23 December 2014

Bride of Christ: Vows

Revelation 19:6-8 | Jeremiah 31:3 | Isaiah 61:10

Here,
with you,
before the altar,
words fail.

What joys now lie within my grasp -
but oh what fears
that even now
it could all slip away.

For what vow can I make,
what words can I say?
Nothing is enough.
Only this little handful of love,
a paper boat
that capsizes with every wind.
There will be days
when my trust in you
will be smothered by my useless fears,
days when I will have affairs
with worries and doubts
instead of hiding myself
in your strong arms.

I am not good enugh for this -
my days are doomed
to infidelity
and broken vows
will litter my paths
because I am too weak
to hold your hand.

Here,
with you,
before the altar,
I fail.

But
your love does not,
and you reach out to me,
and hold me where I can't hold you.
Not my vow counts,
but yours alone,
sealed with blood -
your grace is enough.

"I have loved you with an everlasting love;
Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you."


I will greatly rejoice in the LORD,
My soul shall be joyful in my God;
For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,
He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,
As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,
And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

_______________________________________________________________

[January 2011]

Recently God helped me realise how helpful the bridegroom / bride imagery in the Bible can be. I was fretting again as I usually do, and then wrote this, and then noticed: I should imagine what I'd do if I had a problem and I had a husband. I think I'd want to tell my husband everything instead of spooking around the house at night worrying my head off.
Then why do I not in the same way tell Jesus everything and trust that I'm safe with Him???

More poems connected to the "bride of Christ" imagery here.

03 December 2014

Out in the Desert


Isaiah 43:18-19


"Therefore, I will charm her, and bring her into the desert, and speak tenderly to her heart." (Hosea 2:14 CEB)

"He who believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, out of his heart will flow rivers of living water." (John 7:38 NKJV)

You led me
into the desert,
stripped me
of all but you,
emptied me
till I was dry,
parched.

Out in the desert
I found your living water.
Out in the desert,
when all was stripped away,
I learnt that you are all I need,
all I could want.
Jesus.

You led me
into the desert -
the desert land of my heart.
You showed me
my deepest need
was you -
you alone.

Out in the desert
I found your living water.
Out in the desert
you changed my heart,
became in me a fountain
turning this desert
into a garden
flowering for you.

You lead me
into the desert -
your water-bearer,
to heal dry land
and water hopeless cases
and lead them to you.

Out in the desert
your living water
flows out from my heart.
Out in the desert
flowers are growing,
rivers are spreading,
until the desert
becomes
Paradise.

____________________________________________________

[3. December 2014]

Wrote this during a "prayer night" organised by fellow students.

During the opening worship time, a friend read Isaiah 43:18-21 - some of the prayers afterwards expounded on the image of living water, of the desert blooming and becoming green wherever the water touches it, also quoting John 7:38 and bringing in the thought of reaching "dry people" with the living water of Jesus. Later, we had a text meditation on Hosea 2:16 and the desert image just fit so perfectly! As my "response" to the meditation, I put together all those images that had moved me.

Picture by Antal Ligeti.

02 December 2014

Peninnah: Insecure

1 Samuel 1

It slips out of me
constantly:
a comment here,
a snide remark there.
I don't even think -
it just blurts out
and when the regret comes
it's already too late.

Why must I be
so horrible to her?
Why can't I be friendly,
why can't I be nice?
Sometimes when we're together
mending clothes
or cooking stew
I think I almost like her -
but then it comes again
like bile:
a hateful word
I should not have said.

I know,
deep down,
I'm insecure,
afraid of just being
Number Two.
It's as if
if I don't bring her down
she'll bring down me
and he'll love her more -
the one he fell for first.

Who can tame
this dark creature in me,
this insecurity,
this fear of being second-best
to the man that I love?
One of us
must come second
and I don't want it to be me -
but is hurting her
really the right way?

I want his love
so desperately
but nothing can change
his love for her,
and all my attempts
only backfire
as I pace up and down
night after night
plagued by my conscience.
This can't be right.

__________________________________________________________________

[August 2012]

 Peninnah is the "rival" of Hannah (mother of Samuel). She was nasty to Hannah because Hannah had no children.

I had to think a bit about polygamy while writing this one. What does it mean to be Wife Number Two? What does it feel like to have to share one's husband? I'm sure there must be lots of competition and insecurity involved (one can see that with quite a few OT wives, e.g. Sarah and Hagar, Rachel and Leah, Hannah and Peninnah). I can imagine that Peninnah pestered Hannah not so much out of spite as out of insecurity and wanting to prove herself against the first wife.

Polygamy is no longer so common, fortunately. But I think we can still get into similar situations. Marrying a widower or divorcé for instance, and having to deal with the memory of the first wife and all that she could do better. Or being someone's girlfriend and knowing there's still an ex or more out there whom he might just still have feelings for if only she was willing to take him back. Men probably go through such insecurities too, though I guess they react differently. Then there's insecurities about other things, too.

What do we do with our insecurities? Do we, like Peninnah, try to make ourselves feel better by bringing the other person down? Or do we take our insecurity to God, who knows how we feel and can heal all our pain if we just let Him?

27 November 2014

Hannah: The Other Woman


1 Samuel 1:1-2:11

Forgive these tears -
I can't stop them anymore.
My sadness is an ocean
so deep I cannot eat,
so deep I cannot sleep.

Awake at night I hear them
sometimes, in the room next door -
him and her -
the other woman.
It had to be, he said.
And I understand.
But that doesn't help.
You'll always be my first love, he says.
And I believe him.
But that doesn't help either.
For my problem is not jealousy -
my problem is me.

Who is the other woman?
She, or me?
Who of us fulfills her purpose
as woman and as wife?
Who has done her duty -
and who has had to be replaced?
Are her tauntings true?
Sometimes I think they are
and I cry and I cry
and I can't tell him why
because he wouldn't understand.

Am I not more than sons? he says.
Of course he is -
but that doesn't help.
I love you even so, he says.
I know -
but that doesn't help either.
For nothing can help me -
nothing
but YOU.

