April 30, 2017

Noah's Wife-A new Promise

Today we’ll meet a woman who has no name in the Bible. Tradition, and Hebrew Midrash, name her Naamah. She is the wife of Noah. Let’s listen to her story. It is about a new beginning and a renewed promise.
We lived in a violent place. It was said that the sons of God visited human women. The children of these unions were Nephilim-giants who towered over the rest of us. They warred with one another and we were caught up in the conflicts. Many also followed the example of these half-breeds and did all kinds of wicked things. 
My father did not participate in the evil. I was given in marriage to Noah, son of Lamech. He was also righteous. In fact, Noah was one of the few who still looked to the Lord God for guidance and who continued to worship as his ancestors had taught. From him I learned the story of Adam and Eve, and their sons. Noah was descended from Seth, third son of Adam.
We had 3 sons. We named them Shem, Ham, and Japheth. Together we taught them to look to the Lord God for guidance.
“How long can this evil persist and grow worse?” I asked myself, Noah, and even the Lord God.
Noah shook his head. “I do not know, Wife. Surely the Lord God will do something.”
What happened was something I would never have predicted. It was terrible, and scenes still haunt my dreams.
One day Noah came to me and said, “I have to build a giant boat.”
I know my mouth dropped open at his statement, then I frowned. “There is no water here. What do you need a boat for? There is much other work that needs to be done.”
“It is what the Lord God told me to do,” my husband explained patiently. “I was praying today, and as clear as can be, I heard the Lord God speak in my heart. The Lord God told me that his is going to destroy the earth with a flood because of the violence of men.”
I gasped, “A flood!” We had experienced flooding only last year when the spring rains had come to swiftly for the water to drain into the rivers. It was devastating, but I could not really comprehend a flood that would affect all life.  
“The Lord God told me to make it of cypress wood with rooms and gave me the size,” my husband interrupted my thoughts as he continued to explain. “The Lord God promised ‘I will establish my covenant with you. You, Naamah, and your sons and their wives will be safe in the ark. You will also take 2 of every living thing into the ark with you-a male and a female.' We are to gather up all the grains and other food seeds to make a new start, too.”
I could not understand all the sizes of lumber that Noah thought I would be interested in. He and our sons went to work building the huge boat. With my daughters-in-law, I set about gathering up food and seeds and other provisions. Eventually the work was done.
“It is time to load up animals,” Noah informed me one morning.
There was not a cloud in the sky, but I nodded anyway. 
Somehow we did get animals on board. The domestic ones were easy, the wild ones were more difficult and the birds were hardest of all. Then the rain started. The same people who had scoffed at Noah’s work, now battered on the sides of the boat pleading for safety. As the boat rose on the water and lifted off the platform, their pleas became screams that too soon were silenced as the water claimed them. I lay on my mat and wept for the loss of life.
It rained and rained. Noah kept a tally on the side of the cabin. After 40 days and nights the rain stopped. There was water from horizon to horizon.
“How will we live with all this water?” I asked. “Where are we?”
“The water will go away,” my husband replied. 
He sounded confident but I wondered if he was really as certain as he sounded.
Still the man continued his tally, and the 40 marks became 80, then 100, then 150 before we saw any land again. It was the jolt of not moving that wakened me that morning. We were no longer rocking on the water. We were stopped, stuck on some rock. Later we discovered it was really a mountain we were on.
When we stopped, Noah told us, “I will send out the raven to see if it can find dry land.” The bird did not return. 
“Why don’t you try the dove?” I asked. “She is much tamer, and will probably come back if she cannot find any land or trees.”
My husband considered the idea and then released one of the doves. Sure enough, she did return because there was no place to land. After a few days, he tried again, and this time she came back with a branch in her beak.
“There is dry land and growing things to be found!” Noah was ecstatic. He waited another 7 days and this time the bird did not return.
“She must have found a place to roost,” I suggested to the man who kept scanning the skies. “Look, you can see that all around the boat, the ground is drying and green sprouts are appearing. Surely we can leave the boat, too.”
“Not until the Lord God says so,” admonished Noah.
Soon, though, he informed us that the Lord God had indeed told him to leave the boat and release the animals. The first thing he did was sacrifice to the Lord God.
“The Lord God is pleased with the sacrifice,” Noah told us. “The Lord God promises ‘Never again destroy every living creature as I have done. As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night, shall not cease.’ See the Lord God has set his bow in the sky as a reminder and a token of this promise.”
We all looked up and there was a beautiful arch of many colors. It was a beautiful promise.
Are there times when things have looked really ‘black’ and desperate? Has a rainbow or other promise helped you get through the difficult time?
How can you live as a holy promise to someone else?
(Image is a scale model of the ark made by the Incarnation School students in Dallas, TX)

