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 fulfillment 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.


WEEK SIXTEEN — DECEMBER 22

John Is Born (Luke 1:57-80)

Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. Her neighbors and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. But his mother said, ‘No; he is to be called John.’ They said to her, ‘None of your relatives has this name.’ Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. He asked for a writing-tablet and wrote, ‘His name is John.’ And all of them were amazed. Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. Fear came over all their neighbors, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. All who heard them pondered them and said, ‘What then will this child become?’ For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

Then his father Zechariah was filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke this prophecy:
‘Blessed be the Lord God of Israel,
for he has looked favorably on his people and redeemed them.
He has raised up a mighty savior for us
in the house of his servant David,
as he spoke through the mouth of his holy prophets from of old,
that we would be saved from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us.
Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors,
and has remembered his holy covenant,
the oath that he swore to our ancestor Abraham,
to grant us that we, being rescued from the hands of our enemies,
might serve him without fear, in holiness and righteousness
before him all our days.
And you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation to his people
by the forgiveness of their sins.
By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’

The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.


WEEK SEVENTEEN — DECEMBER 29

Joseph (Luke 1:46-56)

Now the birth of Jesus the Messiah took place in this way. When his mother Mary had been engaged to Joseph, but before they lived together, she was found to be with child from the Holy Spirit. Her husband Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary as your wife, for the child conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will bear a son, and you are to name him Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.’ All this took place to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet:
‘Look, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son,
and they shall name him Emmanuel’,
which means, ‘God is with us.’
When Joseph awoke from sleep, he did as the angel of the Lord commanded him; he took her as his wife.


WEEK EIGHTEEN — JANUARY 5

Eliot, T. S. “Journey of the Magi.” Ariel Poems. Faber and Gwyer, 1927. Print. Listen to T. S. Eliot read this poem online at https://poetryarchive.org/poem/journey-magi/.

“A cold coming we had of it,
Just the worst time of the year
For a journey, and such a long journey:
The ways deep and the weather sharp,
The very dead of winter.”
And the camels galled, sore-footed, refractory,
Lying down in the melting snow.
There were times we regretted
The summer palaces on slopes, the terraces,
And the silken girls bringing sherbet.
Then the camel men cursing and grumbling
And running away, and wanting their liquor and women,
And the night-fires going out, and the lack of shelters,
And the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly
And the villages dirty and charging high prices:
A hard time we had of it.
At the end we preferred to travel all night,
Sleeping in snatches,
With the voices singing in our ears, saying
That this was all folly.
Then at dawn we came down to a temperate valley,
Wet, below the snow line, smelling of vegetation;
With a running stream and a water-mill beating the darkness,
And three trees on the low sky,
And an old white horse galloped away in the meadow.
Then we came to a tavern with vine-leaves over the lintel,
Six hands at an open door dicing for pieces of silver,
And feet kicking the empty wine-skins.
But there was no information, and so we continued
And arrived at evening, not a moment too soon
Finding the place; it was (you may say) satisfactory.
All this was a long time ago, I remember,
And I would do it again, but set down
This set down
This: were we led all that way for
Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
But had thought they were different; this Birth was
Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
We returned to our places, these Kingdoms,
But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
With an alien people clutching their gods.
I should be glad of another death.

The Magi Visit (Matthew 2:1-12)

In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:
“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
who is to shepherd my people Israel.”’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw that the star had stopped, they were overwhelmed with joy. On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.


WEEK NINETEEN — JANUARY 12

You are invited to view “Jesus on the Bayou” from Lewp Studio. In this painting, Jesus is portrayed in the bayous of Southern Louisiana, expressing the sacrifice that is necessary to protect this fragile environment. Christ is showing his wounds, calling the viewer to meditate on ways in which we have not cared for the Earth, and have harmed the lands which were gifted to us to protect.

The Baptism of Jesus (Matthew 3:13-17)

Then Jesus came from Galilee to John at the Jordan, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus had been baptized, just as he came up from the water, suddenly the heavens were opened to him and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, the Beloved, with whom I am well pleased.”


WEEK TWENTY — JANUARY 19

“Mourning Into Dancing,” an album by Ben Larson:

Last week was the anniversary of the earthquake in Haiti. Seminarian and musician Ben Larson died in the rubble when a roof collapsed on him and his fiancé Renee and cousin John. Renee and John could hear him singing hymns until he took his last breath. They speak about that experience as the day they died with Ben and rose from the dead. Ben’s music lives on and continues to inspire the faith of many.

