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Dear Fellow Journeyers,

For Lent this year, I invite you to go on a journey with me back to ancient Israel, to the lives of five of the most courageous women who have ever lived. (their lives will also apply to men, so hang in there, guys). These five women are the only women mentioned in the geneology of Jesus in Matthew 1 (verses 3-6, 16). I wondered who they were and why they were listed along with all those men in a very patriarchal culture.

I discovered that they all took incredible risks to trust God’s leading in their lives and in the darkest moments in their stories. So come along with me as we meet Bathsheba, Mary, Rahab, Ruth and Tamar.

You might wonder, why take up courage for Lent? Well, I’ve found that it takes courage to heed the call from God to come closer when we don’t know exactly what that will entail. It takes courage to amend our lives, to take the journey of self emptying, to feel intimacy with God and to allow ourselves to be filled with God’s unconditional love.

Back to the Five Women; As a visual and artistic image I’ve chosen a shawl as their symbol. Shawls are ancient articles of clothing and often sources of comfort. You may want to have a shawl near you or around your shoulders as you read and process these stories. (Guys can get one of their favorite flannel shirts!) Ask yourself, as we engage with these woman, how  each of them would best be remembered using a shawl. For example, Ruth may have carried all of her belongings in her shawl as she left for her homeland.

Uriah’s wife, Bathsheba

The unnamed woman

 The woman who found her name, her voice, her future

Scripture reference: II Samuel 11,12 and I Kings 1, 2

Synopsis:

1. Bathsheba has no name in the genealogy of Jesus except Uriah’s wife. She was married to an army general, Uriah, who was well respected. Things were going well. She took one of her usual baths in the privacy of her rooftop and had no idea what was about to happen to her. She becomes a pawn of power.

2. King David walked out on his roof, which was higher than hers, and saw her bathing. He was struck with her beauty and told his men to bring her to him. He took her sexually. Since women were property in her culture and he was king, she had no choice but to obey. And to make matters worse, she got pregnant by David.

3. Then King David planned a military attack and put her husband in front of the troops deliberately so that he would be killed. Sure enough, he was killed. David took Bathsheba as his wife.

4. The prophet, Nathan, confronts David with what he was done and predicts their baby will die as a result of David’s acts. The baby does die. So Bathsheba has lost her husband and child as a result of the king’s behavior. She is powerless but she trusts God to lead her. She is in her darkest moment but she listens to God.

5. Bathsheba starts over. She finds a way to claim her name and her voice. She has another baby boy, Solomon (remember him?). She claims her power and earns her name again with David by making him promise to make her son, Solomon, king when David’s reign ends. She stands her ground in her old age and when there is a fight over the kingship she makes David keep his promise to make Solomon the next king.

6. Solomon is made king and Bathsheba has a special role as his mother. He was a great and wise king. He keeps the David line alive and is an important figure in Jesus’ lineage. Bathsheba found her name and her identity. She was a pivotal figure in keeping Jesus’ genealogy going by not letting the terrible circumstances of her life silence her.

Take some quiet time, reflecting on the story with the following questions:

How would you imagine Bathsheba using her shawl in her story?

When have you felt like a pawn of people with power over you? How did it affect you?

When have you faced a crisis or tragedy and felt you had no voice, not even a name? How did you react?

When have you started over or taken a stand to find your name, your voice, your identity—to become visible?

What identity or special gift has God given you? How has this gift or identity strengthened your faith?

What did Bathsheba do, in summary, to keep the genealogy of Jesus going?

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                                My Cup Overflows (40 inch quilted icon)

If you are looking for a quiet and artful way to experience the Lenten season, I would like to invite you to the inaugural showing of my quilted contemporary icons. The whole 23rd Psalm icon series will be part of a prayer experience at Central Lutheran Church in downtown Mpls for three days preceding Palm Sunday, Thursday March 29 4-9 PM, Friday March 30 1-5 PM, Saturday March 31 12-4 PM

Also “My Cup Overflows” icon will be displayed at the main reception desk in the office all during Lent. Free parking; directions and church hours  http://www.centralmpls.org   I would love to have you experience them in this lovely cathedral-like sanctuary. Janet

A Beam of Light

My brother died recently. Not a gentle death coming at the end of a life well lived but a tough death at the end of a multi-year struggle with strokes and seizures brought on by chronic drinking. The week before he died he had a major seizure followed by heart failure at his home in a rural area of our state. He was pronounced brain dead after he was airlifted to a regional trauma center but was kept on a respirator until we were ready to release him. A dramatic and sad ending to a difficult life.

My brother suffered from the untreated disease of alcoholism, a legacy from my father. Almost every family has a member with either alcoholism or mental illness that, if untreated, wreaks havoc in the family. And since there is usually shame and judgment associated with both of these maladies, we are not very open about our experiences. In my brother’s case, he did not choose treatment or other recovery options so his disease went unchecked until it killed him.

While my brother was playing out his chaotic role in the family I was almost the complete opposite. It fell to me to be the achiever, the performer, being good and doing well. While I was not conscious of this at the time, I now know that part of my motivation for success was to camouflage the family chaos. I was not much healthier than my brother because I was caught in my achievement script, which took its toll on me as well. But my life of achievement was more rewarded by the culture. Most people would say I “made good.” My brother would have called me the “goody two-shoes” of the family. Does this sound familiar to anyone?

