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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.



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!

Interrupted by Books

So many many books…..

Let me mention and praise Wendell Barry’s Hannah Coulter, it is so beautifully crafted, so beautifully written, but of course it is by Wendell Barry. It also struck me deep in the heart. The passing of the “family farm” is, perhaps, the main loss in the story’s plot. The characters are so alive, they live and breathe and I feel as if I know Hannah and feel the suffering that a way of life has passed or changed so completely. So often this story would be told romanticized or with nostalgia and, of course, both of those perhaps are elements. And there are other truths about country life and country living that were only in the very very outer margins of the story. Different stories about farming life and country life will be told by different authors and in different books. Berry has given us a gift of meeting Hannah, and the people she loves, and learning about the life she and they have lived, and how much they loved “having membership” in that community. It is so real that I feel as if I was there. It was beautiful.

Because for all the sorrow, this is at some core level a novel about a happy life and happy and loving marriage; a network of family and friends. It is about good people, who might have their little ways, but they are decent, loving, kind, hardworking, skilled at what life has caused them to be skilled at.

“The room of love is another world. You go there wearing no watch, watching no clock. It is the world without end, so small that two people can hold it in their arms, and yet it is bigger than worlds on worlds, for it contains the longing of all things to be together, and to be at rest together.”

or maybe

“Suppose your stories, instead of mourning and rejoicing over the past, say that everything should have been different.”

Seriously, you can pick out pretty every sentence…. beautiful, transparent, proper, fitting, wonderful writing.

While they mention going to church, other than one small scene, church and religious life isn’t part of the story, but it is part of the lyrical language, part of the richness of the language. Faith is in the iron and bones of the very structure of the lives these characters live, breathed in the very air. Port William may in fact be heaven or a vision of the new earth that is to come.

Oddly, I’ve also read recently the two-book autobiography by Beverly Cleary, the wonderful children’s author. A Girl from Yamhill and  On My Own Two Feet these are engrossing stories of how she got her education and because a writer, when both of those things were hard to do for anyone much less a girl. It, too, takes place in the depression and then WWII and brings that whole era vividly to life. I think at times she was trying to be funny in telling her story, and all I can think is how amazing and strong she was. Really interesting.



Genesis 1

I really love the beauty of this chapter, the beauty and goodness of creation. I love that our creation story is one of creating — abundant creation — and not one of warring siblings or war or fear.

“…while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters…”

God is. “I am” is one of His names. God is verb. God speaks and words turn into action, into creation.

It would be foolish to not realize the awful power of that. And the amazing power of that, that chose to create life. The grace of this generous powerful action.


Interrupted by musing

Why is storytelling important?

Here are three quotes from a webinar this week about storytelling and nonprofits from Susy Schultz of the Public Narrative:

  1. Stories show they don’t tell.
  2. “We tell our stories to become whole. We tell stories to live, to connect with one another and to build community.” Edwidge Danticat
  3. But most important: stories can move people to action.

This just again underlines that the Bible is so much more than “a book of rules”. It is poetry, myth, laws, prose, letters, “history”, and history, biography, adventure, love story, war stories, adventure, talking donkeys, so much… It is stories all the way down, and like an onion, they unfold and unfold again….

Luke 7:11-16 and compassion

Following the story of the Centurion’s amazing faith is that of the widow’s son, Luke 7:11-16. Jesus happens upon  the funeral procession of a widow’s only son and he has compassion for her, so he brings the son back to life. This is another really odd puzzle isn’t it?

One year on vacation we did a “Ghost Tour” of the local town and one of the fascinating things we learned was that in the 1800s (at any rate, perhaps every-when and every-where) people didn’t always know for sure when someone was dead. Technically even nowadays, with persistent vegetative states and such, perhaps we modern folks don’t either. But they would at least in some circumstances (according to the Ghost Tour) put a rope in the coffin and the rope was attached to a bell up above ground. If the dead person came back to life after being buried, they would pull the rope and then “be saved by the bell”. Which is where that expression came from.

So this story comes to my mind in reading about the widow’s son — literally a last-minute save, literally life-giving, life-changing. We all know how historically widows were so vulnerable — with her only son dead, she might have been in very poor financial situation.

However I like to think that isn’t why Jesus had compassion on her. I like to think he looked into her heart and knew how much she loved him, her only son. That without him the very air was stale, food was ashes.  Jesus was amazed by faith in the least likely of persons, a Centurion, and not amazed by his power or wealth or status. Likewise I like that he responded just as powerfully to the honest love and grief of a widow of Israel. Recognizing faith and modeling compassion to us.

There’s lots of other things that could be said about this story — including that what follows is back to John the Baptist (we’ll have to compare with the version in Matthew) — but that’s all for now!


Luke 7:1-10 and amazement

When I’m the lay reader, I try to prep the piece and while I rarely have time to learn it by heart, I try to make it more than just blah blah blah. I try to think about the piece and where to put pauses in and what it might mean and what questions I would ask. Tomorrow I am lay reader for Luke 7:1-10 and although I’d heard and read this story before, prepping it brought it to life.

As storytelling nearly always does.

In verse 9 Jesus is amazed by the words the centurion’s messenger relayed. Think about that Jesus, very God in some fashion, is amazed by a human action. He didn’t know this would happen. He didn’t expect this to happen. He wasn’t going to heal the centurion’s slave because he knew how faithful and good this centurion was — he was going because the elders asked him to. Jesus is amazed. 