The Man Lowered Through the Roof (Mark 2:1-12)

When he returned to Capernaum after some days, it was reported that he was at home. So many gathered around that there was no longer room for them, not even in front of the door; and he was speaking the word to them. Then some people came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them. And when they could not bring him to Jesus because of the crowd, they removed the roof above him; and after having dug through it, they let down the mat on which the paralytic lay. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven.” Now some of the scribes were sitting there, questioning in their hearts, “Why does this fellow speak in this way? It is blasphemy! Who can forgive sins but God alone?” At once Jesus perceived in his spirit that they were discussing these questions among themselves; and he said to them, “Why do you raise such questions in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven’, or to say, ‘Stand up and take your mat and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins” — he said to the paralytic — “I say to you, stand up, take your mat and go to your home.” And he stood up, and immediately took the mat and went out before all of them; so that they were all amazed and glorified God, saying, “We have never seen anything like this!”


WEEK TWENTY-ONE — JANUARY 26

How do we listen to each other, and what opportunities/learnings do we miss when we are too busy to really hear? (Wallace, Catherine M. Retrieved from https://darcsunshine.files.wordpress.com/2013/10/listen-earnestly-to-anything-your-children-want-to-tell-you.jpg?w=487.)

Jesus Calling the Disciples (Luke 5:1-11)

Once while Jesus was standing beside the lake of Gennesaret, and the crowd was pressing in on him to hear the word of God, he saw two boats there at the shore of the lake; the fishermen had gone out of them and were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little way from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the crowds from the boat. When he had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.”

Simon answered, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet if you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done this, they caught so many fish that their nets were beginning to break. So they signaled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them. And they came and filled both boats, so that they began to sink.

But when Simon Peter saw it, he fell down at Jesus’ knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” For he and all who were with him were amazed at the catch of fish that they had taken; and so also were James and John, sons of Zebedee, who were partners with Simon.

Then Jesus said to Simon, “Do not be afraid; from now on you will be catching people.” When they had brought their boats to shore, they left everything and followed him.


WEEK TWENTY-TWO — FEBRUARY 2

Mitchell, Stephen. “The Good Samaritan.” The Gospels in our image: an anthology of twentieth-century poetry based on Biblical texts. Harcourt Brace & Co, 1995.

The priest, the Levite, the Samaritan, and the man who fell among thieves meet in heaven to talk over old times. Since heaven has no past or future, they find themselves in the inn on the road to Jericho.

“I felt awful about not helping you,” the priest says. “My heart wasn’t open enough. But I am working on it.”

“The last time I had stopped to help a wounded man by the roadside,” the Levite says, “he beat me and ran off with my wallet. I was afraid.”

“It was my good fortune to be in the right place at the right time,” the Samaritan says. “I didn’t stop to think; the oil and wine poured themselves, the wound bound itself. My only problem came later, dealing with all the praise.”

The man who fell among thieves takes another sip of wine. “Charity begins at home,” he says. “If I had been kinder to myself, I wound’ have been in that mess to begin with. But I am very grateful to all three of you. It takes great humility to step aside for a parable’s sake. And without the parable, I would never have been saved.”

The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37)

Just then a lawyer stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he said, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ He said to him, ‘What is written in the law? What do you read there?’ He answered, ‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.’ And he said to him, ‘You have given the right answer; do this, and you will live.’ But wanting to justify himself, he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbor?’ Jesus replied, ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell into the hands of robbers, who stripped him, beat him, and went away, leaving him half dead. Now by chance, a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him, he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan while traveling came near him; and when he saw him, he was moved with pity. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, having poured oil and wine on them. Then he put him on his own animal, brought him to an inn, and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii, gave them to the innkeeper, and said, “Take care of him; and when I come back, I will repay you whatever more you spend.” Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?’ He said, ‘The one who showed him mercy.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go and do likewise.’


WEEK TWENTY-THREE — FEBRUARY 9

Kegler, Emmy. “One Coin Found: How God’s Love Stretches to the Margins.” Fortress Press, 2019.

“I remember that Jesus, the first fruits of those raised from the dead, was not without his scars. They were part of the risen body. They had made him who he was, and proved that he was more than anyone had bargained for. The body of God had been and would always now be marked by the murderous hearts of men who craved power and control. What has been done to us, the lessons and the proof in it, does not fade. The resurrection does not make us unhurt. It makes us whole.”
– From “One Coin Found” (Chapter Nine, “Wide”)

Lost Sheep/Lost Coin (Luke 15:1-10)

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to Jesus. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”

So he told them this parable: “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who need no repentance.”

“Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”


WEEK TWENTY-FOUR — FEBRUARY 16

Phillip Phillips. “Home.” The World from the Side of the Moon. Pearson, Andrew; Holden, Greg. Published by Downtown Music, Publishing o/b/o CYP Two Publishing & Drewyeah Music (BMI), Razor & Tie o/b/o Falling Art Music (ASCAP), 2012, track 2. LyricFind, lyricfind.com.

Hold on, to me as we go
As we roll down this unfamiliar road
And although this wave is stringing us along
Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home

Settle down, it’ll all be clear
Don’t pay no mind to the demons
They fill you with fear
The trouble it might drag you down
If you get lost, you can always be found

Just know you’re not alone
‘Cause I’m going to make this place your home

The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:1-3, 11-24, 25-32)

Now all the tax-collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, ‘This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.’ So he told them this parable:

Then Jesus said, ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger of them said to his father, “Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.” So he divided his property between them. A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. But when he came to himself he said, “How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.’ ” So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. Then the son said to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.” But the father said to his slaves, “Quickly, bring out a robe — the best one — and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!” And they began to celebrate.

‘Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. He replied, “Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.” Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. But he answered his father, “Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!” Then the father said to him, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.”’


WEEK TWENTY-FIVE — FEBRUARY 23

Richardson, Jan. Artwork: “They Saw His Glory.” Poem: “Dazzling: A Blessing for Transfiguration Sunday.” Retrieved from https://paintedprayerbook.com/2013/02/03/transfiguration-sunday-dazzling.

Believe me, I know
how tempting it is
to remain inside this blessing,
to linger where everything
is dazzling
and clear.

We could build walls
around this blessing,
put a roof over it.
We could bring in
a table, chairs,
have the most amazing meals.
We could make a home.
We could stay.

But this blessing
is built for leaving.
This blessing
is made for coming down
the mountain.
This blessing
wants to be in motion,
to travel with you
as you return
to level ground.

It will seem strange
how quiet this blessing becomes
when it returns to earth.
It is not shy.
It is not afraid.

It simply knows
how to bide its time,
to watch and wait,
to discern and pray

until the moment comes
when it will reveal
everything it knows,
when it will shine forth
with all it has seen,
when it will dazzle
with the unforgettable light
you have carried
all this way.

The Transfiguration (Mark 9:2-10)

Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became dazzling white, such as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Then Peter said to Jesus, ‘Rabbi, it is good for us to be here; let us make three dwellings, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’ He did not know what to say, for they were terrified. Then a cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud there came a voice, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; listen to him!’ Suddenly when they looked around, they saw no one with them any more, but only Jesus. As they were coming down the mountain, he ordered them to tell no one about what they had seen, until after the Son of Man had risen from the dead. So they kept the matter to themselves, questioning what this rising from the dead could mean.


WEEK TWENTY-SIX — MARCH 1

“For Morning Anxiety” from Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems and Meditations for Everyday Life by Pastor Meta Herrick Carlson. Learn more at metaherrickcarlson.com.

Don’t get up quite yet.
First blink and breathe
and believe
you are fiercely loved.

Do not be fooled
by the list that hunts you down
each dawn.
You are called to a few things,
not all the things.

Be still until you hear
the sacred silence whisper,
“Underneath the hustle
and the bundle of nerves
that thing
you are desperate to earn
has already been declared.”

And then rise like the sun,
one shade of sky at a time.

Samaritan Woman at the Well (John 4:1-30, 39-42)

Now when Jesus learned that the Pharisees had heard, ‘Jesus is making and baptizing more disciples than John’— although it was not Jesus himself but his disciples who baptized— he left Judea and started back to Galilee. But he had to go through Samaria. So he came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, near the plot of ground that Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired out by his journey, was sitting by the well. It was about noon.

A Samaritan woman came to draw water, and Jesus said to her, ‘Give me a drink’. (His disciples had gone to the city to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘How is it that you, a Jew, ask a drink of me, a woman of Samaria?’ (Jews do not share things in common with Samaritans.) Jesus answered her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, “Give me a drink”, you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, you have no bucket, and the well is deep. Where do you get that living water? Are you greater than our ancestor Jacob, who gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it?’ Jesus said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water.’

Jesus said to her, ‘Go, call your husband, and come back.’ The woman answered him, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You are right in saying, “I have no husband”; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!’ The woman said to him, ‘Sir, I see that you are a prophet. Our ancestors worshipped on this mountain, but you say that the place where people must worship is in Jerusalem.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth.’ The woman said to him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming’ (who is called Christ). ‘When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am he, the one who is speaking to you.’