Lord, you are the island
in my stormy ocean,
the rock I can hold on to,
the only hope for me.
You lift up the weak,
you feed the hungry,
you turn the barren woman
into a mother.
Your power can turn
the world upside-down.

Turn my world upside-down.
Change this sadness into joy,
and my begging into thanks.
Fill my empty rooms
with children's laughter
and give my life purpose again.
But not for me -
no, for your glory,
that your power can be seen
on a small, weak thing like me.
And I will give you all I have,
my greatest treasure,
my most valued gift:
the child
that you are giving me.

________________________________________________________

[January 2012]

I was trying to imagine what it might feel like for Hannah to be one of two wives - especially because she was the one who couldn't have children. In those days, a central part of a woman's life was bearing children. There's still cultures where women mainly exist as "baby machines" (extremely said). I can imagine that Elkanah married Peninnah because Hannah couldn't have children, and sort of "added" her so that he'd have heirs. Anyway, those were my background thoughts to this poem. ^^

I based a lot around Hannah's prayer in 1 Sam 2 - which is very similar to the Magnificat (Mary's prayer) in the Gospel of Luke: God turns the world around, He does things differently from our expectations, He is not like us. To the world, Hannah was a failure: a woman who couldn't fulfill her purpose in life, namely that of bringing children into the world. But God loved her - and He loves all of us too, even if the world does not accept us. God loves broken people - and He can make them whole.

22 November 2014

Queen of Sheba: Drawn by the Light


1 Kings 10:1-13 | Matthew 5:14-16

Nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn. (Isaiah 60:3)

I saw your light shine from afar,
heard stories of riches,
of wisdom incomparable -
rumours, I thought,
but I could not help
but be drawn,
drawn to your light.

I have come to see
if the rumours are true.
I have come to see
your riches and fame.
I have come to see
if you're as wise as they say.
I have come,
drawn by your light.

And I see that the truth
surpasses wildest rumour,
that the light is even brighter
when seen up close,
and I wish I could take
and keep a little spark,
take it home so it can spread
and envelop the world.

I want to know
more about you,
I want to know
the source of your wisdom,
I want to know
the meaning of this blessing -
I want to know your God.

For He is the one
who put the light in you -
He is the one
who draws all to you -
He is the one
who can light a spark in me -
now I am drawn,
drawn to Him.

__________________________________________________________________

[15. November 2014]

The Queen of Sheba (assumed to be in today's Yemen or Ethiopia) heard about Solomon from far away, and wanted to see for herself whether what she had heard was true. She actually brought riddles and questions to properly "test" Solomon's famed wisdom!! This story made me think of the "light of the world" passage in Mt 5, and also of the "light" passage in Isaiah 60.

When God's light shines in us, when we belong to Him and live according to His will and He lives with us and in us, then other people will (or should) notice something about us. Even without saying anything at all (and maybe even without realising it) we "preach" the Gospel by the way we live, the way God is present in and among us. This can lead to people asking questions, wanting to know why we are different - or, as Peter puts it: wanting to know the reason for the hope in us (1 Peter 3:15).

Being a Christian is not a "private matter"... if we are truly following Jesus, then it will be visible. You can't hide a city that's standing on a hill - even if you try to! Also, people watch us - maybe with a critical eye, maybe with a curious eye. The way we live out our faith can attract people to it. I have heard of families in East Asia, where after one person became a Christian, the rest of the family was at first very sceptical, until they saw how that person's life changed for the better, and that either made them accept his decision, or seek out Christianity themselves!

So let us live out our faith and follow Jesus in such a way that people will ask questions! They might be like the Queen of Sheba and ask riddles and "trick questions" first. ;) But that can lead on to them realising the truth about Jesus, and praising God like the Queen of Sheba did at the end of her visit!


Picture by Giovanni Demin.

15 November 2014

Sisera's Mother: Waiting

Judges 5:28-30


Waiting.
It is late.
Call me silly - but I worry,
I worry as I wait.

I know
you are a grown man now,
independent,
can care for yourself.
I know
your old mother annoys you
when she worries too much,
when she asks too many questions,
when she pressures you
to come home in time
as if you were still a little boy
getting into scrapes,
vulnerable.
I know -
but I worry,
I worry as I wait.

Don't you know
that to me you are still
that vulnerable child,
coming home crying
after a fight?
A great warrior you may be -
but to me you'll always be
my baby.
And so I worry,
I worry as I wait.

Don't worry, they say.
Don't be silly, they say.
You must be celebrating
another victory
(what else could it be?
You never lose.)
with a girl or two -
why shouldn't you?
Why think of
this old mother of yours,
why care about me
in your hour of victory?
Maybe they're right -
I believe they are right -
because I don't want to consider
what it would mean if
they're wrong.

But still I worry,
I worry as I wait.
It is late.
Please
come home.

______________________________________________________________________

[15. November 2014]

Sisera is the guy who was killed with a tent pole, stuck through his head by Jael. (So yes: he's not coming back...) The whole story is in Judges 4-5. Sisera was the commander of the army of a Canaanite king who was oppressing the Israelites during the time of the Judges.

I decided with this poem to focus on the feelings of a mother who stays up late waiting and worried. Young people like me might find it a bit annoying to be asked "Where have you been?" or "When are you coming home?" or "Can't you take the earlier train??" (Frequently Asked Question by my Mamma some years back, haha..) but maybe we need to understand that mothers aren't trying to curb our independence or control our movements or keep us small and dependent (at least not intentionally) - they're simply concerned out of love for their children, they want their children to be safe. Maybe a better way to react to (what seems like "over-the-top") motherly concern is to be thankful and say "I love you too", instead of getting annoyed? :-)

(And thinking of Sisera and his waiting mother: "I know, I'm late... at least I'm not dead with a tent pole through my head...") (DON'T try that kind of comment though!!)

Picture by Joseph Albert Moore.

