by Leah Johnson // September 3rd, 2019

For a story to work, for it to really come to life, you gotta know the characters. Beginning September 8, we’re going to focus on one bible story a week, getting to know the characters — who’s who, their back story, how they’re connected, and why you should care.


WEEK ONE — SEPTEMBER 8

Ted Loder, “I Tremble On the Edge of a Maybe,” in Guerillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle (Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1981).

O God of beginnings,
as your Spirit moved
over the face of the deep
on the first day of creation,
move with me now
in my time of beginnings,
when the air is rain-washed,
the bloom is on the bush,
and the world seems fresh
and full of possibilities,
and I feel ready and full.

I tremble on the edge of a maybe,
a first time,
a new thing,
a tentative start,
and the wonder of it lays its finger on my lips.

In silence, Lord,
I share now my eagerness
and my uneasiness
about this something different
I would be or do;
and I listen for your leading
to help me separate the light
from the darkness
in the change I seek to shape
and which is shaping me.

Creation (Genesis 1-2:4)

1 In the beginning when God created the heavens and the earth,
2 the earth was a formless void and darkness covered the face of the deep,
while a wind from God swept over the face of the waters.
3 Then God said, “Let there be light”; and there was light.
4 And God saw that the light was good;
and God separated the light from the darkness.
5 God called the light Day, and the darkness Night.
And there was evening and there was morning, the first day.

6 And God said, “Let there be a dome in the midst of the waters,
and let it separate the waters from the waters.”
7 So God made the dome and separated the waters that were under the dome
from the waters that were above the dome.
And it was so. 8 God called the dome Sky.
And there was evening and there was morning, the second day.

9 And God said, “Let the waters under the sky
be gathered together into one place, and let the dry land appear.”
And it was so. 10 God called the dry land Earth,
and the waters that were gathered together were called Seas.
And God saw that it was good.
11 Then God said, “Let the earth put forth vegetation:
plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth
that bear fruit with the seed inside it.”
And it was so. 12 The earth brought forth vegetation:
plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind
bearing fruit with the seed inside it. And God saw that it was good.
13 And there was evening and there was morning, the third day.

14 And God said, “Let there be lights in the dome of the sky
to separate the day from the night;
and let them be signs for the days, seasons, and years,
15 and let them be lights in the dome of the sky
to give light upon the earth.” And it was so.
16 God made two great lights—the greater light to rule the day
and the lesser light to rule the night—and the stars.
17 God set them in the dome of the sky to give light upon the earth,
18 to rule over the day and the night,
and to separate the light from the darkness.
And God saw that it was good.
19 And there was evening and there was morning, the fourth day.

20 And God said, “Let the waters bring forth swarms of living creatures,
and let birds fly above the earth across the dome of the sky.”
21 So God created the great sea monsters
and every living creature that moves, of every kind,
with which the waters swarm, and every winged bird of every kind.
And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them, saying,
“Be fruitful and multiply and fill the waters in the seas,
and let birds multiply on the earth.”
23 And there was evening and there was morning, the fifth day.

24 And God said, “Let the earth bring forth living creatures of every kind:
cattle and creeping things and wild animals of the earth of every kind.”
And it was so. 25 God made the wild animals of the earth of every kind,
and the cattle of every kind, and everything that creeps upon the ground
of every kind. And God saw that it was good.

26 Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image,
according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea,
and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle,
and over all the wild animals of the earth,
and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”
27 So God created humankind in God’s own image,
in the image of God they were created; both male and female.
28 God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply,
and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea
and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
29 God said, “See, I have given you every plant yielding seed
that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit;
you shall have them for food. 30 And to every beast of the earth,
and to every bird of the air, and to everything that creeps on the earth,
everything that has the breath of life, I have given every green plant for food.”
And it was so. 31 God saw the fullness of creation, and indeed, it was very good.
And there was evening and there was morning, the sixth day.

