Rahab, Holy Week & Hamilton, A Scarlet Thread

The Scarlet Cord

There was no faithline or family

promises passed on through prayer.

Only a bloodline from Creation’s

start, A scarlet thread bound and

wound together, a cord the color of life

made by a Weaver who dyed it red

with blood. Woven with the loom

of love, a lifeline coming my way~

over the wall and bright enough

for me to see, alone and far away

like Rahab’s spies. Salvation’s

sign let down from Heaven, life ring

through the air, a grasp of new

grace as I welcomed my Omnipresent

Pursuer. No earthly reason to be

ushered in save for God sending a sign

to this wanderer in the land of Jericho.

(from my book Hearts on Pilgrimage-Poems & Prayers)

*****

I haven’t gone by my given name since I was eight years old. There are a few spelling tests and essays poorly pasted into my childhood scrapbook that attest to that. My mother named me Joanna after exactly no one that I can discover in our family tree. It’s a wonder I never asked her why; she died far too young and it didn’t occur to me to query her on the matter before she passed away. I was too busy being 1) young and foolish 2) radically saved and full of myself and 3) raising small children and still foolish about what mattered, i.e. conversations with one’s parents.

My name is Joanna Lee, my ‘in trouble’ name, but I have been called Jody for as long as I can remember.

My grandsons were visiting recently and asked me if my name was in the Bible.

“Actually, it is,” I said. I read them the passage from Luke where the apostle records events of Easter morning. There she was at the tomb, Joanna, right along with the other two Marys.

That story has always surprised me–God’s calling me by name before I was born, in spite of my mother’s and father’s intentions. Or maybe because of; I will never know, but God knew.

My father left our family when I was five years old, my brother was four and my sister Elle two years old. He never came back into my life, an occurrence that still colors my life in some ways. I was raised by a stepfather whose name I took, and then he, too, was out of my life by the time I was fifteen.

*****

I was listening to the soundtrack of “Hamilton” the other day, a musical that has been an anchor for me during this last year of Covidtide. It seems an odd thing to mark a pandemic anniversary by a Broadway musical, but here is why: Lin-Manuel Miranda offered his remarkable creation to the world via the magic of streaming television because theaters were all closed across the country due to Covid.

Instead of running the movie version of the play in theaters as scheduled, the film appeared on my TV screen (thank you, Disney Plus). I watched Hamilton for the first time on the Fourth of July last year when it originally aired.  (Side note: I learned more about American history in 2 1/2 hours than I’d known my entire life. And I went to college.)

The music and lyrics of ‘Hamilton’ are a happy/sad reminder of life during the uncertainty of the pandemic and a marker that we are now one year on the other side of it. Changed. Different. Grateful, I hope.

Besides being inquisitive, (“Nana, I have question….. ” is the way Grandson Number 4 begins most of his sentences), he is also a Broadway musical aficionado After the recent visit and his mention of one of the songs, I decided to find ‘Hamilton’ on Spotify and give the soundtrack a listen again.

Much of the music brought tears to my eyes, particularly the songs about being orphaned. One in particular, “Dear Theodosia” moved me deeply–the lines, “my father wasn’t around….you know that I’ll be around…” made me weep while I stood at my kitchen sink peeling carrots. The truth is like that, welling up when we hear a familiar story buried deep in our bones.

Of course in God’s story we are never orphaned (whether we discover that early or later in life). Regardless of our parents’ presence in our lives, we are named and known by our Heavenly Father. I didn’t learn that my name was in the Bible until I was 40 years old.

Which brings me back to Rahab and Easter morning. 

Rahab’s history as a woman of questionable character reveals her heart for God. As we all know, she appears in the lineage of Christ, a direct ancestor of Christ’s birth. What grace. What mercy. What a perfect picture of redemption.

****

The thread in all this rambling is again, a song. One I discovered this week in the Faithful Project.**  I was scrolling on Instagram and through a rabbit trail found some of my favorite musicians and songwriters–Taylor Leonhardt, Christa Wells, Amy Grant, Ellie Holcomb–gathered (pre pandemic) to write and make music, focusing on women in the Bible.

Three powerful songs have been released so far and they all blew me away:

“This Time I Will Bring Praise” is told from Leah’s point of view. (Written by Kelly Minter, Christy Nockels, and Leslie Jordan). My daughter’s name is Leah.

“A Woman” tells the story of Christ from Mary Magdalene’s point of view.

