Sisters in Scripture
Stories Waiting to be Heard    05/26/2021
Image of Holding HandsIt was just three Sundays after our return to "live" church that a parishioner came up to me who regularly reads my newsletters. She had been widowed about 2 years ago and wanted to tell me of an experience she'd just had. She was out walking when a neighbor greeted her and they spoke of Spring blooming all around. He said, "you have to see the dogwood tree we have out back!"  He motioned her to come and as she passed him, he gently laid his hand on her back to escort her around the house. She said it sent a surge of energy and warmth through her whole body to her toes, fingertips, and top of her head. She fought back the tears as she realized that this was the first time in 13 months of Covid isolation that she'd experienced human touch. As she told me the story, tears once again formed above the mask she wore. 

I felt the tug of sympathy in my own heart. I'd been so busy with my own isolation, I did not fully realize how much harder this had been for her and others who lived alone. For me, those 13 months were shared with my husband, so I'd at least experienced the touch which she missed. Not only had I failed to recognize the cost of her isolation, I had failed to appreciate what I had. There were times when I'd begrudged all the togetherness we'd shared this year--times, even, when I'd been envious of those who did not have to "put up with" enforced companionship. Remorse flooded me. I wasn't sure to whom I needed to apologize--to her, to my hubby, to all my single friends, or, maybe, to God. I only knew I'd gone off the rails a bit and needed a dramatic attitude adjustment.

As I sat in the pew later, looking around, I pondered all the stories behind all the people seated around me. No doubt, we are still internalizing the experience of this Covid year. While it is something we have experienced together, I suspect each person's takeaway will be unique. I suspect the insights will continue to reveal themselves and that they will frequently come in unexpected ways, through remembered vignettes, in moments that capture the meaning for us.

These remembrances take on life, meaning, and permanence when they are shared and received. There are stories all around us waiting to be told, needing to be heard. In our haste to return to "normal," let us not forget to ponder what has happened and to listen to one another. Our way ahead may depend on the wisdom we gather from what has been. My great hope is not that we go back to things as they were, but that we are changed by what we have experienced--changed for good. 

(Click on link to enjoy song from the musical, "Wicked"--it will make you smile!) Changed for Good from the musical, Wicked

Highly Recommended

This past Sunday was Pentecost. Did you notice the opening line, "When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place"? As a child I wondered why they were all together to celebrate Pentecost when it hadn't even happened yet. I'm not sure adults know the answer to that today. 

Jesus followers, as good Jews, were together for the Jewish Feast of Pentecost or Shavout. Fifty days after the Passover, Jews celebrate this holyday that commemorates the giving of the TORAH to Moses at Sinai. It is one of the three major pilgrimage festivals that require male Jews to travel to Jerusalem to worship at the holy temple. 

This simple reference in Acts, reminds us of the many ways in which our Christian faith is tied to its Jewish origins. Our own faith is vastly enriched by learning more about these connections. To that end, may I introduce you to the ministry of Teresa Pirola? Teresa is an incredibly credentialed guide and teacher in Jewish Christian studies. She writes from Australia and I have included a sample to the right for you to experience. I recommend you click "More" to read the full article and include the music link she has provided. You may also want to check out her website.

 A Beautiful Blessing 

 Sitting in church, Kathy gives the homilist the full impact of her gaze. Her look is direct, her eyes alert, her smile warm; at the very least, she presents a thoughtful, responsive facial expression. 

You might think Kathy is a friend of the homilist, or is enthralled by what she is hearing. In fact, she is warm and responsive towards every homilist and speaker, of whatever age, gender, spirituality, culture, and regardless of talent. Being experienced in public speaking herself, she understands how difficult it is to stand before a group, the courage it takes to present a point of view, the energy it takes to prepare and deliver a talk. So she uses her facial expression to communicate support, encouragement, solidarity, compassion. She ‘lifts up her face’ as an everyday gift of love. 

Who else do we know who ‘lifts up their face’? How about God! At least that’s how Scripture describes the divine love. Recall how the Psalms describe God’s face as ‘turning’ and ‘shining.’ Recall how Moses' face shown after encountering the Lord's glory with unprecedented directness.  Then there is that beautiful passage in the Book of Numbers known as ‘Aaron’s Blessing’ - or the 'Aaronic Benediction', deeply embedded in Jewish spiritual life:

May the Lord bless you and keep you!
May the Lord shine his face upon you and favour you! 
May the Lord lift up his face toward you and grant you shalom! 
Number 6:24-26 (see translation by Everett Fox)

Click here to enjoy a musical rendition of these verses, in English and in Hebrew.

Lovely luminous imagery fills this blessing, along with poetic rhythm and a sense of comfort. The Lord draws near, with face lifted towards us in a gaze of pleasure and affection. Indeed, the text could read: ‘May the Lord smile on you.’ 

Note the pairs of divine actions: bless and keep, shine and favour, lift up and grant peace? Why might these actions be paired as they are? Jewish storytelling traditions (midrash) suggest that one action is consequential to the other. Thus, if you receive a blessing (gift), then it needs to be kept (protected) or it may be lost or stolen from us. 

Then again, the three verses are sometimes interpreted as having an ascending order: a blessing of material goods (food, shelter), followed by a blessing of spiritual qualities, and finally the promise of shalom as the combination of the first two, i.e., peace in its fullest sense. The midrash highlights this climax through a series of statements about the greatness of peace and how fitting it is as the ‘seal’ to the blessings: e.g.: 

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