25 October 2014

Bride of the King: Reconciliation

Psalm 45

Today
is reconciliation.
Today
we forge the bond
between you and me,
between your land and mine.
Today
we seal the covenant.
Today
is the start of peace.

Can I forget my people
and my father's house,
and leave them forever
for you - a stranger?
Can I forsake
all I have known
and dare this alliance
with a stranger - with you?

You are different
from other kings -
you reign with peace and equity,
truth, justice and humility.
You look upon me,
your former enemy,
enthralled -
You are altogether beautiful, my love;
there is no flaw in you.

Can I forget my people
and my father's house,
for you?

Here is reconciliation,
here is peace.
Here is your hand, reaching out
to accept me as your queen.
Here is love
that brings an end to enmity.

So I will take your hand
and enter this alliance,
as joy and song envelop us
into the hopes
of all who long for peace.
And so today
we seal the covenant,
we forge the bond -
today
is reconciliation.

____________________________________________________________

[25. October 2014]

Been wanting to write this ever since reading Psalm 45 some days ago... the Psalm is a wedding song about the wedding of a King with a girl from another country who is called upon to "forget your people and your father's house" (v.10). Some verses seem to point to Jesus (e.g. v.6-7).

Anyway, the Psalm got me thinking about royal "alliance marriages", i.e. where a king married a princess from a foreign country to secure peace and to seal a covenant between the two nations. This was still happening some 100 years ago, actually. On the one hand, I do think one can see it as a problematic practice: a girl being carted off to some foreign country (in a time when people hardly travelled and she probably wouldn't have seen her home and family ever again), to marry a stranger who probably already had a whole load of other "alliance wives" (Solomon had quite a few...). On the other hand, I think that the concept of "alliance marriage" can tell us something about God - since the church (and in the Old Testament Israel) is frequently described as the "bride of Christ" or of God.

Alliance marriages were (a) to seal a covenant between two nations, (b) to secure peace.
In 2. Cor 5:18-20, the message of Jesus is described as a message of reconciliation. God wants reconciliation with us. And the way I see it, it's not God who throughout history has kept a sulky distance - it's us. The Bible shows God approaching us again and again, seeking relationship with us. God does not deny us peace - we are the only ones fighting, by insisting on managing by ourselves and rejecting the love of God. But in Jesus God became one of us, and Jesus died to reconcile us to God. And He wants to accept us as His bride - a gesture of peace, and actually of raising us into honour.

So the "wedding" of God with His people can maybe be seen like an alliance marriage: God wants to seal His covenant with us, and He wants to secure peace. He wants reconciliation with us, wants us to stop fighting off His love. And maybe accepting this love of God and following Jesus means forgetting and forsaking other things - like the bride in the Psalm is called upon to forget her people and her family. It means starting a completely new life, being changed by Him.

The "bride" imagery comes up quite a few times in the Bible, especially in prophetic texts (e.g. Ezekiel 16, Hosea, Jeremiah 3) but also in Revelation. Song of Songs is also often read as an allegory about the love between Christ and the church (and btw, the italicised bit in the poem is SoS 4:7). I find it does good to meditate on such texts and reflect what it means to be the "bride of Christ", how to compare our relationship to Jesus with the relationship of husband and wife.

Picture by Dante Gabriel Rossetti.

13 October 2014

Girl with Spirit of Divination: Set Free

Acts 16:16-22

They'd stare at me with eager eyes,
waiting and wanting and wishing to hear
their futures far which I could tell.
For I knew and I saw
what others could not.

A gift? No, a curse,
which I could not fight.
And though some envied me for it
I only felt captive,
used,
and alone.

I never wanted to know -
but I was possessed,
owned by something else,
longing to be free.
It spoke what I did not want to speak,
It told me what I did not ask,
It haunted me both night and day
till I thought I'd go mad -
or was I already?

And then I saw them,
bearers of good news,
and felt Its fear,
for It knew (and so did I)
that my help was near.
nd day by day I followed them
and so did It
and It shouted out
the truth It could not bear,
and yet the truth that all should hear -

And I knew then:
they would use me
like all the others did
who saw not me
but the demon enslaving me,
who wanted Its knowledge
but cared nothing for me.
Why should they let
this precious gift go -
so precious to them, such torture to me?
I had nothing left
but despair
and Its foul cackling laughter.

But they were different.
With Your eyes, they saw me,
with Your ears, they heard me,
with Your heart, they cared
for more than my divinations.
They freed me with Your power,
and I am set free.

And now I walk unchained,
free to walk the path You did,
free to speak out of my heart
of all the love You showed to me.
The puppet master's lost Its power:
to You, my Father, I belong now,
a child, not a slave,
loved, not controlled,
free,
so free,
and finally
LOVED.

__________________________________________________

[January 2012]

One thing I noticed when I read this passage again was: this girl was good advertisement for the Gospel, wasn't she? She was calling out that Paul and Silas were bringing good news, that they were sent by God. So, why not use that gift? It struck me how Paul and Silas cast out the evil spirit even though it could have been useful to them. I wondered why. So I wrote this poem.

Picture by Pieter de With.

06 October 2014

Parable of the Yeast: God is a Baker Woman

And again he said, "To what should I compare the kingdom of God? It is like yeast that a woman took and mixed in with three measures of flour until all of it was leavened." (Luke 13:20-21)

God
is a baker-woman
elbow-deep in dough,
kneading, kneading,
making bread
preparing for a feast.
Taking flour,
adding yeast,
until the dough is leavened through,
working, working
patiently
till all is ready for her feast.

God,
you became bread
for us to feast upon,
for us to be fed,
strengthened, restored,
filled by you.
You became bread 
for us to devour,
consumed for our sakes,
fulfilling our needs,
our hunger for you.

God,
we are your bread
to be shared with this world.
You knead us, prepare us,
to feed hungry mouths
in need of you.
You spread your yeast
into each corner
that we may rise
and glorify you
at your feast
where all will be fed.

