Anna steps out of the shadows – Luke 2:22-40

God moves in mysterious ways, and so often uses us at our weakest, because that’s when we don’t get in the way of what he wants to say or do. This morning felt like one of those morning’s in St. Barnabas, and I sense from what people said that God’s message through this ‘inhabitation’ of Anna, may benefit from a wider hearing. The text is below, but if you want to watch it’s on the St. Barnabas feed here, starting at 20 minutes into the the service.

‘Anna’ speaking at St. Barnabas Darby Green

I have got used to waiting in the shadows.
Watching and waiting, fasting and praying.
Listening too, eager to hear what God is saying.

The shadows are my home now, here in the Temple, or at least in that part of it in which I am allowed to stay. I wait here, watching and listening for a sign of hope, for a truer, more steadfast light in the darkness than the braziers that warm the nights.

My former life in the north seems a lifetime away, probably because it is – it’s a long while since I left. As a childless widow I no longer had a place in my community, no value to a society that sets such store by what your status within family life. Odd really when so many of our scriptures tell us that God prioritises the widow and the orphan (Isaiah 1:17, Psalm 146:9) and expects the same from us (Exodus 22:22).

But then, so many of those who jostle for position in society or even within these Temple walls, seem to forget, ignore or neglect the teachings of scripture. I retreated here many years ago, expecting to encounter justice, mercy and love in God’s holy place, but was disappointed to find there was an even greater poverty of integrity in the faith of most who frequent these courts. I was shocked by the number of people who deemed it necessary to be seen to be here every day, or at least every Sabbath and Holy Day. Yes, it’s a big place that usually holds them all quite comfortably, but they have synagogues in their own communities, their own priests and spiritual leaders to whom they can turn for teaching and advice; yet they seem to need to be noticed as worshipping members of the Temple community, rather than supporting fellowships nearer to home. Their presence seems to add to the shadows rather, or at least emphasise that so many lives are so far from seeking God’s presence to be revealed in their neighbourhoods and lives.

Because I’ve watched and listened, studied scripture and even astronomy, I know that shadows are created by light. Even on the brightest day, one creates the other as the sun pushes past the pillars around me. But the biggest shadows in the Temple are those caste by the theological debates that swirl past me, as the leaders of our faith insulate themselves from reality by fabricating the rules and regulations that define who can do what; who can’t do anything; and why we should believe everything they say. So many of our leaders seem to forget that it’s not them that we should be believing in; the light of faith comes from another source entirely – the Spirit of God.

Of course there are regulars here, who seem to have a far more authentic faith, like Simeon for example. He is the seeker and the guide, always looking outwards from his own needs towards those of others. That’s how we got to know each other a bit, as he almost always asks after my health and well-being when he visits. God speaks to the quiet of his soul, and has promised him he’ll see the salvation of all God’s people before he departs this world.

Instead of getting embroiled in heated debates, Simeon prefers to watch quietly, seeking out those who travel-in occasionally from the countryside, the hesitant, and those whose pain and turmoil is written all over their expressions. As he befriends them – engaging them in gentle, perceptive conversation – there’s plenty that I can learn from people’s body language, and indeed hear in the acoustics of this place, even with my dulled hearing and rheumy eyes. So I stand a little distance apart, praying them through their conversation, seeking God’s light in their darkness. At a later time, I’ll try to catch the people concerned and share any wisdom I’ve discerned, or pass it on to them through Simeon. I guess that because I’m willing to speak to people of what God has shown my quietened mind, some have come to tell of me as a prophetess – though that’s to God’s honour not mine.

Today was much the same; Simeon spotted the couple with the child in their arms. Given they’d patently bought two young pigeons in the outer courts, I thought he must their first-born, whom they needed to offer to and redeem from God, as required by those rules and regulations the priests are so fond of. That being the case, the little scrap can only have been a few weeks old, but already he had a presence that seemed to grab your attention. I did wonder why they too had chosen to come here, rather than their local synagogue? They didn’t look or behave like they fitted the mould of those who wanted their neighbours to know their son had been redeemed at the Temple. As with most new parents, they looked tired, and worn, and not a little dishevelled from their journey into town; but they also seemed to carry with them a presence, The Presence, that suggested that for them this was no symbolic act, but had deep significance.

Simeon had spotted that too, and as I watched he received the child into his arms from the parents, with a reverence and a joy that radiated from him. I knew at once that he too sensed this child was different, important, a gift from God. So I listened and prayed even more intently as he proclaimed to the child’s parents that he saw not only his own salvation but the salvation of the world in the life of their son! This was no ordinary child, and I watched his mother’s face as Simeon’s words of blessing spoke of the challenge that their babe would offer to those who currently held their so-called authority in this place so preciously, and the pain that would cause her. She and her husband didn’t seem particularly shocked by the nature of the prophesy. Rather, they looked amazed and grateful that someone shared their understanding of the child’s importance. They already knew, what the Holy Spirit had just revealed to Simeon; the child in their care was the Messiah.