(c) Cynthia Davis 2017 

April 23, 2017

Eve: What Ifs

During Lent we looked at the lives of several of the women who followed Jesus. In the Easter season we’ll meet some Old Testament women who are the matriarchs of our faith. As the Sound of Music says, “Let’s start at the very beginning”, with Eve.
I think most of the time when we think of Eve, we stop with her interaction with the Snake and the ‘forbidden fruit’. We forget that she was also a mother who had to endure the grief of having one son kill another. She also endured the loss of the Garden and being exiled from the initial relationship with God. Her life was filled with a question common to all of us…”What if”.
Let’s pick up the story in Genesis from her point of view:
‘What If?’ I think that as I look back on my life that is the question I most often ask myself.
What if I had not picked the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge? I have asked myself that question every day since it happened. I could try to pass the blame, and I have. I told Adam and the Lord God that ‘the Serpent tricked me’. The truth is, I was feeling rebellious and I was hungry and so I picked it and took a bite.
Nothing bad happened, right away. I didn’t die like Adam had said we would. Indeed, I felt a clarity and excitement that I hadn’t ever experienced. I told Adam and he took a bite, too. We danced around, filled with this new feeling of power.
“I can do anything!” I remember whirling in ecstasy until I fell to the ground tired. Adam, too, ran around leaping over rocks and logs, shouting with delight.
It was only later, when we were resting that a different feeling descended. I felt exposed and vulnerable and afraid. Adam glanced at me and then looked away. I pulled my legs up to my chest and turned my back to the man.
“What have we done?” The man’s question came through gritted teeth. “We dare not face the Lord God. We must hide. The Lord God will be coming to the Garden soon.”
Together we scrambled to find a place to hide. I began tying leaves together to cover myself, as if I thought I could hide behind them.
My greatest regret is the sorrow with which the Lord God addressed us when we finally emerged. “My children.” At first that is all the Lord God said. He repeated it sadly several times. There was such grief in his voice when he continued, “Because you have eaten of the Fruit, you can no longer live in the Garden. I will clothe you. You, Adam, shall work to eat of the food of the earth. You, Eve, will bear children, but you and they will not see my face.”
After we left the Garden, I did bear children. My firstborn was Cain, and a year later his brother Abel was born. They were different from the moment of birth. Cain liked to grow things and spent lots of time with me. Abel preferred to tend the animals and so he was with Adam more.
I often wonder What If I had treated the two boys more equally. I admit that perhaps I related more to Cain. He came to expect my approval for everything he did. Then came the day when the boys presented their first offering to the Lord God.
Cain gathered up some of the harvest, and Abel chose a young lamb for the offering. Later Cain told me with tears that the Lord God had not accepted his offering.
Cain raged, “The Lord God asked, ‘Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin is lurking at the door; its desire is for you, but you must master it.’ It is not fair!”
I wanted to comfort my son. I had never seen him so enraged.
“My grain was just as good as Abel’s stupid sheep,” he pouted. “I worked a lot harder to grow it, too.”
Probably my response was wrong. I assured him that he had the best wheat ever, and that the Lord God surely had a good reason for preferring the lamb. The young man stomped away. He was sullen all the next day. I saw him staring at his brother over the fire that evening. His eyes were narrow slits. He stomped away into the darkness.
What If I had followed him and spoken to my son. I could never have anticipated what happened next, though. I saw the brothers head for the field together in the morning. “Surely Cain has forgiven Abel,” I thought.
How wrong I was. Adam was the first to learn the awful truth. I saw him walking from the field, carrying something. As he drew nearer I realized it was a body. Then I recognized the clothing. Screaming, I ran toward my husband.
“Abel is dead.” The man’s broken statement was unnecessary. The dried blood told its own story. Gently he laid the body down. I fell to my knees beside my son.
“What happened?” Even then I expected to hear of a wild beast attack.
“Cain has killed his brother and has fled to the east.”
“NO!” I would not believe it. “It cannot be true!”
“Wife, I saw Cain myself running from the field. I hear him shouting defiantly, ‘Today you have driven me away from the soil, and I shall be hidden from your face; I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, and anyone who meets me may kill me.’”
“Who was there?” I looked up from smoothing the dark hair away from Abel’s face.
“Surely it was the Lord God he addressed.” Adam stood up, gathering the body to his chest. “We must bury my son before the sun sets.”
Numbly I followed wondering What If I had not let the two men go alone to the field that morning.
Both Adam and I mourned the sons who were taken from us. Abel was dead and Cain exiled to the Land of Nod. We heard that he found a wife and fathered sons. We never saw them.
I am troubled by the mistakes I made throughout my life. What If I had been a better wife and mother? Always I remind myself that despite my failing, the Lord God has been faithful. We have been protected and provided for, even when circumstances seemed dire.
Even after Abel was killed, the Lord God was merciful. I conceived again. My third son we named Seth.
“The Lord God gave me another child.” I told Adam. “It is proof of his never-ending love.”
The loving care didn’t end there. I bore other children-boys and girls. It was Seth who was most interested in learning about the Lord God, though. When Seth was a man, we found him a wife and their son was named Enosh. Adam and I were blessed to hold our grandson in our arms.
What Ifs can take on a life of their own. Eve was able to see God’s love even in the darkest of times.