2:1 So the heavens and the earth were unleashed with abundance.
2 And on the seventh day God finished this work and rested from the labor
of making. 3 God blessed the seventh day and declared it holy time
in the rhythm of life, and the first command for humankind was to do likewise.
4 This is the story of God’s creation,
the generations of becoming, the manifold works declared good,
the call to care for all that God speaks into being.


WEEK TWO — SEPTEMBER 15

“For Beginners,” (Ward, M. [2009]. For Beginners [Lyrics]. Retrieved from //lyricfind.com).

When you’re absolute beginners
It’s a panoramic view
From her majesty Mount Zion
And the kingdom is for you
Uh huh, uh huh

When you tumble upon that valley
Shark or sparrow line the stairs
When the arrows start descending
Then they scatter everywhere

On a bookshelf in Caledonia
Sits a map of passageways
Best to stumble upon Mount Zion
To behold the natural gates
Uh huh, uh huh

They say the original sinners
Never felt a drop of pain
Until that second in the garden
Then they felt it each and every day

So draw back your bows you hunters
Who have never felt that plain
All the absolute beginners
They are safe in the shade for today
Uh huh, uh huh

When you’re absolute beginners
It’s a panoramic view
From her majesty Mount Zion
And the kingdom is for you
Uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh, uh huh

Adam and Eve (Genesis 2)

The generations of creation witnessed God make order and beauty out of a formless void. Life was bursting forth and God longed to share it, to nurture relationships in the midst of this growth. So God formed a human shape from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. Fueled by this sacred wind, the human shape came alive. God called this one Adam, which means “creature made from the earth.”

Then God planted a garden filled with lush trees, generous rivers, and wild animals. God placed Adam in the garden and spoke simple instructions: You are a co-creator, called to help tend and care for all living things. You are free to enjoy the fruits of this land, but do not eat from the tree of knowledge in the middle of the garden. I tell you this because if you do eat from that tree, you will die on the very same day.

God watched Adam living in the garden and saw that Adam should not be alone, a reflection of God’s own desire for relationship. The animals could not be equal partners, so God made Adam fall into a deep sleep and gently took a bone from his chest. God used the bone to form another human shape, called to life by that same sacred wind. Adam woke to find a companion, rejoiced, and called her Eve, which means “life.” They were naked and unashamed of their bodies, delighted by their likeness, uniqueness, and expressions of God’s image.


WEEK THREE — SEPTEMBER 22

Musgrave, Kasey. “Rainbow.” Golden Hour. McAnally, Shane L.; Musgrave, Kasey; Hemby, Natalie. Kobalt Music Publishing Ltd., Warner Chappell Music, Inc., Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC, 2019, track 13. LyricFind, lyricfind.com.

When it rain it pours but you didn’t even notice
It ain’t rainin’ anymore, it’s hard to breathe when all we know is
The struggle of staying above, the rising water line

Well the sky is finally open, the rain and wind stopped blowin’
But you’re stuck out in the same old storm again
You hold tight to your umbrella, darlin’ I’m just tryin’ to tell ya
That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head

If you could see what I see, you’d be blinded by the colours
Yellow, red and orange and green, and at least a million others
So tie up your bow, take off your coat and take a look around

‘Cause the sky is finally open, the rain and wind stopped blown’
But you’re stuck out in the same old storm again
You hold tight to your umbrella, darlin’ I’m just tryin’ to tell ya
That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head

Oh tie up your bow, take off your coat and take a look around
Everything is alright now
‘Cause the sky is finally open, the rain and wind stopped blowin’
But you’re stuck out in the same old storm again
Let go of your umbrella, darlin’ I’m just tryin’ to tell ya
That there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head
Yeah there’s always been a rainbow hangin’ over your head
It all be alright

Noah (Genesis 6-9)

People were fruitful and multiplied, but so did their sin. God could not bear their selfish evil and lack of care for one another, so God declared that they would not live forever: They are mortals made of flesh; their days should not outnumber 120 years.