Just then his disciples came. They were astonished that he was speaking with a woman, but no one said, ‘What do you want?’ or, ‘Why are you speaking with her?’ Then the woman left her water-jar and went back to the city. She said to the people, ‘Come and see a man who told me everything I have ever done! He cannot be the Messiah, can he?’ They left the city and were on their way to him.

Many Samaritans from that city believed in him because of the woman’s testimony, ‘He told me everything I have ever done.’ So when the Samaritans came to him, they asked him to stay with them; and he stayed there for two days. And many more believed because of his word. They said to the woman, ‘It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is truly the Saviour of the world.’


WEEK TWENTY-SEVEN — MARCH 8

“For False Choices” from Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems and Meditations for Everyday Life by Pastor Meta Herrick Carlson. Learn more at metaherrickcarlson.com.

How often I am fooled
by the cavernous divide between

either

or

making complexity and compromise sound
impossibly lonely,
my muscles atrophy.

Surely we are made for more than
two dimensions
and the simple chronology of this life!

Draw me to the mysteries of
an ever-expanding universe
a redemption that is already and not yet
a God who keeps bending time and space
toward
both+and,
the possibility of
more than false choices.

We are resuscitated wild and holy
wherever death and life blur
beyond neat categories revealing
more truth than our canyons can bear.

I flex with tenacity and fervor,
my strength and hope guiding me toward
new dimensions.

Blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52)

They came to Jericho. As Jesus and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside. When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, ‘Son of David, have mercy on me!’ Jesus stood still and said, ‘Call him here.’ And they called the blind man, saying to him, ‘Take heart; get up, he is calling you.’ So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. Then Jesus said to him, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ The blind man said to him, ‘My teacher, let me see again.’ Jesus said to him, ‘Go; your faith has made you well.’ Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.


WEEK TWENTY-EIGHT — MARCH 15

“For Best Friends” from Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems and Meditations for Everyday Life by Pastor Meta Herrick Carlson. Learn more at metaherrickcarlson.com.

Bless the space between friends
that shapeshifts with time,
that recognizes necessary distance and
shares the labor of closing gaps
when presence is paramount.

It is so good to be known like this,
with depth that has been tried and
empathy that weathers every joy and trial
with the whole season it deserves.

It is so good to be loved like this,
with honest assurance that transcends
every insecure and measured thing
for the sake of belonging that does not fail.

Mary and Martha (Luke 10:38-42)

Now as they went on their way, he entered a certain village, where a woman named Martha welcomed him into her home. She had a sister named Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to what he was saying. But Martha was distracted by her many tasks; so she came to him and asked, ‘Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her then to help me.’ But the Lord answered her, ‘Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.’


WEEK TWENTY-NINE — MARCH 22

“For Empathy” from Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems and Meditations for Everyday Life by Pastor Meta Herrick Carlson. Learn more at metaherrickcarlson.com.

The world is not lacking
opinions simplified by hindsight,
advice for the weary,
subscriptions to the standardized.

But we are starving
for love that resists these defenses,
that can stand in the midst of suffering
without getting too awkward
or filling the silence with trite proverbs,
wanting to earn its place by fixing
what doesn’t need fixing at all.

If only the instinct was to abide
before we explain and decide!

Listen for the Spirit
who guides us into showing up,
who shows us how to feel on behalf of another,
who urges our quiet bodies alongside
the ones who are not broken but lonely,
the ones God loves already and always.

Healing the Lepers (Luke 17:11-19)

On the way to Jerusalem Jesus was going through the region between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered a village, 10 lepers approached him. Keeping their distance, they called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Master, have mercy on us!’ When he saw them, he said to them, ‘Go and show yourselves to the priests.’ And as they went, they were made clean. Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice. He prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him. And he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus asked, ‘Were not 10 made clean? But the other nine, where are they? Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well.’


WEEK THIRTY — MARCH 29

“For Rejecting a Fear of Others” from Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems and Meditations for Everyday Life by Pastor Meta Herrick Carlson. Learn more at metaherrickcarlson.com.

It is ancient instinct to size up the stranger,
to worship the safety of sameness,
to decide everything before there is love.

The distance between is
so carefully designed
by fear unveiled as anger and despair.

But it is all fear.

How God must ache to watch us
scattered and cast out in fear,
the human body amputating itself,

renouncing the fullness and beauty
of life together because
we are frightened.

The antidote is already near –
a spirit of gentleness and wonder
for the vulnerable and unknown,

a dangerous proximity
to those we have cut off and
call by any name other than

Beloved.

Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10)

He entered Jericho and was passing through it. A man was there named Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax-collector and was rich. He was trying to see who Jesus was, but on account of the crowd he could not, because he was short in stature. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycomore tree to see him, because he was going to pass that way. When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry and come down; for I must stay at your house today.’ So he hurried down and was happy to welcome him. All who saw it began to grumble and said, ‘He has gone to be the guest of one who is a sinner.’ Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord, ‘Look, half of my possessions, Lord, I will give to the poor; and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will pay back four times as much.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.’


WEEK THIRTY-ONE — APRIL 5

“For the Peacemakers” from Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems and Meditations for Everyday Life by Pastor Meta Herrick Carlson. Learn more at metaherrickcarlson.com.

Peacekeepers protect systems and
tell righteous anger to calm down
so the powerful can stay comfortable.

But peacemakers, well,
that’s sacred rebellion. That’s pushing
on mountains that don’t feel like
they are budging an inch.

Making peace can look foolish,
can be called hysterical,
can be mocked from a stage.
But while some laugh, hard truth
continues to rumble, change sneaks in,
and the rebels who lost
are already finding themselves again elsewhere.

There are stories about the peacekeepers
and their hardened hearts. And then
there are stories about the peacemakers,
whose hearts break open for the sake of Shalom.

We are always living in one of those stories,
so stay fools for making peace.
It is the only way.
It is both a brutal labor
and an ancient blessing.

Triumphal Entry (Mark 11:1-11)

When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, “Why are you doing this?” just say this, “The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.” ’ They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, ‘What are you doing, untying the colt?’ They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.


WEEK THIRTY-TWO — APRIL 12

“For Rising” from Ordinary Blessings: Prayers, Poems and Meditations for Everyday Life by Pastor Meta Herrick Carlson. Learn more at metaherrickcarlson.com.

Denali’s ancient and rugged rock is
pinched between tectonic plates
still shifting and shaking all the time.

She is rock
lava
ocean
glacier
wind
sky.

She is pressure
mystery
wisdom
fortitude,
caught in creation and
will never tire of being made new.

She is fierce and holy,
her roots uncontrollable magic,
her crown revealed on her own terms,
responsible for the weather
swirling up from her hips.

Whenever the earth shakes and
the ice cracks, we remember
she grows taller still,
one millimeter at a time,
stealthy and sure.

She is both trapped and free.
She is not finished rising and
neither am I.

Resurrection (Mark 16:1-8)

When the sabbath was over, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. They had been saying to one another, ‘Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance to the tomb?’ When they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had already been rolled back. As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man, dressed in a white robe, sitting on the right side; and they were alarmed. But he said to them, ‘Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you.’ So they went out and fled from the tomb, for terror and amazement had seized them; and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid.


WEEK THIRTY-THREE — APRIL 19

The Servant-Girl At Emmaus (Painting by Velázquez)
She listens, listens, holding
her breath. Surely that voice
is his—the one
who had looked at her, once, across the crowd,
as no one ever had looked?
Had seen her? Had spoken as if to her?
Surely those hands were his,
taking the platter of bread from hers just now?
Hands he’d laid on the dying and made them well?
Surely that face—?
The man they’d crucified for sedition and blasphemy.
The man whose body disappeared from its tomb.
The man it was rumored now some women had seen this
morning, alive?
Those who had brought this stranger home to their table
don’t recognize yet with whom they sit.
But she in the kitchen, absently touching
the winejug she’s to take in,
a young Black servant intently listening,
swings round and sees
the light around him
and is sure.

Painting, “The Servant-Girl at Emmaus,” by Velázquez. Retrieved from https://www.artway.eu/artway.php?id=796&lang=en&action=show&type=art_poetry. Poem, “The Servant-Girl At Emmaus,” by Denise Levertov. Retrieved from https://www.journeywithjesus.net/poemsandprayers/631-denise-levertov-servant-girl.

Road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35)

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?’ They stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, ‘Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?’ He asked them, ‘What things?’ They replied, ‘The things about Jesus of Nazareth, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to be condemned to death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place. Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him.’ Then he said to them, ‘Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?’ Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

As they came near the village to which they were going, he walked ahead as if he were going on. But they urged him strongly, saying, ‘Stay with us, because it is almost evening and the day is now nearly over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight. They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’ That same hour they got up and returned to Jerusalem; and they found the eleven and their companions gathered together. They were saying, ‘The Lord has risen indeed, and he has appeared to Simon!’ Then they told what had happened on the road, and how he had been made known to them in the breaking of the bread.