Finding My Name~an Easter Week Story

When my mother was taken by cancer at the age of 55 and I was 33, there was no estate to divide, no money to deposit, no silver to share. After she was gone, I wasn’t saddened by the loss of anything tangible like an inheritance, but because there were questions I would never have answers to.

For instance, where did my name come from?

When my mother passed, I felt unsettled about this piece of my life. The older I got, my identity and family history became more and more important. I had never heard the background, the whys or whos of my name.  There was no connection to the past, no legacy left via family stories with the particulars. This left me feeling un-moored– although I’d been Jody as long as I could remember, certainly she had intentionally chosen the name Joanna, but why?

It never occurred to me to ask my her while she was alive.

My mother was Helen Elizabeth. Names matter; and I got neither name. I really would have liked Elizabeth, perhaps for a middle name. No, I was Joanna Lee–Where did ‘Joanna’ come from? And how did I become ‘Jody’? (Of course when I was little I was called by my ‘in trouble name’, “Joanna Lee!”)

The question remained, Who was I named after? So imagine my joy when several years after my mother died, I read the name ‘Joanna’ in the passage in Luke recalling Jesus’ resurrection story.  Continue reading “Finding My Name~an Easter Week Story”

Celestial Bodies {a #poem}

My weary eyes need reminders to view the galaxies aright. Focused on the sliver of moon, they forget an entire orb hides in the dark. I gaze at dull concrete, traipse around the observatory, past an entrance where God stands in the doorway beckoning me to peer, Galileo-like, past roofs, across trees, into velvet sky. As feet pause on sure ground, a whisper beckons to … Continue reading Celestial Bodies {a #poem}

We Were Made for Connection

IMG_20200605_130201Last week I wrote about#loveinthetimeofthecorona–illuminating what or how we can embody love in the world in these very challenging times, especially as believers in Jesus. (And? Did you know, #loveinthetimeofthecorona is actually a hashtag on Instagram and Twitter. If you are on either of those social media platforms, type in the hashtag and be inspired.)

I was originally going to title this wrap-up, “Thank you Al Gore for the Internet” (which is partially true. Thank you Wikipedia). People all over the globe are working and connecting and chatting via Zoom and Facetime, Facebook live and Marco Polo videos and so on, all thanks to the world wide web.

How starved we are for the sight of our friends and loved ones’ faces! And a voice–who knew how we would miss that? I was serenaded last week via Voxer by a friend on the opposite coast as she sang “It is Well” in her lovely alto voice and tears rolled down my cheeks as I harmonized with her.

Our church has live streamed “services” from an almost empty sanctuary (with stuffed animals in the audience) and the attendance last Sunday was nearly double what we have on an ordinary Sunday. This week our pastor shared a message about Jesus calming the storms, with a painting on the living room wall behind him as spoke from his home. Viewers were given his cel phone number to text in answers to trivia questions from the Bible and even the young kids got to play along. Necessity is the mother of invention, yes? Virtual or not, is a great way to be connected with those we know and love.

In that vein I’d like to share some of the goodness I’ve found online with you–a quiet word on how to deal with sadness or fear, and talk to your kids about their feelings. Orchestral music via Skype, a library tour with poet Malcolm Guite, the Quarantine Song from two very talented Grandparents, never before seen photos of crystal clear canals in Venice, Italy and opera singers and everyday folks serenading from their balconies and plazas.

I hope you’ll take some time to listen and watch; maybe you’ll find a way to connect just a little bit more with the beauty and goodness around you. Continue reading “We Were Made for Connection”

Love in the Time of the Corona

It has occurred to me during this time of worldwide change and upset that although we have been told to isolate and keep our distance from one another, we may in the long run learn how to love each other better. Poetry has been my method of processing the world lately; here’s a few lines from my heart to yours. Love in a Time of … Continue reading Love in the Time of the Corona

When Music Breaks Your Heart {open}

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I sat down two hours ago to write this post, but every screen I turn to–phone, tablet, computer–has an update or email or message about COVID-19. And, since it’s in my Seattleland backyard, it’s difficult to ignore. I could scroll endlessly through articles and information, repost and share what I’ve found with updates on the situation–but really? I’m convinced I need to change my focus-for my mental, spiritual and emotional health.