God decided to blot out all of creation because God’s regret and grief were too great. The whole earth was filled with violence and corruption. I am sorry I made them, God said. But one man, Noah, found favor with God. His life and his family walked with God, faithful in word and action. So God shared the plan to destroy creation with Noah.

God said to Noah, I have decided to wipe all flesh from the earth, but I will spare you and your family. Follow me and you will live.

And I will make a covenant with you. You will bring your family — your wife, your sons and their wives — and two of every living thing into the ark. Bring male and female animals so they will live with you and multiply. And bring every kind of food that is eaten so you and the animals will not be hungry.

Noah did as God commanded. When the ark was completed, the waterways on earth sprang forth and the heavens poured. Noah and his family gathered the supplies and animals onto the ark. When the rain fell and the waters swelled, the ark was raised and floated safely for 40 days and 40 nights. They saw the world drown beneath the flood, even the tallest mountains. Everything was blotted from the earth. When the rains stopped, they could see nothing but water in every direction for 150 days.

Then God remembered Noah and those gathered on the ark. God made a wind blow over the earth and the waters slowly subsided.

God said to Noah, Come out of the ark. Bring your family and the animals so they can abound and be fruitful on the earth.

God renewed instructions for tending the earth and its creatures, for gentle civility among humankind, and blessed their repopulation for generations to come. Then God kept the promise to make a covenant with Noah and his family, but it also extended to the whole of creation: I will never cut off flesh by the waters of a flood or destroy the earth with floodwaters. This is the sign of the promise I make with the earth, with you and every generation: I have set my rainbow in the clouds. Whenever I see that sign, I will remember my everlasting covenant with you and all living creatures; that waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.

This was the first of the covenants God made with creation, promising unconditional love and mercy that was not dependent upon the belief or behavior of humankind.


WEEK FOUR — SEPTEMBER 29

Herrick Carlson, M. (Host). (2019, September 22). Season 4: Tell it again! [Audio podcast]. Retrieved from https://alterguild.podbean.com/e/season-4-tell-it-again

In this episode of Alter Guild, Meta Herrick Carlson interviews her twin daughters about their relationship and retells the biblical story about Jacob and Esau through her love for Solveig and Tove.

Jacob and Esau (Genesis 25 & 27)

You might remember the covenant God made with Abraham and Sarah, that their descendants would outnumber the stars and God would bless their children for generations. Their son Isaac grew to marry a woman named Rebekah. The two struggled with infertility for years until Rebekah became pregnant with twins. They rejoiced with gratitude, but Rebekah was also overwhelmed. She could feel the children struggling within her and she grew concerned about the war inside her womb.

Rebekah prayed to God for relief from their fighting and the Lord said to her: There are two nations in your womb, and your children will be divided; one will be stronger than the other, and the elder will serve the younger.

When it was time for Rebekah to deliver her children, the first was born red and hairy. They named him Esau, which means “rough” or “hairy”. And then his brother was born, his hand grabbing Esau’s heel. Rebekah remembered what the Lord had told her and knew the younger was trying to be born first. He would be stronger and more cunning than his older brother. They named him Jacob, which means “trickster” or “the heel of a foot”.

While the boys grew, Esau loved to play outside. He learned to hunt, wandered the fields, and loved the land. But Jacob was quiet and spent most of his time in the tents. Their father Isaac had a special bond with Esau because he loved to hunt and eat game. But Rebekah loved Jacob, for his strengths were less obvious to everyone else.

Once when Jacob was cooking a stew, Esau returned from his work in the fields in search of a good meal. Let me eat some of that red stuff, Jacob, for I am famished! Jacob, always plotting, made him a deal. I will give you a bowl in exchange for your birthright, brother. Esau was so hungry he couldn’t make sense of the moment. I am about to die from starvation, so what good is a birthright to me? Jacob made him swear an oath to make it official, then handed Esau bread and stew. He ate and drank and went back to work giving little thought beyond his next meal.