Are there ‘what ifs’ in your life that keep you from seeing that God loves you? Have there been times in your life that you knew you were loved even if you wondered ‘what if’ you had done something differently?
(Image of Adam and Eve from the Saint John's Bible, the first illuminated Bible since the Middle Ages)
Content (c) Cynthia Davis 2017 

April 9, 2017

Palm Sunday: Persist in Faith, Hope, Love

All these “Women of Lent” that we’ve considered since the first Sunday of Lent give us inspiration to continue to live into our calling as Princesses of the Kingdom. To Love God with heart, soul, mind, and strength and to live lives of faith, hope and love. God doesn’t call anonymous or stray people. God knows our names and calls us beloved, and calls us God’s own. We are assured in Isaiah 43:1, “But now, this is what the LORD says-- he who created you, Jacob, he who formed you, Israel: "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. In this same way we are named, called, and loved by God. 
As called and chosen and beloved Princesses of the Kingdom, we can look to Mary of Nazareth and Miryam of Magdala as inspirations for stepping out in faith, even when we are asked to do something very uncomfortable, or anti-societal. We can know that as God was with those 2 Marys, God will be with us. We can make the choice each day to walk in Hope of new life like Joanna and Salome did. The sisters Mary and Martha demonstrate that we are loved whether we are busy servants, or contemplative listeners. All of our gifts are important and necessary in building up the Kingdom.
Each of these women stepped out of the normal life of women of their time. They looked beyond their initial images of God’s work in their lives. They found more than they expected in following Jesus and they inspire us to look outside the boxes we may make for ourselves and for God. Fr. Mike Gemagani, the Provincial chaplain for the DOK is also a poet. One of his poems is called Walls of Words and describes what we too often try to do with God.
My God, I will wall you in with words.

Imprison you in attributes so grand I know you will be pleased.
All-good, all-knowing, all-powerful, three walls;
And the fourth wall - perfect.
Four walls to hold you fast
So I can find you when I need you.

How thrilled I was to look upon the room containing God,

Bounded by the constructs of my mind,
Walls of words, words to please and praise,
Walls to bound a God of my design.
But when I peeked inside the room to see what God was doing,
The room was empty.

When we try to confine God to our own definitions, we’ll also find that God isn’t in our rooms. When we chose to follow and let go of our plans and notions, we will be found by God and we will be changed. Each of these women, these Princesses of the Kingdom, have shown us that living into I Corinthians 13 is the way to make a difference in the world.
The Rev. Monica Whitaker (who will be our leader at the Women’s Bosque Retreat in November), in light of Elizabeth Warren being silenced in Congress, and the rallying cry #she persisted, re-posted an article about some Biblical women who were ‘warned, received explanations, and yet persisted.  Of Mary of Nazareth she writes It is most appropriate to begin with Mary, the mother of Jesus. We can only speculate the warnings and explanations she heard as a young girl regarding appropriate social behavior for a first-century Jewish woman. No wonder she was perplexed when the Angel Gabriel announced God’s plan for her. Nevertheless, she persisted. Her fiat was not only a yes to bear the son of God, but a yes to the daily struggles that that task would require. She was a prophet, bearing all the pain that came with bearing God’s good news into the world. She persisted in her yes through pregnancy, through labor, through fleeing her homeland, through child-rearing, and through her son’s ministry. She persisted in her yes even when she watched her son being brutally crucified and die. She persisted in her yes as she too learned of Jesus’ resurrection, pondering all of God’s work in her heart.
We are called to Persist in living a life of Faith, Hope, and Love! Paul’s Letter to the Philippians reminds us, “Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead.  Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on/persevere to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on towards the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3:7-14)

After Aslan returns to life, in the Lion, Witch & Wardrobe, he invites Lucy and Susan to ride him as he soars to the White Witch’s castle to free all her captives, the statues of her enemies. Jesus invites us to persist, soar, and work with him to free captives too. Live outside your box. Step onto the unfamiliar escalator and go to wonderful new places! It’s not an easy adventure, but we are not alone! 
What can we do to live into our legacy as Women of the Kingdom/princesses?
How are we princesses, beloved, holy, called, chosen?