The presence of this child in the Temple changed everything. Here was God, come suddenly to his Temple, just as the prophet Malachi had promised (Malachi 3:1). As Simeon received the gift of God’s grace and peace in the salvation that was being offered by the tiny child in his arms, I saw the redemption of all humanity: this child would grow to fulfil Isaiah’s prophesy that the one who would come to heal the our collective failure to understand and live by our scriptures, would be pierced for all our faults (Isaiah 53). Indeed, he would be the one that would fulfil Israel’s calling to bring God’s light to all the world (Isaiah 60:1-3) if only Abraham’s descendants could recognise that fact and proclaim it to the world.

I knew then that my last days would not be spent in the shadows, but in the light of that knowledge. I stepped out into the courtyard and started to praise God for what I had seen and heard. I interrupted every group of debating theologians I could find. I explained to them that what they were looking for, I had seen; and they could see it too if only they would stop straining the gnats and swallowing the camels (Matthew 23:24) of the rules they said we have to follow to earn God’s favour. Yes, I insisted, God was offering us his mercy, grace and hope, if we would only share in the love of this small child who was the fulfilment of all that had gone before in the history of God’s people. I knew with all of my being that in this babe, God’s Spirit would make possible the end of legalism and redeem us from the cultural sin of ignoring and ostracising the widow, the orphan, and anyone else who doesn’t seek power or make a hollow show of humility. I wanted everyone to know that God’s Spirit was living and active in the life of the little child who had been promised us (Isaiah 11:6), the one who would bring peace and reconciliation to all God’s creation. Those who hear me may not want to listen, but I know what I have seen, and I will end my days, praising God for what he showed me this day in the Temple.

Making a wall-hung ‘Wave over the Seashore’

‘Wave over the Seashore’ the prototype and the spoke pattern that creates it.

So, this weekend the double-bicentinary of the Dorset Button industry has been launched online by the ever creative Jen Best of Beaker Buttons. My main contribution was to make the ‘button’ element of what has become my ‘signature piece’ of a rather freeform ‘Wave over the Seashore’ – a riff on one of Jen’s own designs. My original piece, made a year ago, is at the top of the picture on the left. The part-made piece at the bottom shows the start of the process.

Being a wet day, and a weekend off, my husband Graham and I also took the opportunity to set up the tech so I could create a video of the process – simple video editing being a skill I’ve had to learn as a minister during the pandemic! Creating a ‘Wave over the Seashore’.

As I started I thought I was going to be making more than one item in the day, and whilst that was true by late evening (a made a bouquet button brooch whilst the video was processing) not at the time I edited together the video clips. It’s very amateur and simple, I’m rather talkative, and it’s more ‘slow tv’ than a tutorial! The photo below also shows the creative technical space that our loung looked like whilst the whole thing was going on.

Videoing the creative process! (Photo and set up creds to my husband!)

I’ve got another new design to finish embelishing, and a commission outstanding, so this one won’t get embelished immediately, but it was fun to make the video, and I might make it a companion piece at some point. Other creations finished this weekend – and visiting distractions – are shown below.

Double bi-centenary for Dorset Buttons – as I head into another year of creativity #2022

This year marks 400 years since the Dorset Button industry started to supply the British fashion industry with hand-made works of art. More knowledgable folk that me have written about its history but it’s worth taking time to read it; in our mass-produced society it’s easy to forget that so much was hand-made in poor light in people’s homes.

More recently, sparked partly by the quest historic accuracy in costume dramas, and partly by renewed interest in traditional crafts, interest has been renewed, and I count myself as one who has come late to the Dorset Button party. However, last year I seem to have tried to make up for it, and have actually lost count of the number of ‘buttons’ I’ve made.

There is just something about the whole form that has really sparked my imagination. The last couple of posts in this incredibly sporadic blog showed ‘seashores’ and a ‘cross’ which then inspired a sermon – not the last point in the year where creativity and calling met. The blog silence since has largely been filled with the sound of my brain giving off sparks, holes being drilled in seashells, and commissions being completed – an unexpected development. Above is a selection of my 2021 output, now all safely resident with their recipients, or kept for posterity.

Celebrations for this year’s Double Bicentenary of Dorset Buttons kicks off today with an “Worldwide Button-along” hosted by Jen Best of Beaker Buttons, the lady whose excellent instructions and creativity got me started on all this (and who’s shop is my main source of materials!). I am looking forward to seeing and being inspired by other people’s creativity, but in preparation felt I needed to expand my repertoire as there are many forms of ‘button’ to be mastered, and they don’t all involve yarn!

So, the last couple of evenings have seen me get a stash of ‘tippets’ of fabric out, and get to grips with the ‘Singleton’ form of Dorset Button. Once again, part of the delight of learning a new skill, is finding that a tiny scrap of material goes rather well with some modern multi-coloured cotton, and some 30+ year old daisy ‘trim’ unearthed from stash inherited from my mother, and beads that I’ve been gifted by friends to ‘feed my habit’. That’ll be up-cycling, recycling, and innovation all in one adaptation of a traditional craft – the results are shown below.

There are other delights to be shared soon too, not least using gifted threads to create posy-brooches, finishing a small wall-hanging inspired by the “hare-ways” of holidays in Suffolk, and the latest commission, a memorial piece with a Shakespearian flavour! Hopefully this DB of DBs (Double Bicentenary of Dorset Buttons) will also see me keeping a better record of the creative processes as they happen.

If you’re interested in buying or commissioning one of my creations, large or small, please look at my ETSY or get in touch via this blog or my other social media @ramtopsrac