When Isaac was old and growing blind, Jacob fooled his father into passing the covenantal blessing onto him. Like the birthright he’d already taken from Esau, this blessing was meant to be received by the eldest son in the family, a powerful prayer passed from the patriarch of one generation to the next. When Esau learned he’d lost this blessing and was destined to serve his younger brother, he was furious. In a fit of rage, Esau planned to kill his brother, but Rebekah warned Jacob and helped him flee. The brothers were estranged for years while they each discovered an identity apart from their sibling rivalry and learned to trust that, with God’s provision, there would be enough for both of them.


WEEK FIVE — OCTOBER 6

McKenzie, Janet. A Brave and Quiet Heart. Retrieved from https://qspirit.net/lgbtq-spiritual-art-janet-mckenzie.

Artist Janet McKenzie created this piece to honor those who lost their lives in the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, Florida on June 12, 2016. “This is the first time I have directly made the subject of a painting undeniably the LGBTQ community,” McKenzie told the Q Spirit blog. “The pride flag serves as the (joyful) action of the painting balancing the stillness of the subject.”

Joseph and His Brothers (Genesis 37)

Jacob settled in the land of Canaan with his large family. His favorite son Joseph was a shepherd and reported his brothers’ bad behavior to their father. Jacob was getting older and showed his favoritism for Joseph by making him a long robe with sleeves. When his brothers saw this gift and their father’s preference, they hated Joseph and could no longer speak peacefully to him.

Once Joseph had a dream, and when he told his brothers about it, they hated him even more. Joseph said, ”We were all there in my dream, binding sheaves of wheat in the field when my sheaf suddenly stood up tall at the center of things. Yours gathered around mine and bowed down.”

He told them about another dream, saying, ”The sun, the moon, and eleven stars were all bowing down to me.” His father Jacob was surprised by this interpretation that included Joseph’s brothers and now also his parents bowing down to him, but he did not scold Joseph. This made his brothers even more jealous of him.

Later, their father sent Joseph to find his brothers tending sheep in the field. When Joseph was still approaching from a distance, they conspired to kill him. ”Here comes the dreamer, they said. Let’s kill him and throw him into one of the pits; then we’ll tell Father that a wild animal devoured him and we’ll see what becomes of his dreams.”

But his brother Reuben delivered Joseph out of their hands saying, ”Don’t shed his blood or take his life. Just throw him into a pit and leave him alive.” When Joseph arrived, they threw him into a pit where there was no water.

Later a caravan of Ishmaelites traveled by and Judah had an idea. ”What does it profit us if we kill our brother and conceal his blood? Let’s sell him to the Ishmaelites instead.” So when the Ishmaelites passed by, they sold Joseph into slavery for twenty pieces of silver. And they took Joseph to Egypt.

The brothers tore Joseph’s robe, slaughtered a goat, and dipped the fabric in blood. They brought it to their father and let him believe Joseph was dead.


WEEK SIX — OCTOBER 13

The Highwoman. “Crowded Table.” The Highwoman. Mckenna, Lori; Hemby, Natalie Nicole;  Carlile, Brandi. Universal Music Publishing Group, 2019, track 4. LyricFind, lyricfind.com.

You can hold my hand
When you need to let go
I can be your mountain
When you’re feeling valley-low
I can be your streetlight
Showing you the way home
You can hold my hand
When you need to let go

I want a house with a crowded table
And a place by the fire for everyone
Let us take on the world while we’re young and able
And bring us back together when the day is done

If we want a garden
We’re gonna have to sow the seed
Plant a little happiness
Let the roots run deep
If it’s love that we give
Then it’s love that we reap
If we want a garden
We’re gonna have to sow the seed

Yeah I want a house with a crowded table
And a place by the fire for everyone
Let us take on the world while we’re young and able
And bring us back together when the day is done

The door is always open
Your picture’s on my wall
Everyone’s a little broken
And everyone belongs
Yeah, everyone belongs

I want a house with a crowded table
And a place by the fire for everyone
Let us take on the world while we’re young and able
And bring us back together when the day is done
And bring us back together when the day is done

The Wedding at Cana (John 2)

Three days after Jesus was baptized by John in the Jordan River, there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee. Mary, the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine ran out, Jesus’ mother said to him, “They have no more wine.” Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and me? My hour has not yet come.” Then Mary said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.”