So let us feed on you
in thanksgiving
as you knead us
into your image.
Give us grace
to feed the world
as you fed us,
with these gifts
you gave to us -
Bread of Life.

______________________________________________________________________

[5. - 6. October 2014]

One could say this is the first time I have ever used feminine pronouns on God - I'm  not usually that kind of feminist, but since it suits the parable I hope no one's going to complain, since the image of the baker-woman was made up by Jesus, not me...

The topic of "bread" kind of stalked me all day yesterday, so I ended up writing this, bringing together different thoughts that had been impressed on me during the day...
  1. In the morning, I read this month's "Word of Life" from the Focolare movement. The verse of the month happens to be all about bread! "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty." (John 6:35) You can read Chiara Lubich's interpretation here, it really inspired me and flowed into this poem. God is bread - Jesus became bread for us, in multiple senses. He fulfills our deepest needs - and we remember Him through bread in Communion / Eucharist.
  2. On the way to church in the evening, the words "God is a baker woman" sort of whacked into my brain and I started meditating on Lk 13:20-21 because I remembered that parable. It's one of a set of parables about what the "Kingdom of God" is like. The "feast" image slid into the poem because that is another image from another parable - sort of what the bread is being prepared for (the feast at the end of time).
  3. The sermon in my church also ended up involving bread and communion imagery! One thing that stayed with me was sharing: that we are not meant to hoard what God gives us, but share it. And I really loved this image: when we break the bread for communion, one half represents what we receive - the other half what we share. We are meant to share. In a sense, we can become bread to share with others what Jesus shared with us. And that can mean suffering too: being "consumed" like Jesus was.
  4. The "parable of the yeast" is basically about the influence of Jesus spreading through the world. In that sense, it's very much about sharing. What is the influence of Jesus, though? I believe it's becoming like Him, following Him, living like He did. But that means giving ourselves like He did, denying ourselves, being willing to be "consumed" by hungry people. Helping people in all their needs, be it literal hunger, or a hunger for love and acceptance, or another need. Bringing people the "Bread of Life", which is Jesus - but in a sense becoming bread too, by becoming like Him.


"Loving means 'making ourselves one' with everyone, making ourselves one in all the others want, in the least and most insignificant things and in those that perhaps might be of little interest to us but are important to them. [...] This is love, to make ourselves one in a way that makes others feel nourished by our love, comforted, uplifted, understood." (Chiara Lubich)

Picture by Jean-François Millet.

03 October 2014

Naamah: A Name

"Zillah bore Tubal-cain, who made all kinds of bronze and iron tools. The sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah." (Genesis 4:22)

I am a name
without a story.

Because one day someone decided
a girl's story is not worth telling.
Because one day someone decided
a girl has no story
except that written by a man,
husband-father-son.
What is a girl alone,
but a burden,
cursed,
reminder of what
a woman once lost -
a woman with a story.
How can they risk
a woman having a story again?

They forget
that men's stories
bring hurt and damage too,
that we are all
equally responsible,
spiralling down together,
down
down
down.

But
Someone is reaching
into our stories,
reaching to catch us as we fall -
Someone who wants to be a part
of this sad, doomed, sordid tale,
who wants to risk
a story of His own.

I am a name
without a story -
but I have a name.
And He knows me,
and He calls me by name:
"Naamah."
They may deny me
the chance to share my tale -
but He won't let them hide
my name.

________________________________________________________________

[30. / 31. August 2014]

I tend to not write poems about the "story-less names" (otherwise I'd have to sift all the genealogies and make up hundreds of stories!). But my mother pointed out Naamah to me once and wanted me to write a poem for her too, so now I did...

I hope what I meant to say is visible between the lines... it's basically about inequality, more focus being put on men's stories, and women not really being mentioned much except in connection to "their men". The "woman with a story" is Eve: she lived free and equal and could make her own choices, but they led to destruction. Often when people think of "the Fall", they push blame on Eve, forgetting that Adam was there too and took the fruit as well, forgetting that all of us are responsible for our own sins. I can imagine men shortly after the Fall trying to deny responsibility, and pushing down women because if given freedom, wouldn't they just do damage again? But denying responsibility and blaming others, to the point of treating them as lesser beings, is not the way to go.

What's interesting about Naamah is that, unlike most other women who only appear by name in the Bible, she really appears only by name, and not in connection to any man (except for her brother). And now anyone who reads the Bible and does not skip the genealogies will read her name. (Probably not remember it, but still...) So even if people want to hem us in and make us small, we are still all equal before God: He knows us by name, He cares for each of us, no matter what society says.


19 September 2014

Tamar: Think Again

Genesis 38

You call me a whore
but what are you?
Why must it be the woman
who takes all the blame?
You can say I seduced you -
who forced you to give in?
Who asked me to bed?
It wasn't me.

You call me a whore
but what are you?
Why does the man
always get away?
You suffer no consequences -
I have to bear them all:
scorn, hatred, death penalty
and the child you gave to me.

You call me a whore
but what are you?
Don't you know it takes two?
It's always all right
for you to do -
have you never thought
what your actions might mean?

You call me a whore.
Think again.
For it was you
who made me one.
It is not I,
it is you who must change.

______________________________________________________________

[25. November 2012]

Tamar was the wife of Judah's son Er. After he died she was given to his brother Onan, so that he'd provide children for her. If I understood correctly that was a way to provide security for widows back then. They'd stay in the family and be cared for. But Onan only wanted to sleep with her and didn't want her to have children that wouldn't count as his own. Then Onan died - then Judah freaked out and decided to send Tamar away instead of give her to his third son. Tamar ended up tricking Judah by sitting by the roadside like a prostitute (he didn't recognise her) - ended up pregnant and just when Judah wanted to have her sentenced to death because of it, she proved to him that he was the one who had made her pregnant.

It's a complicated story! I think it shows something about the hypocrisy of men - and how God is on the side of those who are wronged. Tamar had a very strange way of fighting for her rights - one I don't think should be copied! But it showed Judah how wrong his choices were.