April 2, 2017

Mary and Martha of Bethany

Already we have looked at 4 Women of Lent, princesses of the Kingdom, who can inspire us to live fuller lives in Faith and Hope. The unquestioning and unreserved faith of Mary of Nazareth and the hard-won faith of Miryam of Magdala provide two contrasting ways of living our faith. Joanna and Salome offer glimpses into lives of hope.
This time we consider 2 more Princesses of the Kingdom-sisters who are rather well know, but often misunderstood. Mary and Martha of Bethany are noted for offering Jesus two types of love and service. Martha often gets a ‘bad rap’ for being so distracted by her house work that she didn’t take time to listen to Jesus. Mary is lauded for ‘sitting at Jesus feet’.
Mary and Martha of Bethany both have something important to teach us about how we can offer LOVE. As we noted earlier, I Cor. 13 tells us: And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. There are many ways in which love can be shown. Ministry is love, and Contemplation is love. Mary and Martha show us both sides of the same coin. I like the statue of Mary and Martha, Duet by Annette Everett, which depicts the sisters back to back because to me it shows the two sides of Love.
The Gospel of Luke (10:38) says “a woman named Martha received/welcomed Jesus into her house.” This is an aspect that we can sometimes miss by focusing on whether work or contemplation is better. Martha has duties as a householder. This was her home, not her brother’s, not her father’s. Martha was the homeowner.
An article in BibleOdessy.org stresses this difference. “When most people read this story, they often imagine a harried housewife complaining about her lazy sister. Jesus’ gentle rebuke reminds his audience to attend to what’s important—his presence. However, Martha is not shown doing housework… Martha is a householder who hosts Jesus; she is engaged in much “work” or, better, “service” (Greek: diakonian). By contrast, Luke depicts Mary as a disciple sitting at Jesus’ feet. Both women are engaged in different aspects of ministry, or ways of following Jesus and his teachings.” 
Mary and Martha teach us that there is more than one way to offer Love. “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love,” says Paul in the Letter to the Galatians (5:13) Some of us may do it in active pursuits like teaching and housework. Others may be more comfortable with prayer or song. The important thing is to serve in love, as Jesus did. Jesus “called the twelve. And he said to them, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” (Mark 9:35) In Paul’s Letter to the Colossians, we are told, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ.” (Colossians 3:23-24)
As part of a series of blog posts Mark Roberts of the DePree Center for Leadership, asked, “But what about those of us whose work is not so obviously an act of love for God or people? Can we actually love God when building a spreadsheet, or sweeping a walkway, or designing a brand, or selling a product? Yes, this is possible, if we learn to use all our strength in order to love God. In the classic book, The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence is described in this way, “He also counseled that we should not grow weary of doing even little things for the love of God. God does not regard the greatness of the work, but only the love with which it is performed”… all kinds of ordinary work can be actions of love for God if we do them with this intentionality. We are encouraged by the fact that God does not regard the greatness of our work – or, I might add, its obviously religious character – but only the love with which we do it.”
Love should be our ministry. Mary and Martha are individuals, just like each of us. The sisters offered love and devotion to Jesus through their service (Martha) and devotion (Mary). As individuals, they respond to the circumstances of life in different ways. We have seen that both Mary and Martha loved Jesus.
Both were faithful women who just expressed their loving faith in different ways. They gave themselves to the service of God and Jesus in response to the God who CS Lewis tells us demands, “Give me all of you!!! I don’t want so much of your time, so much of your talents and money, and so much of your work. I want YOU!!! ALL OF YOU!! I have not come to torment or frustrate the natural man or woman, but to KILL IT! No half measures will do. I don’t want to only prune a branch here and a branch there; rather I want the whole tree out! Hand it over to me, the whole outfit, all of your desires, all of your wants and wishes and dreams. Turn them ALL over to me, give yourself to me and I will make of you a new self---in my image. Give me yourself and in exchange I will give you Myself. My will, shall become your will. My heart, shall become your heart.” (Mere Christianity)
It does not matter if we are making tables, writing books, teaching children, or sitting at home praying. The important thing is, doing the best we can to the Glory of God in order to bring about the Kingdom…the Kingdom that involves Loving the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and your neighbor as yourself! Dorothy Sayers, the influential 20th century English writer, in her essay Why Work commented, “The Church’s approach to an intelligent carpenter is usually confined to exhorting him not to be drunk and disorderly in his leisure hours, and to come to church on Sundays. What the Church should be telling him is this: that the very first demand that his religion makes upon him is that he should make good tables.”
Our response, as Princesses of the Kingdom, to the call of God needs to be the same response Mary of Nazareth offered ‘be it to me according to your will’. It is the self-offering response that Miryam of Magdala and Joanna offered after their healings when they left everything to become followers because they, with Salome believed that Jesus offered Hope for a new way of life that would take them to new places. When we imitate Mary and Martha’s loving interaction with Jesus miracles can happen-we and God are co-creators of the new world-the new heaven and new earth! 
How do you relate to Mary &/or Martha? Are you more a server or listener?