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.

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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.

 

Gilt Gift {a #poem}

Sometimes I guilt myself right out

of joy. Like the surprise of an iridescent

butterfly from an unsightly cocoon,

who would expect this shimmering

show in morning sunlight?

Eyes are trained on Northwest firs

framed in blue, frosted feeders,

feathered presents hidden among

the trees.

I’ve held my breath, wondering.

Did my mother ever ponder stilling

herself, take a moment with the

birds in her California garden? Gaze

restful at morning fog carried

in on marine air? Was she ever at ease

in her troubled life, as she parented

us alone?

I will never know.

I cannot ring her up to ask, there

is no email to send, no letter to write.

She is gone, stolen far too soon.

I consider this feigned injustice.

How wildly unfair I should gather

such beauty as surely she never did,

then abandon my thoughts. No.

I will not leave reason to balance the

ledger, steal this away, too. Feathered

hum of heat, filigreed pane, frosty view.

I drink in sleeping green, hear her

whisper over my shoulder,

Breathe in the brilliant morning.

Surrender second guesses and leave

logic to the philosophers.

I startle to the present, welcome with

wonder this gilt gift, nothing to ponder

but my thanks.

–From my new book “Hearts on Pilgrimage-Poems&Prayers” 

****

I share this poem coincidentally on Mothering Sunday, an observance in the U.K. to honor mothers. Mothering Sunday began as an explicitly religious event of the 16th Century, with no connection to mothers at all. The word “mothering” referred to the “mother church”, which is to say the main church or cathedral of the region. It became a tradition that, on the fourth Sunday of Lent, people would return to their mother church for a special service. This pilgrimage was apparently known as “going a-mothering”, and became something of a holiday event, with domestic servants traditionally given the day off to visit their own families as well as their mother church.

If we find ourselves returning to our “mother” church, we may similarly find ourselves returning to Christ, the bringer of joy and restoration in our lives, regardless of our life experience with our own mothers. That was the intent with my poem, to mirror God’s grace to us, His care and love that he so lavishly pours out on us as a parent. Our days are all gift.

Unwrap yours today, friend, and receive it with joy.

-Jody

Susan Cowger-Slender Warble, Poetry

Susan Cowger confesses she was the ‘black sheep’ in the family, not quite fitting into the mold of family vocations–nurses, pharmacists, sensible people. Instead, her first language was art, a calling that led to a BA in Fine Art (1977) from Montana State University and subsequent MFA in Poetry with a secondary emphasis in Art from Eastern Washington University in 1997.

Susan is a sculptor, visual artist (oils and watercolor) and a writer. What made her take the leap from two dimensional and three-dimensional work to words?

“Art is often abstract. I wanted to help people enter into the art, so I started writing little poems. It seemed to help,” she said.

Susan later founded Rock and Sling Press and Journal in 2004, a well-received publication in the world of faith writing. Editor and fellow poet Laurie Klein joined the masthead for many years and partnered with Susan in its mission. Rock and Sling’s operations were passed to Whitworth University in Spokane WA in 2010.

Susan has continued her creative expressions in the paths of writing, sculpting and painting and recently published Slender Warble, a collection of poems from Wipf & Stock’s Poeima Series.

The book’s back cover blurb explains the title.

“Within the bewildering paradox of suffering and beauty, we often miss the Invisible One. Never quite what you’d imagine, the nudge of his Presence can be mind-bending. More often, the Almighty gives no more than a slender warble. This collection is about finding the presence of God in spite of and because of the trappings that make us most human.”

The trajectory of the work covers four parts of Cowger’s own faith journey, beautifully summed up in the opening poem here. The arc of her writing includes sections in the book: In the Tunnel has poems that show how one begins to listen for God. Sections Between Two Hands, Is That You? and A Voice Clears, record the way one comes to faith, not in an instant but in a lifetime of awakenings.

Each section of the book begins with a “Weather Report” as she calls it, including the date and time of day, whether it’s early morning or dusk. They also set the tone for each section and frame the poems.