So I’m going to talk about music. How it lifts our spirits, ministers to our souls and breaks our hearts {open}.

In her new book Chasing Vines, author and speaker Beth Moore writes,

Music wields a power words alone can rarely match. It sidesteps your defenses and comes for you without politely asking permission.

Several years ago I was glancing out the window in my study when a Facebook message popped up with a link to Gabriel’s Oboe, a composition by Ennio Morricone from The Mission movie soundtrack. I’d seen the film years before but did not remember this particular piece. It is simple strings and gentle notes from the oboe, resonant of the Angel Gabriel, after whom the piece is named.

As soon as I hit ‘play’ I began to sob. There’s no easy way to say that–the tears came without stopping from somewhere deep inside me. God began a healing process in my life because of that moment, touching a place that was wounded in ways I didn’t even realize. When you listen, see if the final note doesn’t move you in the same way. And if you’d prefer a strings only version, here are 2Cellos and their rendition. Continue reading “When Music Breaks Your Heart {open}”

How to Lent-Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us

Fountain, Audubon Park, New Orleans

The city of New Orleans has a singular reputation for laissez les bon temps rouler (“let the good times roll”) no matter what time of year. During Mardi Gras, though, the celebrations take on an over-the-top frenzy that is hard to match.

We lived in New Orleans in the 1970’s and saw this dress-up carnival cum Halloween celebration firsthand. Mardi Gras – French for ‘fat Tuesday– offers the citizens and umpty zillion of their best friends to dress up, dance and drink, throw candy and don beads. There are parades uptown, downtown, in the suburbs, everywhere.

I still have some beads from one of those parades. In New Orleans many of the folks live for Mardi Gras; its year ’round preparation and presence synonymous with their fair, old city. In theory, Mardi Gras is a day to indulge one’s senses, for the next day—Ash Wednesday —is to be marked by ashes and repentance.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, the forty days of prayer and fasting observed by many faith traditions, and derives its name from the placing of repentance ashes on the foreheads of participants. Priests or pastors recite either, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lenten practices are intended to prepare our hearts to acknowledge the passion and death of Christ on the way to the celebration of Easter. But like the candy and costumes on Mardi Gras, the overwhelm of the world has overshadowed the meaning of Lent. Continue reading “How to Lent-Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us”

Female Faith Poet-Phillis Wheatley

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From Poetry Foundation online

 

Several years ago in a biography of preacher and evangelist Jonathan Edwards, I read the name of  “slave poet” Phillis Wheatley (1753-1784). Wheatley wrote an elegy (poem on the occasion of one’s death) for George Whitefield, one of Jonathan Edwards’ dear friends. Whitefield and Edwards were pillars of the Great Awakening that swept the world from England to the United States in the 1700’s and Wheatley had been greatly affected by the move of God in her own life. In fact, much of her strong Christian faith shows up in her poems, which I soon found out when I went looking.
What’s astonishing to me is the language and voice of Wheatley’s work. She was brought to America from Senegal/Gambia at the age of 7 and purchased by a family in Boston to purportedly “accompany the family’s children and share in domestic work.” As a result, she inadvertently was taught to read and write, receiving a stellar classical education alongside the children, something unheard for a slave. She read widely the literature and early works of Virgil and Ovid, John Milton and Shakespeare, and the style of her writing reflects this classical immersion.
The more I read the more surprised I was, assuming that all African slaves in the 1700’s were illtreated and illiterate. Thanks to my Sophomore English teacher, Dr. Kehl, I learned to love the language and style of Shakespeare’s writing (though I often needed assistance in deciphering his meaning.) When I first became a Christian I enjoyed the King James Version of the Bible for just that reason. Reading Wheatley’s poetry was like reading Shakespeare and I was drawn in.
Thanks to her owners and their wide circles in Boston society Wheatley’s work was known and shared widely in Boston and across the Atlantic. Her first published poem was printed when she was only 13 and she went on to write many, many more. Mary Wheatley, Phillis’ benefactress, saw to it that bookseller Archibald Bell begin to circulate Phillis’ work, and the debut edition of Poems on Various Subjects, Religious and Moral was published in 1773. Poems on Various Subjects was the first volume of poetry by an American Negro published in modern times. Its readers included notables like Benjamin Franklin, among others and was well received and widely supported.