Thing is: I heard that today in America, most men want to marry a virgin. BUT they would also like to sleep around before getting married. What do you think ends up happening? There won't be any more virgins to go around at that rate.

Women often get the blame. It's just so much easier to trace back to a woman that she's been sleeping around, especially if she gets pregnant. Then it's just obvious. But the man never gets in trouble.

Don't be a man like Judah. Think about the consequences of your actions.

Picture by Horace Vernet.

16 September 2014

The List



Round about 2010, I had the idea to challenge myself to write a poem for every woman in the Bible.
The list started with 40 ladies I could think of, but it has been growing ever since, because women keep popping out from unexpected corners in the Bible! :-)

This list is still not complete - partly because I have (for now) left out the mothers of kings who are mostly "names without stories" and harder to write about (unless I get ideas!), partly because I have not yet included all the "personifications" (e.g. God as Mother) and ladies from parables, though I might include them later. I'm also sure there are more women hidden somewhere in the Bible (not to mention I hardly know the Apocrypha and have to read through them first to find all the women there!) - so if you know someone I've left out, do tell me! (My mother "updates" me all the time...)

The already-written ones have a link to their poem(s) - some have more than one! :-)

I'll try to keep this list regularly updated...

Old Testament

1. Eve [1 Helper] [2 Naked] [3 The Fall] [4 Bitter Fruit]
2. Cain's wife
3. Naamah (Gen 4:22)
4. Daughters of Men (Gen 6:1-4)
5. Adah, wife of Lamech (Gen 4:19-24)
6. Zillah, wife of Lamech (Gen 4:19-24)
7. Noah's wife
8. Noah's sons' wives
9. Sarai / Sarah [1 Is This Love?] [2 Jealousy] [3 He Who Laughs Last]
10. Hagar
11. Lot's wife
12. Lot's daughters
13. Rebekah
14. Keturah (Abraham's other wife)
15. Rachel
16. Leah
17. Bilhah
18. Zilpah
19. Dinah [1 Stop Me] [2 Daisy Petals]
20. Tamar (wife of Judah's sons, Gen 38)
21. Potiphar's wife (Genesis 39)
22. Asenath (Joseph's wife)
23. Midwives Shiphrah and Puah (Ex 1)
24. Jochebed
25. Miriam
26. Pharaoh's daughter
27. Zipporah
28. Mothers of slain firstborn (Ex 12)
29. Moses' Cushite wife (Num 12:1-16)
30. Cozbi (Numbers 25)
31. Zelophehad's daughters (Numbers 27)
32. Rahab
33. Achsa (Joshua 15, Judges 1)
34. Deborah
35. Jael (Judges 4)
36. Sisera's mother
37. Woman who dropped millstone on Abimelech (Judges 9:50-57)
38. Jephthah's daughter (Judges 11)
39. Samson's mother (Judges 13)
40. Samson's wife (Judges 14-15)
41. Samson's prostitute (Judges 16)
42. Delilah (Judges 16)
43. Micah's mother (Judges 17:1-6)
44. Levite's concubine (Judges 19)
45. 400 virgins (Judges 21)
46. Daughters of Shiloh (Judges 21)
47. Orpah (Ruth 1)
48. Ruth
49. Naomi
50. Hannah
51. Peninnah
52. Eli's daughter-in-law (1 Sam 4:19-22)
53. Ahinoam (wife of Saul)
54. Michal
55. Merab, Michal's sister (1 Sam 18)
56. Abigail (1 Sam 25)
57. Sorceress of Endor (1 Sam 28)
58. Ahinoam of Jesreel, mother of Amnon (2 Sam 2)
59. Maacah, mother of Absalom and Tamar (2 Sam 2)
60. Haggith, mother of Adonijah (2 Sam 2)
61. Mephibosheth's Nanny (2 Sam 4)
62. Ishbosheth's porter (2 Sam 4:6 LXX)
63. Bathsheba (2 Sam 11-12)
64. Thamar, daughter of David (2 Sam 13) [1 Dirty Laundry] [2 Shame]
65. Tamar, daughter of Absalom (2 Sam 14:27)
66. Wise woman of Tekoa (2 Sam 14)
67. David's concubines (2 Sam 16:20-22)
68. Woman who hid David's messengers (2 Sam 17)
69. Wise woman of Abel (2 Sam 20:16-22)
70. Rizpa (2 Sam 22)
71. Abishag (1 Kings 1-2)
72. Prostitute mothers who came to Solomon (1 Kings 3:16-28)
73. Queen of Sheba (1 Kings 10)
74. Solomon's wives (1 Kings 11)
75. Solomon's Egyptian wife
76. Jerobeam's wife (1 Kings 14:1-18)
77. Naamah the Ammonite, mother of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:31)
78. Mahalath, wife of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11)
79. Maacah / Micaiah, wives of Rehoboam (2 Chronicles 11 + 13:1-2)
80. Maacah, mother of Asa (2 Chronicles 15:16)
81. Jezebel
82. Widow of Zarephath (1 Kings 17)
83. Widow whose oil Elisha multiplied (2 Kings 4)
84. Shunammite woman (2 Kings 4)
85. Naaman's wife
86. Naaman's slave girl (2 Kings 5)
87. Athaliah (tyrant queen, 2 Kings 11)
88. Jehosheba (saved her nephew, 2 Kings 11)
89. Huldah (2 Kings 22:14-20)
90. Nehushta, mother of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:8-17)
91. Foreign wives (Ezra 9-10)
92. Shallum's daughters (Neh 3:12)
93. Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14)
94. Vashti
95. Esther
96. Zeresh (Haman's wife, Esther 5-6)
97. Job's wife
98. Job's sisters (Job 42:11)
99. Job's daughters (Job 42:14-15)
100. Bride of the King (Ps 45)
101. Lady Wisdom (Proverbs)
102. Lemuel's mother (Prov 31)
103. Proverbs 31 woman
104. Sulamith (Song of Songs)
105. Isaiah's wife (Is 7:3)
106. Unfaithful Jerusalem (Ez 16)
107. Oholah and Oholibah (Ez 23)
108. Ezekiel's wife (Ez 24:16-27)
109. Lo-Ruhamah (Hosea 1-2)
110. Gomer, Hosea's wife