The theme of water weaves through the poems, looming as a powerful, pummeling force in a piece about nearly drowning.  Drink and thirst, floating and sinking, as well as the ocean feature frequently; water appears also as “silent drops of dew.”

Cowger’s signature style is punctuation-less, a remarkable feat for an editor and writer. When I asked her about the odd line breaks and spaces instead of periods or commas, she remarked, “It was intentional. I hope to redeem the current ways of communicating. We speak too fast, write in abbreviations, listen only half-heartedly.”

“My poems force the reader to slow down, read with care, pause at the end of each line and breathe. One must pay attention.”

“Light in the Woods” Susan Cowger

Cowger continues to pay attention in her studio in Eastern Washington and shares her art work and poetry online via her beautiful, new website. The tagline? “Art and Poetry are mirrors to see what you love.”

I hope you’ll take a moment to visit, view her work and more importantly, open the door to the possibility of poetry and listen for God’s “slender warble” in your life.

You can find Susan’s book HERE.

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To read more of my poetry book reviews and interviews, click HERE

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.

Begin Again {a #poem}

2015-10-09 07.06.05.jpgSeptember’s singular day arrives with the turning
of many pages, paper or otherwise. Limbs of another
rich and growing year branch upward, leading
to vistas bright and unknown. An imaginary climb,
I’m grateful for handholds, eyes on the open, azure sky.
Did Eden’s first morning in that tree-filled glade
startle the couple awake, their eyes on a new dawn?
Burst with the gift of hope, that unknown need of a
fresh start? I say yes.
This new day, like that one, rich with possibilities
awaits as we journey. Now at a walk (or sometimes fly)
and fall, sure of a steady Hand to right us.
Our steps re-turned to the Kingdom, the sound
of that Voice birthed anew in the blazing
blue that calls towards home.

 

March, April & May in Books #ReadUpstream

P_20190129_114828_vHDR_Onn keeping with the inauguration of the #ReadUpstream movement, I’m going to speak a little about what I’ve been reading and maybe entice you to do your own reading ‘upstream’; i.e. choosing classics and good books that speak to your heart, even if no one else is reading them. More about the origin of #ReadUpstream is here.

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When it comes to those things that bring me joy, I’m not sure whether I fancy birds or books more. Perhaps equally. I have books with ‘birds’ in the title melding those two—a love of reading and a fascination with my avian friends. There is much I learn from both—life lessons from the birds, echoing God’s message of carefree, trust-filled living and lessons in the lines of the many books that populate my home.

I often am reading many books at one time, which is why the title of this post is “March, April and May in Books.” There are many books that continue to engage me, but I will attempt to whittle down the list to include some of my current favorites.

  1. Fierce Convictions—The Life of Hannah More—Poet, Reformer, Abolitionist, Karen Swallow Prior

I first learned the name of Hannah More in the film ‘Amazing Grace’ (2006) about William Wilberforce and his campaign against the slave trade. There was a small part played by a feisty young woman named Hannah, whose name I catalogued for later. The later arrived with the release in 2014 of this book by Karen Swallow Prior, Professor of English at Liberty University.

Hannah More’s life was set in the backdrop of Bristol, England in the early 1700’s, a historical period that was the height of the slave trade in Europe. I’ve only just begun reading how Hannah and her sisters started a school for women, an outright novelty for the day and age, as well as learning of the unheard of practice for her to spend time–imagine this–writing in a place of her own-mostly poetry. This particular privilege was made possible by the allowance of kind benefactor who was a previous suitor.

Hannah and I have much in common—a love of writing and reading and a background in education. Of course, the part we don’t share is an experience in opposing the slave trade. That tale is ahead of me in this book and I look forward to reading it.