Now there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each large enough to hold twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. Then Jesus said, “Draw some out and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. The steward tasted the water that had become wine without knowing where it came from (though the servants who brought it knew). The steward called the groom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the cheap wine once the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”

Jesus did this first sign in Cana of Galilee and revealed his glory. And his disciples believed him.


WEEK SEVEN — OCTOBER 20

Oliver, Mary. “Logos.” Devotions: The selected poems of Mary Oliver. Penquin Random House, 2017.

Why worry about the loaves and fishes?
If you say the right words, the wine expands.
If you say them with love
and the felt ferocity of that love
and the felt necessity of that love,
the fish explode into many.
Imagine him, speaking,
and don’t worry about what is reality,
or what is plain, or what is mysterious.
If you were there, it was all those things.
If you can imagine it, it is all those things.
Eat, drink, be happy.
Accept the miracle.
Accept, too, each spoken word
spoken with love.

Feeding the 5,000 (John 6:1-15)

Jesus went to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. A large crowd followed him there because they had seen the signs when Jesus was healing the sick. When he came ashore, Jesus went up the mountain and sat down with his disciples. Jesus saw the large crowd still following him and asked Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people to eat?” Jesus said this to test the disciples, for the Passover festival was drawing near and he already knew what he was going to do.

Philip replied, “We would need six month’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” Then Simon Peter’s brother Andrew spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many people?”

Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” The crowd sat down on the grass, about five thousand men with even more women and children. Then Jesus took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed the bread and fish to those who were seated. And they all ate as much as they wanted.

When they had all had enough to eat, Jesus said to the disciples, “Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.” So they gathered the leftover food and filled 12 baskets. When people saw the sign Jesus had performed, they began to say, “Surely this is the Prophet who has come into the world.” Jesus knew they intended to come and make him their king by force, so he withdrew again to the mountain by himself.


WEEK EIGHT — OCTOBER 27

Schmidt, Carrie. Shepherdess in the Negev, Israel. 1970s. https://www.etsy.com/sg-en/listing/169437096/shepherdess-in-the-negev-silkscreen. Accessed 22 October 2019.

The Good Shepherd (John 10:1-18)

Jesus said, “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but who climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. The shepherd of the sheep enters by the gate and opens the gate for the sheep, and the sheep listen to their shepherd’s voice. The shepherd calls the sheep by name and leads them out. When he has led them all out beyond the gate, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. The sheep do not follow strangers; in fact, they will run away from strangers and do not trust other voices to keep them safe.”

Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was saying to them. So Jesus said again, more plainly, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me claiming to be shepherds who save are thieves and robbers, but my sheep did not listen to their voices. I am the gate; whoever enters the sheep pen through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and know safe pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come so that they may have life and have it abundantly.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The hired hand runs away to save himself because he does not love the sheep.

“I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father — I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen, so I must bring them also. They also hear my voice, so there will be one flock and one shepherd. My father loves me because I lay down my life and, for their sake, will take it up again. No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down and take it up again by my own authors and by the command I received from my Father.”