New Testament

4. Anna
18. Martha (Lk 10, Jn 11) [1 One Thing Is Needful] [2 But Even Now]
19. Woman who blessed Mary (Lk 11)
20. Syrophoenician / Canaanite woman (Mt 15)
21. Crippled woman (Lk 13:10-16)
22. Baking woman / parable of the yeast (Lk 13:20-21)
23. The woman who lost a coin (Lk 15)
24. The wise and foolish virgins (Mt 25:1-13) 
25. Woman who annointed Jesus
26. Servants who recognised Peter (when he denied Jesus)
27. Pilate's wife
28. Daughters of Jerusalem (Lk 23:27-28)
29. Mary mother of James and Joses (Mt 27:55-56)
30. Joanna wife of Chusa, follower of Jesus
31. Mary Magdalene
32. Sapphira (Acts 5)
33. Dorcas (Acts 9)
34. Mary, mother of John Mark (Acts 12)
35. Rhoda (Acts 12)
36. Lydia (Acts 16)
37. Possessed girl (Acts 16:16-22)
38. Damaris (Acts 17)
40. Drusilla (Felix' Jewish wife, Acts 24)
41. Bernice (wife of King Agrippa, Acts 25)
48. Lois
49. Eunice
49. Recipient of 2. John
51. Bride of Christ (Rev)
52. The whore Babylon (Rev)


Apocrypha

1. Judith
2. Judith's maid
3. Deborah (raised Tobit)
4. Hannah (Tobit's wife)
5. Sarah (Tobit)
6. Edna, Raguel's wife (Tobit)
7. Praying women (2 Macc 3)
8. Women who had circumcised their children (2 Macc 6)
9. Woman with 7 sons (2 Macc 7)
Peter: In the Courtyard


Women in Literature
This is a new category, not really part of any challenge - so I'm only listing those I've already written about or am seriously planning to write about.

1. Elinor (from Sense and Sensibility)
2. Arwen (from The Lord of the Rings)
3. Éowyn (from The Lord of the Rings)
4. Christine Daaé (from The Phantom of the Opera)
5. Tess of the d'Urbervilles (from Tess of the d'Urbervilles)

Picture is by Gustav Klimt, Die Drei Lebensalter der Frau

15 September 2014

Sarai: Jealousy

WARNING: sexual content



Genesis 16:1-6

By now
she will be in his arms.
I dare not think it,
but I do.
I wonder,
will she be as scared
as I was the first time?
I wonder,
will he whisper
the same sweet words into her ear,
that he likes to say to me?
I dare not think it,
but I do.

Tempted, so tempted,
to sit outside his tent
and listen
to every rustle of the sheets,
to every moan from her lips -
I dare not think it,
but I do.

No, no, no.
It should be me,
and me alone.
What if he falls
for this younger girl,
for her beauty,
for the energy
I no longer have?
I dare not think it,
but I do.

This was my choice,
done for his sake,
done out of love,
the last desperate measure
to grasp at a promise
far out of reach.
This was my choice,
but was it right?
I dare not think it,
but I do.

Tempted, so tempted,
to storm right in
and drag her off his body,
far away from him.
But if this is
the only way
to make him happy -
so be it.

_____________________________________________________________________

[10. October 2013]

While reading through Sarah's story again, and trying to imagine things through her eyes, I felt like writing this: her thoughts about giving Hagar to Abraham, so Hagar could have the son promised him by God.

Why did Sarai do this? Did she lack trust in God? Was she trying to "help things along" a bit? Maybe she felt she was getting in the way of God's promise and Abraham's happiness because she was unable to have children. So she decided to let Abraham sleep with her slave and have a child with her - a decision which probably wasn't so easy, and one which led to all sorts of conflict in the family, Hagar being banished twice because of Sarai's jealousy. If Sarai had trusted and waited, maybe things would have been different. Still, God remains faithful, and He did let Sarai have a son in the end. Our mistakes have consequences, like Sarah's did... but still they don't get in the way of God.

(Next challenge: write the same thing from Hagar's perspective... I don't suppose she was too keen to be given away like that to an old man)

Picture by Matthias Stom.
I find interesting how Sarai has an almost empty look in this picture, like she's trying not to think too much about what it is she's doing. 

04 September 2014

Damaris: Foreign God


Acts 17:16-24

What is this message that you bring,
what is this "good news" that you preach?
Who is this strange God from afar -
and what should it matter to me?

We are Greeks - we have our gods,
enough gods,
more gods than you.
What's a foreign god to me?
Your story's nice -
but what's it to me?

But you say
this God
was always there,
even when I did not see Him.
This God
has always cared
for all the world
even though we did not know Him -
for this God
is the creator
and all mankind is His -
this God
is the sustainer,
who provides for all that is.
This is no foreign God
but the one true God of all -
and that's why it matters to me.

This God
is the one who made me.
This God
is the one who knew me
before I even knew myself.
This God
cares not only for one people -
for all the peoples on earth are His.
In Him we live,
in Him we move,
in Him we have our being -
this God
is the true God
of all.

____________________________________________________

[July 2014]

Damaris was one of the people who came to faith in Athens after Paul preached there.
Reading Acts I've been noticing how the Apostles often emphasised the fact that their message was not a strange new message, but a continuation and fulfillment of the first covenant with Israel, and a message relevant also for non-Jews because God is the true God of the whole world. When speaking to non-Jews, Paul would speak especially of God as creator: because God created everything and everybody, and still keeps on sustaining and providing for the whole world, His message is relevant for everybody.

Today, there are still many cultures in which the principle "to be (x nationality) means to be (x religion)", and that often makes it hard to reach them with the Gospel, partly because they believe that makes Jesus irrelevant to them ("it's a foreign religion"), and partly because it leads to difficulty for anyone who decides to be a Christian (they get treated like a traitor not only of their religion, but of their culture, tradition and family). So I see the relevance of Paul's method for today.