Further, generally as far as I know, it is the crowd that is amazed — the townspeople who heard the shepherds tell Mary about the angels on the night the Babe was was born were amazed. They likely didn’t believe a word the shepherds said, likely figured they were crazy. But they were amazed to hear the shepherd’s story about angels, no less. When Jesus healed the paralytic, to prove he had the power on earth to forgive sins, “the crowd was amazed and glorified God, saying, “we have never seen anything like this before.” It was a magic trick, it was a show, it was a super hero action movie — did their amazement turn into faith? We don’t know. The crowd that follows Jesus might desperately want to believe, to be healed, to be forgiven, perhaps to want a Messiah to come and bring Israel and the Temple back to glory. I don’t know what the scholars say, but I envision the crowd as a movable feast — Jack who hurt his back so didn’t go to the fields today, Milly who had a time before baking another batch of bread, Alex who was passing through town. Just folks. And just folks thrilled to be amazed to pass the time.

This time it is Jesus who is amazed. And what he is amazed by isn’t a feat of derring-do or healing or an angel or anything like that. He’s amazed by a person’s faith. A person who isn’t one of the peoples of Israel but, in fact, technically an enemy, a Roman, a centurion, a warrior. Jesus makes sure the crowd, all the folks about, understand what he is amazed by — not the man’s power, or his wealth, or his generosity for building a synagogue or any worldly thing one might expect. Jesus is amazed at the power of a faith that doesn’t even need the physical presence of Jesus laying on of hands to heal.

I’m just nearly speechless with amazement. This story went from boring and dull and what-is-going-on to one making me feel richly blessed. Like the centurion, can I believe in a healing from a far? Like the crowd, can I understand the amazement of faith? I don’t know the answer to either of those questions, I just feel humble. And amazed.

And I’m so eager to hear the sermon tomorrow because nearly always what grabs my attention in a story is not anything like the sermon. ha!

Interrupted by Mom

My mom who is 80 years old is visiting us this week which is a blessing and an interruption. It has also made me think about storytelling because my mom has a hard time telling stories in a straight line. Instead her stories seem to twist like a ribbon getting into knots or sometimes a coil with a story inside a story somewhat like how the story about the women with a flow of blood is wrapped inside the story about the little girl who Jesus raised from the dead. Is it the story inside, the pearl, the one that is precious or is it the shell or is it both, somehow? Is the story about the hiding cat and how funny it was, later, when things are funny, because she had to call my Dad (that was when my Dad was able and healthy, that was long before that great decline and the vast silence) who at the time was a 1000 miles away to ask what to do, how to find the cat, how to prevent the horror and sadness if it wasn’t found or if it had been injured but it was fine and he just showed up when he was ready at the bottom of the stairs and that happened during the time that she came down to help us unpack into our house when the baby was just over one years old and not yet walking, and so maybe that is the story, but then he learned to walk proudly that day or a few days later about the 4th of July just stood up and walked like what was the big deal and everything was so joyful, the meat we grilled and got to eat on the holiday, the missing cat found, the baby walking with pride. Which one is the story? Are they all the miracle? And is now then all these years later that in a second seems yesterday really the miracle? We’re blessed indeed, all the down, into each coil of story, into each ribbon of thought and love.

Thinking about the Bible

At Sunday School, we’ve been in the midst of a series of lectures on the bare bones basics of classical Calvinism with some notions of where modern theologians might have moved on. There’s a tremendous amount of food for thought. And that “theology stuff” which is so much harder for my brain than exegesis on biblical stories. The first strand of the first lecture was about the bible. Not the familiar — there are 66 books over more than 1000 years, untold authors, oral traditions, cultural milieu, etc. — not that sort of information about the bible. This lecture was explaining that in the reformed tradition, Sola scriptura is one of the principals that from Luther on has been what reformed means. Scripture alone has authority over all — not a Pope, not a council, not tradition, not scholars (while all such things may inform the reading of scripture and be important, scripture is first). This is a fundamentally different way of approaching Christianity than the medieval Catholic church (or for all I know many modern “non-reform tradition” churches today).  It was a perfect storm event in history — without the printing press and rise of literacy would sola scriptura have taken off? Without sola scriptura would literacy have spread like hotcakes — even educating women and children and ordinary folks? The course of history might be different.

Yet the terrible danger is that if everyone reads scripture for him or herself, errors and mistakes will be made. Dr. Douglas was crystal in his lecture that sola scriptura didn’t mean and doesn’t mean magical or superstitious thinking; and that education and church and studying together is important. Nor is the bible, in the reformed tradition, going to tell you which job to take or who to marry.

It means the bible is the way that God/Holy Spirit uses to bring us knowledge of “the fundamental things of salvation”. What do we need to know about God? What is our relationship to God? How might forgiveness and reconciliation work? How might God talk to us? How might we learn about God and “God stuff”? Those sorts of questions.

Somehow this was new information for me; or I’d never listened before? I certainly am inspired by scripture. I love studying it, praying it, imaging it, arguing with it, studying it…. I had not really thought of this as being such a part of history. And frankly now I am feeling — properly scared?

Dear God, let me always try to read your Word with all my heart, all my mind, all my strength, all my soul. Let me be alive as I read your Word and never be asleep or afraid of your Word. Let me rest in your Word, and feast on it, and find it richer than honey! Amen.