The Joy of Poetry-Megan Willome

“What if there were no poetry?  What if all life were prose?
 Some people wouldn’t mind. One friend told me her son didn’t know how to do imaginative play. He lined up his action figures and then shrugged and walked away.  He didn’t know what else to do.  Poetry gives you an idea of what to do, or at least the idea that something more can be done.” 
Megan Willome, “The Joy of Poetry” p. 138
When I mention to people that I’m reading a book of poetry the response is often, “I’m not into poetry. I just don’t get it.”
If I tell them I WRITE poetry, they look at me as if I said I ate blue crayons for breakfast and quickly change the subject.
I just finished reading Megan Willome’s user-friendly volume “The Joy of Poetry” (TSPoetry Press) and I can say with confidence—this book introduces poetry in a way that will make you swear off eating crayons forever—and might entice you towards a richer life of reading what you’ve been missing all this time.
The next to last chapter is my favorite, aptly titled, “Why Poetry?” Willome (pronounced, ‘willow-me’) illuminates the answers to this question beautifully. Here are the reasons that spoke to me (in no particular order):
     1)    Why poetry? For Kinship—when a writer shines a light on something that speaks to you, there is a connection, an ‘aha! I get that’ feeling.  Poets, in their succinct style, pack a lot of meaning into fewer words; many of those words go straight to our heart.
Illustration: Willome weaves the story of her mother’s very long bout with cancer and the last years of her life struggling with the disease. Megan and Merry Nell’s relationship was not all sweetness and light during this time; I can relate. My own mother died of cancer very young (55, I was only 33) and we also had some rough edges in the way we related to each other in her last few years.
Two lines in Megan’s poem ‘Blue Moon’ are underlined and circled in my book:
“we talk as only mothers and daughters can—
Speech as rocky as the lunar surface.”
There’s a kinship woven into those words.
      2)    Why poetry? For Delight—Certainly you’ve read Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” or something by Shel Silverstein? These delight in their nonsensicality (yes, I made that up).  Willome mentions a yoga class and a discovery of the delight of  ‘poetry’ in her instructor’s directions as she uses metaphors to illustrate different poses. There are so many poems I’ve read that just plain leave me smiling—they’re accessible, readable, relatable, beautiful. Poems can delight us in simple ways.

The View from Here–a Seattle Portrait

A mystery, really–these mute carriers
of a collection of qualities
known only to humankind.
The sway of the valise,
a pendulum of skin-covered appendages,
the flip of the handbag:
back-side, front-side, side-side
synchronized while hiking the concrete
sun-filled hillsides up to the top~
View Just Ahead.
Oblivious to said view
in their busy ant kingdom
they strain necks bookward,
heads poised at odd angles screenward
or eyes staring downward.
Were it not for the rude city sounds
punctuating the air and street
their safely stopping would be
in question.

Ah safety….here come the wise
and cheerful ones;
this time without screens or books in hand
but fists of flowers, posies from
the Market, bread from the bakery man.
Trained on the skyscrapers, brave
tourists follow, jaunty blue and white
sneakered young men.
Improving their education, retirees
bring up the rear, sunglasses atop
their summery heads, Canons and Kodaks
draped about the neck.