In Athens, the philosophers thought Paul was bringing them a foreign God and was bringing them something new and strange. What Paul did in his sermon, though, was point out that God is not a foreign God, but, as the creator, is everybody's God. He is not tied to one nation, but the God of all people, because all people - being created by Him - belong to Him already.

Picture by Raphael. Note the lady in the far right corner.

01 September 2014

Rhoda: Until I am Equal

Acts 12

"Even on the male and female slaves, in those days, I will pour out my spirit." (Joel 2:29)

 A servant girl
should be seen, not heard,
speak when spoken to,
do her chores,
obey the Madam,
stay out of the way,
serve.

A servant girl
means little in society,
has no say,
no future of her own;
her words weigh nothing,
her opinion goes ignored -
what does a servant girl know?

But then I met You
and You changed my world;
You showed me I had worth,
that I was loved by You.
You showed me that a servant girl
can be a child of God,
can have a voice,
can have an opinion,
be part of a family
where all are the same.

But even though
I am free in Your eyes,
in their eyes
I am still a slave.
Though they belong to you
just as much as I,
though my Mistress is my Sister,
though they say that all is new,
deep down
so much is still the same.

I bring a message -
they do not hear.
What does a servant girl know?
A servant girl
should be seen, not heard,
serve,
not prophesy.

Lord,
I am free,
I am free in Your eyes,
though man would make me a slave.
Lord,
give me patience
until they have learnt
we all are equal in your sight.
Open their eyes
and help them to grow
beyond the lies of this world.
Help me to love them
although they're hurting me,
until they understand
your revolutionary truth,
until I am equal
in their sight as in yours.

___________________________________________________________________

[30. August 2014, on the plane]

When Peter was miraculously freed from prison, Rhoda the servant girl was the one who met him at the door. But when she told her mistress and the others gathered in prayer for his release, they did not believe her. Usually I view this as a case of lack of faith: praying, but not expecting anything to actually happen (see this one's sister poem, Prayer of Faith). Writing Rhoda's poem, though, I came to think of another aspect: lack of faith in the message-bearer, old prejudices taking a while to die even among Christians who were learning that "there is no longer slave or free [...] for all of you are one in Christ Jesus." (Galatians 3:28)

At Pentecost Peter quoted Joel 2:28-29 about God pouring out His Spirit on all people: men and women, young and old, slave and free. The church was to be something new, where all people could be family, equal before God, no longer split into hierarchies but one in Christ, of equal worth, equally endowed with the Holy Spirit to do God's work. But old habits die hard and it must have taken a while for Christian masters to fully accept their slaves as brothers and sisters, not inferiors.

There is still much prejudice today, even among Christians. And that prejudice has to go, because it is not Christian. We are all one in Christ, so we need to respect one another and treat one another as equals, no matter what categories the world would put us into.

Picture by Johann Christoph Weigel.

10 August 2014

Rebekah: Love is a Risk

Genesis 24



"Will you go with this man?"

Joy and fear
flood me all at once.
Somewhere out there
a man is waiting,
waiting to love me.
Somewhere out there
is a new future -
fulfillment of my dreams.
I want to say Yes.

And yet
he is a total stranger;
I've never seen his face,
don't know if he'd be kind to me,
don't know if we'd agree
on all that is important,
or always fight instead.

I am afraid
of this strange new future,
this unknown shadow
who wants me to be his;
I am afraid
of regretting my decision,
of being stuck forever
in a strange land
with a man I might not love.
So much could go wrong.

And yet
I see your fingerprints
on the tangled strings of my story -
signs that say you're leading this,
signs that say you have a plan.

Love is a risk -
so much could go wrong.
What if I don't like him,
or we cannot agree?
Love is a risk
but so is everything,
and if I heed all my fears
I never will live.

I'll turn away from my fears,
and look upon You,
and trust You to guide me
and know what is best.
Take my trembling heart -
take my fears away.
I know what I desire,
I know I must dare -

for love is a risk
always worth taking.

"Will you go with this man?"
- Yes, I will go.           

_________________________________________________________________

[November 2012 - commentary August 2014]

"Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. [...] Still, if we want to avoid [suffering], we will never experience the joy of loving. [...] We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking." (Henri Nouwen)

Based particularly on Genesis 24:58 which is quoted at the beginning and end of the poem - Rebekah is given the choice whether she wants to go with Abraham's servant to be Isaac's wife. I decided to look at the decision process here.

This story happened in the days of arranged marriage in a culture where family connections were practically the most important consideration. Abraham's servant was sent to find Isaac a wife from among his own relatives (and Rebekah was a cousin or something). Although there's still many places in the world where marriages happen this way, with people hardly knowing each other beforehand and love being something in the future that they will build up, rather than being the precondition to getting married, it's increasingly no longer the case. We don't expect to be matched up with a total stranger, and don't have to make the kind of choice Rebekah did.

Nonetheless, I often get the feeling that even if one has gotten to know someone and grown to care for him, so much about him remains a mystery. Love remains a risk - because who knows how many exasperating things might be hiding inside that person that now we don't see (maybe because love made us blind) but that annoy us years later! Which is why I also believe it's important to realise that even if one already knows and loves the person one marries, love is something that grows. Marriage does not happen at the "high point" of being in love, but is a point from which it has to continue on, because after that point, we're still going to get to know the other person more and more, and maybe things will come out that we don't like, or that simply get on our nerves. I believe love is more than "feelings"; it's a decision we have to keep on making.

We often hear nowadays of divorce rates skyrocketing. I know people who, because of that, see marriage as too great a risk - who knows, you might "fall out of love" at some point or feel like no longer going on - and would rather just live together in a relationship. I think it's good to recognise that marriage is a risky decision. But I believe that is not a reason to give up on the idea altogether. It's a risk that, with God, I believe is worth taking. So many things in life are risky and could end in a mess - but if we risk nothing, we won't live. And I believe that holding on to the fact that God led you together can give the strength to decide, again and again, to keep forgiving and enduring and loving. Which is also why I believe asking about God's will in the matter is an important step before saying yes to anyone.