In my brother’s final hours, I went to the hospital to be with my sister-in-law and we were exceptionally present to my brother. We rubbed his face, arms and legs with lotion, told him we loved him (things he’d never let us do when he was conscious), told each other our favorite stories about him, recited the twenty-third Psalm, and told him he could leave and we’d be fine. We did our best to soothe him and send him on his way to the other side where he would be lovingly received and would be without pain or disease.

I was able to be present to my brother at his death because seven years earlier we had a powerful reconciliation. For much of my adult life my brother’s disease caused a major rift in our relationship. Sad stories and harsh treatment were my primary memories, and for several years we had no contact because it was too stressful. But about ten years ago I felt drawn, in prayer, to make a scrapbook for him depicting the first twenty-five years of his life, before his downward spiral. It was good for my soul to do this and it softened his heart towards me as well.

Just a few years later, when he suffered his first stroke and was semi-conscious in the hospital, I visited him and whispered in his ear all the things I wanted to say by way of forgiveness and compassion for him. Miraculously he came to and for one hour he opened the door of his heart to me. We talked about our childhood, his resolve to get help and stop drinking, and about our relationship as brother and sister. It was one of the most amazing hours of my life. What a gift he gave me, that hour of reconciliation. Then his inner door closed and we never spoke of these things again. We were in contact but did not grow closer.

Thankfully, during his last hours, I was able to be present to him compassionately because of that hour we spent together seven years ago. I had a sense of peace at the time of his actual death. We had both done what we could and it was good. I can honestly say I loved my brother and will miss him and the long family history that we shared. And because I knew that he suffered from an untreated disease I could better understand his pain, even though I still had to process my lingering anger and deep sorrow about the loss of him as a brother and how his life affected mine in negative ways.

This all leaves me with deeper questions though. I understand that he chose not to get treatment for some reason and that this decision caused him and others a lot of pain. I can also see in my life the consequences of choosing not to face my pain, so I cannot judge him too harshly. But another question arises for me. How do we find meaning in a life that seems, on the surface, to be wasted? I think of the homeless, chronic addicts, alcoholics, people with untreated mental illness, and those who are incarcerated. Ironically, I’ve worked with “marginalized” people for a long time and I’ve learned some of my best life lessons from them. I’ve learned about generosity, survival, and simplicity. They’ve taught me what is more important than security or even sanity and that is love and community. They have taught me compassion for my own brokenness. So I know you do not have to be well or sane or dry to make a difference.

But these “teachers” of mine were someone else’s brother, daughter or son, not my own brother. I didn’t see the make-a-difference things in my own brother.

In my grieving process, though, I began to open myself to a wider vision of my brother’s life and I asked God to help me see the meaning of his life. I listed my positive memories of him. I asked his best friend from childhood to tell me some good stories of his early years. At his funeral, I saw his colleagues in the military and the police force honor his thirty-four years of public service in which he continually put his life on the line. And from comments people made to the on-line obituary I saw a side of my brother I had not experienced–a humorous and generous people person.

Now I think of each life as incredibly complex, wounded and in various stages of healing, some healing accomplished here but total healing only completed on the other side. I also affirm that God gives each life worth, even if we don’t see it, and that there are beams of light that shine from each life, no matter how these lives may appear on the surface. And I know that love and community come in unexpected and unusual ways.

I may never know the full effect my brother’s life had on others. I do know our reconciliation had a profound effect on me. But I did find another beam of light in his life, a beam that helped me to be grateful that he lived. Despite not being able to save himself, my brother saved the lives of three other people; my father, who had collapsed in the water at our lake cabin, a man who had a heart attack at a party, and a man my brother dragged out of the Mississippi River after he had jumped from a bridge in a suicide attempt.

I consider that a beam of light.

Janet O. Hagberg, 2011. All rights reserved. This essay is appearing in the online journal Conversations in Spring, 2012.

Reflections on this essay

Which of your siblings or parents are you most estranged from or at odds with?

How does this effect you?

Who have you known who is like them in some way that you respect?

What one thing is redeeming about your sibling or parent?

What is one beam of light that you see shining out from your life?

How are you healing with your relationship or how do you cope with the estrangement?

Healing From Intimidation

 When any kind of healing occurs; spiritual, physical, emotional or mental, I consider it a gift from God. It is a cause for celebration and gratitude. I want healing yet sometimes I am fearful of it as well. So when I am aware that God gifts me with the grace of healing, I can trust it and be glad.

Healing happens in a wide variety of ways, some subtle and small, others grand. God uses the way that makes the most sense for our souls. It’s as if God tailor makes the healing once we are open to it. One of my dear friends had a healing with her dead father who had died on her third birthday. No one ever talked about him after his death and it left a large void in her life. My friend took a big risk to find out from family members about her dad, even though it was very difficult for her. Eventually she was able to go to his graveside and talk with him, leaving flowers for him as a final amen. She felt healed, and sensed mutual love and forgiveness. When I did a similar thing, visiting my mother’s grave, the first words her spirit said to me warmed my heart.  “Thanks for coming here. I’ve been waiting for you for ten years.”