“Once my name crossed His lips, How could I keep quiet?

I have seen the Lord and He sees me.

He said my name and told me to go and speak.”

My heart soared and broke a little listening to this Easter song told from the point of view of the women at the cross. (Sung by Ellie Holcomb and Amy Grant.)

And “Rahab’s Lullaby” declares that,

“He is God above,

He is God below, …..

There’s no place you’ll be that He cannot go.”

****

And here we are–the scarlet thread. God wraps up my days and weaves His voice through words, music and song, reminding me who He is and Whose I am.

May you find Him, too as Father, Finder and Friend this Holy Week.

———-

**Ann Voskamp, Ruth Chou Simons and Trillia Newbell are some of the women speaking as part of The Faithful Project, along with the musicians. The event is streaming on May 1st. You can pay $29 for the event alone or $59 for the video, book and music.  HERE is the link to register; Compassion International is one of the sponsors.

 

Anna Waits {a #poem}

Light is coming
she’d heard and read,
and widowed, she had
nothing calling her name
but His across the years
like an echo from The Garden
so long ago.
She’d been seeking
(was He hiding?),
steadfastly determined,
for what else was her life
but this–an always looking
in the temple courts,
trusting the doorway would
be darkened some day
when Light came into the room.

(sharing from the Archives)

The Day I Cleaned the Front of My Fridge & Found the Heart of Advent

The arrival of Advent marks the beginning of the church year, anchored  on the fourth Sunday before Christmas. In the year of our Lord 2020, the date is November 29th. Side note–New this year for 2020 FREE PRINTABLE cards for each Sunday of Advent. Just click HERE.

The word ‘advent’ is from the Latin word ‘veni’–adventus–coming. The cornerstone of the Advent season is the idea of making room for God to come.  It is a time of waiting, as Mary did, with the impossible promise that a Saviour would be born, the miracle of light coming to a dark world.

What does that have to do with refrigerators? Let me share.

Several Novembers ago we ordered new kitchen appliances. Everything started when the microwave died. This led to a conversation about the refrigerator which had been humming its way loudly to a definite motor-y end. We dug out the paperwork and discovered it was 17 years old.

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Here’s a photo of our kitchen on Thanksgiving 2000, one year after we got it, all brand spanking new. That’s my daughter Leah the chef basting the turkey. (And no, I will not talk about the psychedelic flooring.)

After a thorough appliance reconnoiter, husband and I decided to join the Black Friday crowds and head to Home Depot to shop the sales. Four hours later, we had ordered for the first time in our 35 plus years of being married, a matching fridge, dishwasher, microwave and range.  In stainless steel. We are so de rigueur.

Maybe my dear readers are already aware of what such a purchase entails, but I don’t think we considered exactly how arduous ‘out with the old, in with the new’ would be under such circumstances.   The ensuing chores involved five hours of cleaning of stove and frig–outsides only–and cleaning of the floors underneath. I was appalled at the debris and gunk on the sides of our range. I blame 16 years of coffee prep. And under the frig? I will also not talk about that.

I had been notified via my daughter in our Thanksgiving conversations a few nights’ previous that magnets do not stick to stainless steel. Oh. I did not know that.  Well, there go the grandkids’ photos and artwork. There go my magnets from Laguna Beach and Yosemite, my favorite of Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory, Scripture cards, quotes I liked.  A veritable bulletin board available 24/7, reminding me constantly of All the Things.

People, places, Bible verses, photographs. Football schedules, equivalent baking measures, an encyclopedia of input and information.  It would all have to go.

So, empty box in hand, I swept the surface clean and windexed it to its glorious, brand-new, former self.

My words are a paltry representation of the change that came over me after that clean sweep. Every time I walked into the kitchen I literally breathed a peaceful sigh. Husband and I remarked many times throughout the next day at how pleased we were with the empty space, that it seemed quieter in the kitchen because all the noise on the fridge was gone.

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. 

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 dream
above, beyond to distant beauty.
Consider the immeasurable
heavens inside, reckon my
need as I’m handed a telescope.

Brightened eyes rest and remember.