(Which however does not mean that it will always work out smoothly if you "add God to the equation". I've experienced it not working out like that. We can also misunderstand God's will - or have a partner who does not want to make another effort when we do, when things go wrong. However, I do believe that the Bible teaches us to overcome ourselves and make the extra effort to love, and that the kind of love the Bible speaks of - which is not just boy-girl / husband-wife love but the love we should have towards all people - is something active and something that involves decision and the will. So even if it does not "work" as a "save-your-marriage" method, I believe it is what we should do, because it's right and what true love is.)

And don't ask me how this turned into a treatise on love and marriage and divorce....................-__-;

Picture by Nicolò Grassi

02 August 2014

Lot's Daughters: Desperate

Genesis 19:30-38

Behind me destruction,
before me fear.
What choice do I have?
I'm desperate.

Today looks bleak,
tomorrow darker still -
the days stretch out to hopelessness
and I see myself
defenceless, alone,
at the mercy of strangers,
far away from a home
that no longer exists.
Childless, helpless,
no one to provide,
destitute and lost -
so desperate.

If this is my outlook
what choice do I have,
but to do the unthinkable
though it be unforgivable?
I'll quell my qualms
and kill my conscience -
for what is good
and what is evil
and what can be called sin
in this state of desperation,
this one-way street,
where the only way out
seems giving in?

_______________________________________________________________

[19. January 2013]

This is one of the stories they censor from children's Bibles. But I think I first heard it when I was 10 or younger...

Remember Lot? God helped him escape from Sodom and Gomorrah with his family when it was destroyed. What happened afterwards is less well-known. Lot and his daughters lived in a cave - his daughters were afraid that they would not find a husband and not be able to have children - subsequently they made their father drunk and slept with him.

Pretty extreme...

I was wondering how I'd write this one.
There is actually one interpretation of the text that says the text is "covering up" what "really happened", and says it was Lot who raped his daughters but the opposite was recorded. I don't agree with picking apart a text like that, though, and I'd rather not simplify a difficult story. Men are not always to blame, it does happen that women abuse men...

But I'm not interested in passing blame either. I think to understand this story we need to understand that in the culture Lot's daughters were in, having children was deemed very important. In many cultures not long ago (or even today still...) a woman was not really a full woman unless she had children. Plus, protection and provision from a man was important. It's only quite recently that women could start living independently and fend for themselves without drawbacks and stigma.

Lot's daughters were under the pressure of that system, they had just gone through the traumatic experience of losing everything (including their fiancés who refused to escape with them), and they were facing an uncertain future. Their father was afraid of going anywhere near a town, so they felt themselves at a point where they needed to go to desperate measures.

I guess sometimes we can get so desperate and afraid that we no longer care about whether something is right or wrong. We go to desperate measures instead of being patient and trusting. Well, being patient and trusting and waiting for God to help can be very hard!! But maybe that's what Lot's daughters should have done... It's interesting how this comes right after the saving of Lot from Sodom, which was destroyed because of its sin. Lot was saved because he was a righteous man... and yet no one is sinless. Sin still goes on, as long as we try to save ourselves and don't remember it is God alone who can save us, even in the most desperate circumstances.

But it's also important not to judge too quickly people who do rash and wrong things in a desperate situation. They may do wrong things because they think there's no other solution - they might find it wrong themselves, and struggle with themselves afterwards. So harsh words won't help in such a case... rather, being loving to them and gently showing them that although what they did was wrong (and they might come up with that by themselves, one doesn't have to poke it in their face...), there is forgiveness and grace. These are hurt and damaged people who need healing instead of another bashing on an already bashed conscience...

Picture: Bonifacio de Pitati (and I like how it has the burning Sodom in the background...)

29 July 2014

Lot's Wife: I Turn Around

Genesis 19:1-29 | Luke 14:25-33

"No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God." (Luke 9:62)

It was easy
when all was fine
and I did not have to choose
between you
and all my other loves.
It was easy
to follow you
when I could have the rest as well.

But now
with the choice before me
I see it was never
easy at all.

And in one moment
I think back
and think of the cost
and what I have to leave.
Family, possessions, home,
all I have known,
all I have loved.
And I think of the things
you want me to let go.

Can I let go
and trust in you -
give it all away
believing
that you return it all
more than a hundredfold?

No.
It is too much.
It is too hard.
I can't give it to you.
Or: I don't want to.

Now that it comes to it
I don't think
I want to give it up at all -
and so
          I
            turn
                    around.

_________________________________________________________________

[March 2012]

Counting the cost...

I tried in this poem to portray Lot's wife as one person who has the chance, who knows about God and stands before the choice of following Him - and in the end decides it's too much, and she doesn't want to give up all the other things of life.

Following Jesus can be costly - it means a change of priorities, a change of allegiance, God now ruling our lives, and that can mean giving up on things we love. So it's something we need to be serious about. God gives us grace, but it's not a cheap grace! In the end, though, it's worth it - it is better to lose out now, and suffer the consequences of following Jesus, than suffer the consequences of not following Him. He wants to save us, and He knows what is good for us - like God led Lot's family out of Sodom in order to rescue them, when He calls us to follow Him it is in order to save us.

Why did Lot's wife turn back? Isn't it in some way understandable - all the things she knew and grew up with behind her, and no chance for a last good-bye? It seems a bit harsh what happened to her. But was her changing into a pillar of salt God's punishment, or the consequences (e.g. of not running away quickly enough from the effects of the "fire and brimstone") He was trying to save her from when He forbade her to turn around?

Obedience to God can be costly... but when He asks us to do difficult things, painful things, it is for our good (even if we might not see it at first), and the benefits outweigh the loss.

Picture by Gustave Doré