Continue reading “Female Faith Poet-Phillis Wheatley”

Seven Books for the Seasons

Did you know that woodchucks (aka the groundhog) and Jesus’ birthday have something in common? On the church calendar, February 2nd is Candlemas, the last Feast Day in the Christian year dated in reference to Christmas.

presbyterian calendar

This celebration of Candlemas marks the presentation of Jesus in the Temple 40 days after his birth (as Jewish custom required), and the purification ceremony of the Virgin Mary at the same time. (Luke 2:29-32). The word ‘Candlemas’ (or Candlemass) refers to the custom of blessing and distributing candles and carrying them in procession before the Mass celebrated in churches in many parts of the globe. The lighting of the candles is symbolic of Christ, the light of the world, as Simeon declared in the Luke passage above.

What does that have to do with a groundhog? An old, old rhyme translated from the Scottish tells us:

If Candlemas Day be fair and bright
Winter will have another fight.
If Candlemas Day brings cloud and rain,
Winter will not come again.

So, if the weather is ‘fair and bright’ on Candlemas day, you can expect more winter weather. If the day brings ‘cloud and rain’, then the weather in the weeks ahead should improve.  And there you have it: another only-in-America observance involving a groundhog predicting the weather with roots in the Christian calendar, anchored in the life of Christ.

But this post isn’t about Christmas or candles or woodchucks–it’s about reading around the Church Year, anchored not only in the life of Christ but our own lives throughout the seasons, months and days in God’s creation.

Here are seven books currently gracing my bookshelves which have accompanied me in my own cycles through the seasons according to Creation and the birth of Christ. These include poetry and essays by writers from the 1800’s–George MacDonald–through the 1950’s and into the present day, all as rich and varied as their authors.

THE CHURCH YEAR

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Candlemas  Malcolm Guite

They came, as called, according to the Law.

Though they were poor and had to keep things simple,

They moved in grace, in quietness, in awe,

For God was coming with them to His temple.

Amidst the outer court’s commercial bustle

They’d waited hours, enduring shouts and shoves,

Buyers and sellers, sensing one more hustle,

Had made a killing on the two young doves.

They come at last with us to Candlemas

And keep the day the prophecies came true

We glimpse with them, amidst our busyness,

The peace that Simeon and Anna knew.

For Candlemas still keeps His kindled light,

Against the dark our Saviour’s face is bright.

Malcolm Guite is a poet and priest at Girton College, Cambridge in the U.K. These two vocations dovetail in Sounding the Seasons, making church feasts liturgy accessible to readers who may be less familiar with the church calendar. Guite’s sonnets begin with the season of Advent and read through to the Feast of Christ the King on November 11th. As an Evangelical still learning about the Christian way of marking time, I especially like the Index with Scripture references Guite uses, as well as the correlation to the liturgical calendar.

Continue reading “Seven Books for the Seasons”

The Next Best Yes {a #poem}

  Now Let  And  Yet How can the power of my surrender be wrapped up in three slight letters? A mix of mercy in a single syllable? And yet. Placed just so, like fine crystal refracting evening sun into shards  of light, they precede each sentence, illuming my way to the next best yes. *** I’m grateful to Jesus, who is eternal and an all-at-once … Continue reading The Next Best Yes {a #poem}

A Slow Walk into the New Year

It’s New Year’s Eve as I sit here in my Seattle dining room, typing with a view to the sky. Things are quiet; only the chimes noising their song outside my window as the gray and muted horizon frames the day. It’s time to be pensive and think deep thoughts, I suppose. Here are some of mine as we end not only this year, but … Continue reading A Slow Walk into the New Year