WEEK NINE — NOVEMBER 3

Clifton, Lucille. “The Raising of Lazarus.” 1972. Good News About the Earth https://betterlivingthroughbeowulf.com/the-green-of-jesus-is-breaking-the-ground. Accessed 29 October 2019.

the dead shall rise again
whoever say
dust must be dust
don’t see the trees
smell rain
remember Africa
everything that goes
can come
stand up
even the dead shall rise

Raising Lazarus (John 11:17-45)

Lazarus had been in the tomb for four days when Jesus arrived. Martha went out to meet Jesus and spilled her grief saying, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. But I know that even now God will give you whatever you ask.”

Jesus assured Martha that her brother would rise again. Martha answered, “Yes, I know he will arise again on the last day when all the dead resurrected to life.”

Jesus said to her, “I am the resurrection and the life. When you believe in me, you will live even though you die; and when you live by believing in me, you never really die. Do you believe this?”

Martha confessed her faith, “Yes, Lord. I believe that you are the Messiah, the Son of God, who has come into the world.” Then Martha went and told Mary to see Jesus. Mary had been in the house surrounded by other Jews who were comforting them. Curious crowds followed Mary, who fell at the feet of Jesus and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

When Jesus saw Mary and the crowds weeping, his spirit was deeply moved and troubled. “Where have you laid him?” Jesus asked. They answered, “Come and see, Lord.” Jesus wept. Some in the crowd were amazed at Jesus’ love for Lazarus and others wondered why Jesus could not have prevented his death.

Jesus became visibly moved again when they came to the tomb. It was a cave and a large stone was laid across the entrance. Jesus told them to take away the stone, but Martha protested. “Lord, there will be a bad odor. He has been dead for four days.”

Then Jesus said, “Didn’t I tell you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they took away the stone. Jesus looked up and said, “Father, thank you for hearing me. I know that you always hear me, but I say this aloud for the benefit of those gathered here and so they may believe you sent me.”

Then Jesus called out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet and face wrapped with strips of cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him from these grave clothes and let him go.”


WEEK TEN — NOVEMBER 10

Alade, Oluwaseyi. Mary Anoints Jesus’ Feet. Retrieved from https://www.saatchiart.com/art/Painting-Mary-anoints-Jesus-feet/706469/2467784/view.

Oil on canvas painting of Mary anointing the feet of Jesus Christ with her hair and expensive perfume from her alabaster jar. This is in reference to the passage, John 12, verse 3, in the Holy Bible.

Mary Anoints Jesus (John 12:1-8)

Six days before Passover, Jesus came to stay with Lazarus in Bethany, the same Lazarus Jesus raised from the dead.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were hosting a dinner in Jesus’ honor. Martha was serving the meal and Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with Jesus. Then Mary brought out a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume. She poured it on Jesus’ feet and wiped his feet with her hair. The house filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

But one of the disciples, Judas Iscariot, objected to the lavish act saying, “Why didn’t you sell this perfume for three hundred denarii and give the money to the poor?” (Judas did not actually care about the poor. He said this because he was a thief and would steal money from the common purse he carried on behalf of the disciples and their ministry.) But Jesus said, “Leave Mary alone. She bought this perfume so she could keep it for the day of my burial. You will always have the poor with you, but you do not always have me.”


WEEK ELEVEN — NOVEMBER 17

“For Infertility” by Meta Herrick Carlson, from the book, “Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems, and Meditations for Everyday Life”

It is weary waiting in between
the numbness and fierce desire
of wanting what may or may not be.

There is no assurance
that later will be better,
that giving more will yield anything at all.

And so the moon’s cycles are spent in quiet
avoidance of the damn optimists who bring uninvited
platitudes too cheerful and hollow for my spirit to stand.

I prefer to wait where people
keep their prayers to themselves
and do not aim to fix me,

instead trying on my weariness,
waiting where there are no guarantees.
Only hope that watches the moon.

Hannah & Samuel (1 Samuel 1:9-27)

Hannah wanted to be a mother and would travel to the temple to ask the Lord to bless her with a child. There, in the house of God she would fast from eating and weep bitter tears, begging and praying, “O Lord of hosts, look at my misery and remember your love for me. If you will give me a son, I will set him before you as a nazarite priest for his whole life. He will never drink wine or cut his hair and will live to serve you.”