Healing is hard even though it is freeing. Sometimes we have to release a lot of baggage in order to receive even the possibility for healing. We may be holding onto fear, anger, injustice, bitterness, victim hood, resentment, vindication, revenge, guilt or a host of other debilitating emotions. So our call is to do the work on our side of the issue in ways that are healing for us, even if it doesn’t always occur overtly with the other person. I believe, though, that when we truly heal, the other person can feel it on some level even if they are not fully conscious of it.

I had what felt like a spontaneous healing experience that gave me confidence that I was making progress in my inner life. I have a history of allowing intimidating people into my life and then not being able to detach from them (a story that began in childhood). In this case I had been invited to a lunch with a woman who was interested in working with me on some projects. Over the course of the lunch it became apparent to me that she was very intense and quite opinionated. She was also charismatic and persuasive. I was feeling myself being taken in by her confidence and her way of enveloping the space around us. But then I began to feel a sense of suffocation that was familiar to me. When I gave a suggestion or voiced my ideas, she didn’t acknowledge them and didn’t seem to notice that she hadn’t heard me. I’ve been there before. I tried a few more times to interject some of my ideas but to no avail. I knew she would ask me to meet again and to endorse her work by joining her. I could also sense that this was a test for me. So at the end of the lunch I said, clearly but gently, that I felt her ideas were really good and that she would go a long way but that I would have to work too hard for my voice to be heard if I worked with her. I said I wasn’t up for that effort. We left our lunch and I never heard from her again. I felt free.

A more recent healing from my history of intimidation came to me in a waking dream state near an anniversary date of a sad but freeing event in my life. It was the anniversary of one of the most crucial times in my life, when I had the courage to say no to personal intimidation even though it cost me a great deal. In this recent waking dream a man had invited me to take his class, on a subject that I was not really interested in. I said I appreciated his invitation but “No, thanks.” He pursued me several times to persuade me to come. Each time I said no, that the class just didn’t fit for me right now. Again, in the dream, I saw this man at a professional event and he told my friends who were standing with me that perhaps now that I’d bumped into him I would finally be able to make a commitment to his class since I had been unable to make that commitment so far. I immediately felt intimidated, like my disinterest in his class had strangely become an issue, and that he was falsely suggesting that I was not willing to be committed.

But then there was a shift inside of me. Right there in the dream, right there in the moment, I took the time to go inside my own psyche, in front of the people standing around us. I knew that intimidating me in public was a way to up the ante, to deepen the control, because it is harder for me to disagree in public. When I went inside I found a different version of the story; my version, my truth about his intimidation. So I told my version of the story to the people around us and to him directly. In my version he would not take no for an answer even when I repeated it respectfully several times. So when he saw me in public he took the chance to shame me and to intimidate me into taking his class, thus gaining more power over me. I said I was not interested in his class and that it had nothing to do with fear of commitment. It had to do with my truth. I was clear, respectful and honest. He was shocked and he literally melted away, fading from the scene, leaving me with my friends.

I was quite amazed by this dream, particularly because I took the time, right in the moment, to go inside. My version of the story was so clear when I listened to my inner voice. I had clarity and courage right in the moment. It was another confirmation that I would recognize intimidation in the future when I experienced it and that I would not be as vulnerable to it as I had been in the past. I might be confronted with intimidating people but I knew I could trust my truth and my story—and take care of my needs. I felt as if I had been given an invisible gift of freedom from the tyranny of control. Since then I’ve had a chance to try out that newfound freedom whenever an intimidating person enters my life. I usually orchestrate an early exit or establish very clear boundaries. It works. What an incredible gift.

I wonder what other invisible gifts God has in store for me?

© Janet O. Hagberg, 2010. All rights reserved.

Reflections on this essay

When have you experienced a spontaneous thawing or reconciliation of a conflict?

What work had you done on your side of the issue in advance if any?

How have dreams had an impact on your relationships or your work?

How do you deal with intimidation or control, either yours or others?

What is a chronic vulnerability you are working on healing?

What impact does this healing have on your life?

Weeping May Tarry for the Night, but Joy Comes With the Morning. Psalm 30:5

This is one of my favorite icon images. It feels like the story of my life! An icon is like a window to God. We are drawn in by the image or color or meaning. As we move more deeply into the image we come closer to God. Indulge in this image and let God find you in it. If you are drawn to this verse and icon I am now selling these six inch icons (each made differently in the choice of two color families, blue/green/purple or red/orange/yellow). They take me six hours to create and are hand quilted so they are a work of love. If you are interested contact me at Janet@janethagberg.com  They are $48.00 plus tax and shipping, which includes a 20% discount for readers of this blog…

Reflections on this icon image:

What wakes you up in the night and brings you to tears or the thought of tears?

What sweet ways has God been present to you during the night in difficult times?

What meaning does the word tarry (or linger or endure) have for you?

What joy has come for you in the morning light?

Where do you find God in the joys of your life?

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