This poem was written as part of Poems for Ephesians, an online project of D.S. Martin at McMasters Divinity College. I was particularly taken by Eugene Peterson’s rendering of these verses in Chapter 1: 17) “I ask the God our master, Jesus Christ, the God of glory – to make you intelligent and discerning in knowing him personally, 18 your eyes focused and clear, so that you can see exactly what it is he is calling you to do, grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life he has for Christians, 19 oh, the utter extravagance of his work in us who trust him – endless energy, boundless strength! 20 All this energy issues from Christ: God raised him from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, 21 in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments,” 

How appropriate this passage is for these times, #lifeinthetimeofthecorona, where we cling to the truth that God is “in charge of running the universe, everything from galaxies to governments.” And, that as believers in Jesus, we would be urged to “grasp the immensity of this glorious way of life.”

I want to reckon my need as I’m handed a telescope, to rest and remember the power of Jesus in me and on display in the world, from the particular to farflung planets. He is over it all.

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 (literally ‘fat Tuesday’ in French) 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. I also have snapshots of folks in the crowds during one particularly bawdy celebration. 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 (February 26th)—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.

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.

When God Disrupts Your Christmas Plans on Purpose

IMG_20191216_120837.jpgEmmanuel. God with us. That’s the core of Christmas, that God the Son left his place in Heaven and came to us as a baby in a manger. What an unlikely beginning for a King. Talk about a disruption.

Our pastor spoke last Sunday of just what that Incarnation looked like, how God came into the world at Christmas. There was a visual he mentioned of Jesus putting his hand on peoples’ hearts to “stop the bleeding.” Not physical bleeding, but that dissipation and dissolution that leads to pain and hurt, often making us act like the broken people we are.

Sometimes just being kind during Christmas is all someone needs to transfuse them with life. I know it’s all I need. Which is why celebrating the birth of Jesus is an act of defiance, to choose to live like people who know that He came.

To notice others, speak kindly to them, acknowledge their worth as people made in God’s image. Wish them a “Merry Christmas” but also ask how they’re doing when they look harassed and harried. During this season most of all we are challenged to incarnate Jesus to the world in the face of all that would cause us to do otherwise.  To choose joy in spite of what we see around us.

“Incarnate” means to embody in the flesh. Sometimes (most times) the way we act is more important than what we say. We don’t have to even mention Jesus’ name, but simply act in order that a door might open someday for a conversation about Him.

Of course, there is an enemy of our souls who wants to steal our joy and hijack our message, so it makes sense that it might seem like all Hell breaks loose in the weeks before Christmas. I know, I probably shouldn’t say ‘hell’ in the same sentence where I’m talking about Christ’s birth and all. But I think when God’s kingdom is advancing in the small ways we seek to honor him, there is always pushback.

What’s in a Name? Only Everything {an Advent Post}

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There can be no manner of doubt a name is more easily remembered when its meaning is understood.  –A.J. Macself, from the Foreword, “Plant Names Simplified”

I forgot to plant my amaryllis bulb the week of All Hallow’s Eve. I wrote about the practice in my Christmas season book, how planting a crinkly, brown bulb with antenna-like roots can be a lesson in patience and waiting during the Advent and Christmas season. But I was too busy to remember. Goodness.

So, I potted the inglorious bulb the other day after soaking the accompanying ground-up coconut shreds in warm water, watching them miraculously expand and nearly overtake my 32-ounce glass measuring cup. Amaryllis duly snugged into plastic container, I pondered something while I cleaned up the mess in my sink.

What does ‘amaryllis’ mean, anyway?

I’m fond of learning the Latin for plant names, shrubs and trees. As an amateur gardener, I pride myself on the pronunciation and meaning of the various denizens of my yard and garden. And some of the names are not Latin at all, but simply named for people or a place.

Amaryllis. Well. I went to the bookshelf and took down my slim green volume of “Plant Names Simplified–Their Meanings and Pronunciation,” (A.T. Johnson, 1931, W.H. & L Collingridge, U.K.) No matter the book is missing pages 51-82, duly noted on the inside cover by me in July 2012. (It’s a very old book and was gifted to me when a friend found it at an antique store.) I needed only go to the beginning of this plant dictionary; I knew the A entries would all be there.

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Of the two names given to each plant, the first, which may be likened to our surname (or first name) is the generic, or group name. This can occur only once, as a group name, but the second, the specific (or species) name is only given to one plant of the same genus, as is a Christian name in a family, and may occur in many different genera. (From the Introduction).