I record these words from my front seat perch,
relishing the record of comrades in view.
I watch them watching, capturing
beauty in sun and flower and sky
snapping at city scapes in awe and wonder.
The eyes remember what the ears dismiss
and my vision, peopled with His creation
here on Earth, as it must be in Heaven,
remains amazed by it all.
~~~~~

Linking with Kelly and the Small Wonder Community.
More beautiful words there.

The Traveling Mischief Cafe–Tweetspeak Poetry

In late fall a few years ago I had the pleasure of hosting the diminuitive L.L. Barkat, a woman with a contagious laugh, a love of poetry and instigator of the Mischief Cafe (among other things.) The Mischief Cafe is sort of a traveling road show with tea, toast and poetry. Laura and I had connected online and had never met before this occasion, but when I read she’d be taking the cafe idea on the road I contacted her and extended an invitation. The Mischief Cafe idea originated with the Tweetspeak Poetry community, which L.L. founded, and came about from a Facebook conversation which morphed (156 comments later) into a book, complete with found poems, blank pages and poetry prompts as well. The blank pages are my favorite. You can read more about Mischief Cafe’s origins here.

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With a word like ‘mischief’ in its declaration, having a Mischief Café in your own home (well, we started in the kitchen) one would expect at least some laughter.  Even if the guests included almost complete strangers whom you’d actually never met in real life.

So, with a feather boa in my hand, I was looking forward to some fun. We were duly rewarded. There were uproarious guffaws from a couple of guests (I’m not naming names) as stories were shared and hearts were bared.

While I expected a congenial time–I enjoy having guests in my home—even if they’re—ahem, an hour and a half early–but the ease with which said total strangers made themselves at home was a gift and a surprise.

Laura (L.L.) and I had time to cover ground in person that we’d only typed out between us. Our conversation was like that between old friends, friends I knew well but hadn’t seen in a long while. Friends who shared a love of poetry and writing and mischief (oh, and tea).

photo by LL Barkat,
(l to r) Laura Smedley, Kimberlee Conway Ireton, moi, Jennifer Wagner(Poet Laundry)

 

And we had tea….with cinnamon toast, buttered very liberally by L.L. She made herself completely at home in my kitchen and chatted as if we’d been doing it all our lives.
That was a blessed surprise.Kimberlee stole my feather boa…Jennifer and Laura smiling, LL being elusive

I was also surprised to be intrigued rather than repelled (as I was on my first read) by the form and sound of a sestina.  As L.L. read aloud one of her poems, I found myself listening to the words as they looped through the air, trailing each other in conjoined phrases, like links in a chain holding a golden key at the end.  I felt like the puzzle of the form had been unlocked as I listened and thought I might actually try to write one.

This graphic below was a huge help, and also inadvertently illustrates the sound of Laura’s voice reading a selection from her book ‘Love, Etc.’ the poem, ‘Petit a Petit L’oiseau fait son nid’ (Little by little, the bird makes his nest).

If you’d like to know more about Tweetspeak Poetry or how to order your copy of ‘Mischief Cafe’, click here.

“Booked”–Karen Swallow Prior

french horn-001I first met (via words, of course) Professor Karen Swallow Prior through her coming of age book of essays, titled simply Booked (T.S. Poetry Press, 2012) . I related to so much of what she said about the way literature shaped her life growing up and eventually the way books led her to God.  I have since had the privilege of meeting Karen in person, but in the meantime, here’s my “review” of Booked in the form of a letter.  

Dear Ms. Prior,

I want to let you know how much your words in “Booked-Literature in the Soul of Me” have resonated with me. 

I eagerly awaited the book’s release from TSPoetry Press, looking forward to your weaving some of the great classics of literature with your walk of faith. I, too have also found solace and a salvation of sorts through books, so I was interested in your story.

I had a Mrs. Lovejoy in 8th grade as well, but her name was Mrs. Jenkins. I fell in love with language because of her.

When I perused the Table of Contents I was delighted to see Jane Eyre and Tess of the D’urbervilles included. The other authors and selections listed I had heard of but never actually read (well, except for Charlotte’s Web—who hasn’t read Charlotte’s Web?) so I anticipated hearing your spin on them.

The great surprise to me was discovering ‘Booked’ was not about literature but about all of life–sex and marriage, God, romance and reality, faith and doubt–yes, all of life.

My copy of ‘Booked’ has a multitude of pages with folded down corners, underlines and highlighted sentences, plus a list of notes in the back, all to remind me of phrases and subjects I wanted to revisit later.

As I sat to write this letter I thought I’d catalogue some of those lines and phrases that spoke to me from each chapter, but it was clear there were just too many.  (YOU know what your book says, I needn’t remind you).

However, I was able to choose a passage from the 5th Chapter–Jane Eyre, which shows your remarkable ability of putting into words for me the power of why I choose to write.
The selection is about ‘Voice’:

“It is no coincidence that the term “voice” has come to mean in modern usage much more than just the sound made by the vocal organs, but also the means by which we make our individual selves known, not only to others but to ourselves.
For the connection between the self and language is inseparable:
it is through language that the self becomes.”

The self becomes itself through language (the written ‘voice’) shared with others.

Yes.

One more thing: should you live in a city nearby I’d gladly make the journey to whichever classroom you were in just to hear you speak about your passions. A good teacher who loves her subject can convince anyone to fall in love with wonderful, old books.

Yes, you could make a believer out of anyone, absolutely anyone.

Sincerely,

Jody Lee Collins