Eli, the priest at the temple sat nearby watching Hannah crying and muttering to herself. He scolded her saying, “You are making a fool of yourself. You need to sober up and compose yourself.” But Hannah explained that she was pouring herself out to the Lord in prayer and that her posture was honest and vulnerable before God. Eli asked God to hear her prayer and blessed her with a word of peace before she left. Hannah’s burden felt lighter as she returned home with her husband. The Lord remembered her and soon she conceived and gave birth to a son. Hannah named the boy Samuel, which means “God has heard me”. Hannah told her husband about the promise she made to set her son before the Lord for service and he affirmed Hannah by saying, “Do what you think is best, Hannah, once the boy is weaned, and may the Lord bless these promises you have made.”

As soon as Hannah weaned the child, she brought him to the house of the Lord at Shiloh along with a young bull, flour, and wine to offer the Lord. They sacrificed the bull and brought the child to Eli. “As you live, my lord, I am the woman who once stood before you praying through tears and suffering. God has heard me and granted my petition, so I have come to honor the promise I made.”


WEEK TWELVE — NOVEMBER 24

Brueggemann, Walter. “Kingdoms rage … and we are called.” 2003. Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth. http://wbhdevos.blogspot.com/2009/04/kingdoms-rage.html. Accessed 19 November 2019.

Kingdoms rage;
Empires tremble;
Cities totter.
You speak assurance;
You designate human agents;
You say, “This is my beloved son”;
You say, “This is my anointed.”
Right in the middle of chaos,
you designate human agents who do your will.
And we are not sure;
We would rather it were you,
directly,
straight on and visible.
But you stay hidden in your holy splendor,
and we are left with human agents
about whom we are never sure.
So we name Jesus, “son of David”;
so human and frail, even if kicked upstairs;
so vulnerable, even if transformed in song and creed.
And then, in a flash, it may dawn on us:
You call and designate people like us, your agents.
Kingdoms rage … and we are called.
Empires tremble … and we are designated.
Cities totter … and we are summoned …
like the first David, like the second David …
us, vulnerable, frail, anxious, your people,
And we are dazzled.
Amen.

Samuel Anoints David (1 Samuel 16:1-13)

God was sorry for having made Saul king of Israel, so God said to Samuel, “How long will you grieve over Saul? I have rejected him from being lsrael’s king. So fill your horn with oil and go; I am sending you to the house of Jesse from Bethlehem to anoint one of his sons. I have chosen one of them to be king.”

Samuel winced. “How can I go to Bethlehem and anoint a new king? If Saul hears about this, he will have me killed.” The Lord answered, “Take a heifer with you to sacrifice in that place. Invite Jesse and his sons to the sacrifice and I will show you what to do.”

When Jesse and his sons arrived, Samuel looked over each of Jesse’s sons and considered which of them would be anointed by the Lord. Surely Eliab since he was so tall. But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not make assumptions based on physical appearance. The Lord does not see as mortals see, but instead looks upon the heart.” Abinadab, Shammah, and several more sons came before Samuel, but the Lord had not chosen any of them to be king.

Then Samuel asked Jesse, “Are all of your sons here today?” Jesse replied, “All except my youngest son, who we left behind to tend the sheep in our absence.” Samuel told Jesse to retrieve his youngest son quickly, and that he could not rest until they returned. Jesse went to get his son David, who was ruddy and handsome with beautiful eyes. Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.” Then Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed little David in front of his older brothers; and the spirit of the Lord was with David from that day forward.


WEEK THIRTEEN — DECEMBER 1

Rilke, René. “The Night.” https://dailypoetry.me/rilke/the-night/. Accessed 26 November 2019.