The elegant amaryllis, I discovered, has only one name and is neither Greek nor Latin, but a “classical name after that of a shepherdess in Theocritus and Virgil, Greek and Latin poets.” I was pleased to find this entry as I’m an aspiring poet and also was taken by the fact that it is after a shepherdess. The final bloom of an amaryllis can nearly be equated with the crook of a shepherd’s staff, I suppose. And, there is the occasion of planting an amaryllis, during that season that precedes the birth of Jesus, our Shepherd.

I think about the name Christian, which “occurs in many different genera.” ‘Genera’ is of course the root word of generate and generations.

The generations of Jesus have continued for hundreds of years. and beginning with the first root of our family, that stump of Jesse-Jesus, will continue to grow. I am forever grateful to claim Jesus’ name as my own, and identify with the Christ, my Saviour.

The name above every other name.

The Light that is coming in the dark days of Winter.

Emmanuel–God with us.

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5 Favorite Things About Fall

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There are so many reasons I love this time of year–it’s hard to choose, but here are my top five:

  1. Pumpkins Who knew there were white pumpkins and bumpy pumpkins and sorta-blue pumpkins and well, all manner of heirloom squash family members?? God’s creativity abounds in the gourd department, no? The displays at Trader Joe’s and elsewhere are a delight for the eyes. (But no Pumpkin Spice anything. Sorry Starbucks. And sorry, Hostess. Pumpkin Spice Twinkies? Um, no.)

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2. Half-a-pie moons in the night sky, crisp, clear mornings. Dew on the leaves in the garden.P_20180920_095150 Purple asters, full, ripe raspberries, colors beginning to creep up the foliage in the Japanese Stewartia.P_20180920_123823The world is getting ready to sleep.

I praise God for the way He speaks to us in creation. As nature is cycling through her seasons, the picture outside my window sends a visual message that murmurs just below the surface: I need to s l o w down. The waning hours of daylight are a subtle hint.P_20180919_081748From Websters, ‘Dormant’–asleep or inactive, latent but capable of being activated. From biology, a relatively inactive or resting condition in which some processes are slowed down or suspended. It is good to not always be in a hurry, the world whizzes by fast enough as it is. Tarrying awhile inside or out helps us to see that while we sleep God is still at work. Capable of being activated.

3. Cool nights mean fragrant candles, warm socks, and cozy fires. 

Burning Candles

There are fewer hours of daylight, forcing us inside to rest and redraw boundaries. Again the period of dormancy and slumber outside provides a reflective way to re-center ourselves physically. While my nature is to please everyone and Do All the Things that people ask of me, the natural environment moves me to a mental and spiritual process of gathering myself in. I’m grateful for the natural slowing down of Autumn when we’re inside more and attentive to the quiet. This posture leaves me more margin in my life to say ‘yes’ to God and what He’s called me to do, instead of overextending myself when I shouldn’t.

4. Cooking, Baking = Creativity.

We’ve had some humdinger, hot summers in Seattle the last couple of years and the last place I’ve wanted to be is in the kitchen. Now that the days are much cooler, I relish the chance to return to cooking and baking, especially on Sunday. That probably sounds odd, but it’s how I sabbath in the Fall. Rest to me looks like creativity–make something or organize something. I spend most of my days working with words, which requires a lot of attention to this old brain. Working with my hands leaves my mind free to process, another way to build white space and margin into my days. Plus, banana bread. It’s a win-win.

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My daughter Leah and I in the kitchen. A very long time ago. (I mean, look at the floor. Can we talk about the floor?)

5. Fresh Starts

Rosh Hashanah–When I taught in Hebrew school several years ago I welcomed the immersion into Jewish practices surrounding the beginning of the year. Rosh Hashanah literally means ‘the Head of the Year’ and signals the beginning of the Jewish New Year. How interesting that this head of the year coincides with the first day of school, a time for new beginnings, no matter whether it’s Kindergarten or college. When I read back through my journals each year I find a record of God bringing the most dramatic changes in my life in each successive September. As a Christian I love the way God weaves the Hebrew festivals into our New Testament understanding of Scripture. Our lives as believers in Messiah Jesus are a reflection of the type and shadow of those festivals God gave His people from the very beginning. I love being part of that. 35a52-sam_0246

You can find out more about Rosh Hashanah here.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God has set eternity in our hearts. I think that’s why we sense God’s call to us, soul-deep, in this season. How about you? What are your favorite things about Fall?  I’d love to hear in the comments. And as always, If you’ve liked this post, would you consider sharing it with a friend? Email, Facebook, Twitter buttons are right down below. Thank you ever so much!

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