it did anyway!

Plus there’s more.

I think.

What mountain near Galilee would this be? Perhaps the mountain where the sermon on the Mount took place?

Or perhaps being on a mountain is to free the disciples from temple-worship — God is everywhere?

Moses went up to a Mountain and came back down with the Ten Commandments. Mountains are important imagery in Matthew.

So — may we have a chance to get to a high place and breath in the view and feel the air. And worship God!



Interrupted by surprises

I was sinking down into a depression-sized hole. I don’t think I am quite crawling out of it yet. But several surprising things happened.

(1) At Awesome Con, the wonderful Wil Wheaton talked about depression/mental health and… he said (more or less), “If any of you have not been touched by depression/anxiety/other mental health challenge or someone you love or know has not been — if it hasn’t affected you at all, then please clap.”

You could have heard a pin drop.

My eyes, personally, were pretty wet for some reason. It was a profound moment of both stillness and connection, silence and witness.

(2) While there are lots of reasons for my down cycle one involves a mistake I made. In making amends, I talked to a person who said, “Well, it’s a pain of course. But we all make mistakes. It is unlikely to be the last mistake or the worst mistake — you’ve got a lot more mistakes to make before life is over, right?”

For the first time in a while, I laughed.

Yep, I’m not now going to be perfect. There’s going to be more mistakes. The world will keep spinning.

(3) And for the first time, I recognized my pattern — when I am depressed (or whatever this is), when I am over-stressed, my go-to reaction is to not talk. Just when I need to reach out and talk to people, I literally have no words.

My parents used to tell stories of me as a little thing, before school. “You would only talk to us,” they would say. These days parents would rather panic, don’t you think? Mine thought it was kind of cute. And while I started talking in Kindergarten to lots of people, it isn’t my first response. My first response — not even on a conscious level — is to choke on my words. I almost think it cycles.

So I’m tipping a toe in the water of just — talking.

And trying not to think of how dumb it is to talk about the weather, trying not to think of all the wrong things I could say or more mistakes I could make, trying not to talk myself out of talking.



Matt 28:16-20

In Matthew 28:16-20 Jesus commissions the disciples to go out and make more; that’s what they are to do. It’s just a few lines, and many of us have heard these lines many many times. So it is surprising to me all that I am finding in them. On first glance, I honestly thought it was Jesus way of just keeping the disciples busy until the grief of His leaving them was less. When someone dies/leaves, just keep busy. Clean the fridge. Wash the windows. Plan a new garden. And for the prime person left, of course in our world the paperwork alone can be overwhelming. So I thought, well they likely didn’t have paperwork back then. And maybe the Romans would hold a grudge against the disciples, maybe it was for the best if they leave town for a while. So Jesus got them to Galilee, to the mountain, and then is sending them off to all the nations. Keeping them busy and keeping them safe.

All that may be true.

But of course, the disciples did go to all the nations. There is Christianity, however robust or fragile, everywhere, I think. And the task was not just busy work for them. They were given the power to tell their story — and have it believed. I mean really — elsewise who would have believed: your God had a son, okay lots of Gods do, carry on. Oh but your God’s son died. Okay, well that happens too, so sorry. Oh wait, he came back? To forgive us? To defeat death? What sort of crazy talk is this guy; look let’s just feed him and treat him gently and get him out of town, eh?

But they persisted. They did as Jesus said — went, baptized, taught, and remembered. It may be the first time the disciples did anything right!

I was going to write about Mountains in Matthew and how surprising and mystical and full circle it is that Jesus met them, for the last time, on a mountaintop. Next time!


Interrupted by life

We are grieving here in this house, the loss of a father, grandfather, father-in-law. Now both our fathers are going; yet, strange to say, the world keeps spinning. The clock keeps ticking. It feels unreal that life can keep going. And, to be clear, both our fathers would have wanted us to keep on, to make little fuss. My husband’s father was a man of deep and quiet faith. We never got to talk about it. I regret that. He was a man of few words and great reserve.

When our son was about 10 or so? And his cousins were younger, just littles as best I can recall? My father-in-law planted pumpkins in his garden. When the pumpkins appeared but before they were near ready to harvest, he carved each boy’s name into a pumpkin. As the pumpkin grew, the name grew too. He was clearly pleased to bestow each ripe pumpkin to each grandchild. It was like him, to plan out a gift that would take time and attention to nurture, and to not mind the bafflement of boys more used to gifts with batteries.

Let us keep nuturing our seeds of faith…. FTGOG!

“Doubting” Thomas

So everyone seems to get down on poor Thomas (John 20:24-29). Yet he wasn’t there when the rest of them got to see Jesus come into the locked room. So he refused to take their word, thinking they were delusional. Totally rational call on Thomas’ part, I think.

I’m thinking of how Thomas might have felt, being the only one not feeling and knowing the amazing astonishing beautiful news that Jesus was not gone, he was back, he loves them still. To be the one not breathed on: “When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’ ” Thomas had more than doubts, he had been left out.

I relate. I feel weary sometimes with feeling left out, with longing for more connection with people and with God. Sometimes the days are an endless slog of work and worry. Where is the breathe of God? Where is the joy?

For me, no doubt a good nights sleep will take care of things. Here’s a prayer for those out there feeling wonderless: remember Thomas. Jesus showed up again, just for him. Thomas opened his heart and let him in. May it be so with you and me too.

Interrupted by Lent

This year, for the first time, I gave up something for Lent. I gave up milk. Ever since I can remember, probably since I could hold a spoon, I have had Cheerios and milk for breakfast. And for quite a while I have realized that milk disagrees with my insides. Finally my doctor, practically with tears in her eyes, asked me to just try to not have milk for a while. I said, “How about for Lent? But I’m eating cheese.”

It is amazing how much better I feel.

But it is such a blessing to think about Jesus every morning.

Every morning I have to stop and think — am I fixing a toaster waffle? am I fixing oatmeal? am I eating an egg? And by stopping, I remember: I’m doing this for Christ, who did so much more for me. It is a prayer with my hands, if not with my sleepy brain.

(Not eat breakfast?! I wake up HUNGRY so I always eat breakfast. 😉 )

Time has passed differently in this Lenten period. Not necessarily faster or slower. I think the word I want is that I have felt present. Even sleepy, I have been doing more than going through the motions of daily life. And by challenging how I eat breakfast, it is as if the universe has decided I need to change all sorts of things. I’m a person who like routine and orderliness and calm. Yet here we are, living in interesting times, and learning about resistance and writing to politicians and going to “Town Halls” and all sorts of things that I never knew, that I should have known, I am learning now. My heart sometimes skips a beat when I think of how much I took for granted. Well, I’m woke now.

The disciples might have felt a little bit this way, seeing both Jesus on a cross, dying, and seeing the risen Christ. Woke up. Present. Sorry and forgiven. Humble. Hopeful.

Anyway…I am looking forward to a small glass of milk Sunday. I’m curious how I will feel. But I’m also looking forward to continuing this practice (I hope).