You, darkness, of whom I am born–
I love you more that the flame
that limits the world
to the circle it illuminates
and excludes all the rest.
But the dark embraces everything:
shapes and shadows, creatures and me,
people, nations–just as they are.
It lets me imagine
a great presence stirring beside me.
I believe in the night.
Amen.

Zechariah (Luke 1:5-20)

In the days of King Herod of Judea, there was a priest named Zechariah, who belonged to the priestly order of Abijah. His wife was a descendant of Aaron, and her name was Elizabeth. Both of them were righteous before God, living blamelessly according to all the commandments and regulations of the Lord. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was barren, and both were getting on in years.

Once when he was serving as priest before God and his section was on duty, he was chosen by lot, according to the custom of the priesthood, to enter the sanctuary of the Lord and offer incense. Now at the time of the incense-offering, the whole assembly of the people was praying outside. Then there appeared to him an angel of the Lord, standing at the right side of the altar of incense.

When Zechariah saw him, he was terrified; and fear overwhelmed him. But the angel said to him, ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah, for your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John. You will have joy and gladness, and many will rejoice at his birth, for he will be great in the sight of the Lord. He must never drink wine or strong drink; even before his birth he will be filled with the Holy Spirit. He will turn many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God.

With the spirit and power of Elijah he will go before him, to turn the hearts of parents to their children, and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous, to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ Zechariah said to the angel, ‘How will I know that this is so? For I am an old man, and my wife is getting on in years.’

The angel replied, ‘I am Gabriel. I stand in the presence of God, and I have been sent to speak to you and to bring you this good news. But now, because you did not believe my words, which will be fulfilled in their time, you will become mute, unable to speak, until the day these things occur.’


WEEK FOURTEEN — DECEMBER 8

Richardson, Jan. “A Blessing Called Sanctuary.” Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons. Wanton Gospeller Press, 2005. 55-57. Print.

You hardly knew
how hungry you were
to be gathered in,
to receive the welcome
that invited you to enter
entirely—
nothing of you
found foreign or strange,
nothing of your life
that you were asked
to leave behind
or to carry in silence
or in shame.
Tentative steps
became settling in,
leaning into the blessing
that enfolded you,
taking your place
in the circle
that stunned you
with its unimagined grace.
You began to breathe again,
to move without fear,
to speak with abandon
the words you carried
in your bones,
that echoed in your being.
You learned to sing.
But the deal with this blessing
is that it will not leave you alone,
will not let you linger
in safety,
in stasis.
The time will come
when this blessing
will ask you to leave,
not because it has tired of you
but because it desires for you
to become the sanctuary
that you have found—
to speak your word
into the world,
to tell what you have heard
with your own ears,
seen with your own eyes,
known in your own heart:
that you are beloved,
precious child of God,
beautiful to behold,
and you are welcome
and more than welcome
here.
Amen.

Mary and Elizabeth (Luke 1:39-45)

In those days Mary set out and went with haste to a Judean town in the hill country, where she entered the house of Zechariah and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the child leapt in her womb. And Elizabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit and exclaimed with a loud cry, ‘Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb. And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? For as soon as I heard the sound of your greeting, the child in my womb leapt for joy. And blessed is she who believed that there would be a fulfilment of what was spoken to her by the Lord.’


WEEK FIFTEEN — DECEMBER 15

Norton, Jen. Hail Mary. Retrieved from https://www.jennortonartstudio.com/featured-catholic-art-gallery. Folk Art acrylic painting of the Virgin Mary and her prayer, the Hail Mary.

Mary’s Song (Luke 1:46-56)

And Mary said,
“My soul magnifies the Lord,
and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour,
for he has looked with favour on the lowliness of his servant.
Surely, from now on all generations will call me blessed;
for the Mighty One has done great things for me,
and holy is his name.
His mercy is for those who fear him
from generation to generation.
He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
in remembrance of his mercy,
according to the promise he made to our ancestors,
to Abraham and to his descendants for ever.”

And Mary remained with her for about three months and then returned to her home.