Close up of small clay jars. Text over the top: Jars of clay: a letter to Gideon. Faith in Grey Places

Jars of clay: a letter to Gideon

I’m returning to my series of letters to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Last year I got to Rahab, and this year I’m finishing by writing to those the author of Hebrews didn’t have time to cover: Gideon, Barak (and Deborah), Samson, Jephthah (and his daughter), David and Samuel. 

The topic of warfare is common to all of them, and some of these men made disastrous decisions. Even so, I’m looking forward to discovering more about each of them as I write to them. 

Continue reading Jars of clay: a letter to Gideon
Close up of shepherds in a nativity scene with lambs. Text over the top: Shepherd, leave your watch and field (a poem inspired by Luke 2:8-16) Faith in Grey Places

Luke 2:8–16: Shepherd, leave your flock and fold (a poem)

‘But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times.’  

Micah 5:2 (NIVUK)

Today’s reading is Luke 2:8–16, the story about the shepherds coming to visit Jesus. 

Continue reading Luke 2:8–16: Shepherd, leave your flock and fold (a poem)
Close up of a Christmas decoration where Mary holds a baby Jesus. Text over the top: The Prince of Prayer (a poem inspired by Luke 2:1–7) Faith in Grey Places

Luke 2:1–7: The Prince of Prayer (a poem)

Today’s reading is Luke 2:1,3–7. It’s  the story of Mary and Joseph going to Bethlehem. There, Mary gives birth and famously places Jesus in a manger because there was no room in the ‘inn.’ (My post from Christmas Eve last year has some useful notes on this word.)

Continue reading Luke 2:1–7: The Prince of Prayer (a poem)
White feathers on a large wing. Text over the top: The Weight of Wings (a poem inspired by Luke 1:26–38) Faith in Grey Places

Luke 1:26–38: The Weight of Wings (a poem)

Continuing the series of poems drawing on the scripture readings in a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Strictly speaking, the reading for today is Luke 1:26–35,38.

This is one of those passages that’s so famous, it’s hard to know what more can be said about it. 

Continue reading Luke 1:26–38: The Weight of Wings (a poem)
White wooden dove decoration on a wooden surface

Isaiah 11:1–9: The King of Peace (a poem)

Continuing the series of poems drawing on the scripture readings in a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols. Strictly speaking, the reading for today is Isaiah 11:1–3a;4a;6–9.

When I looked at this passage, the thing that stayed with me most was the concept of a hendiadys. Literally meaning “one from two,” a hendiadys is where a single thought is expressed in two words joined with “and”. 

Continue reading Isaiah 11:1–9: The King of Peace (a poem)
Crescent of the sun coming out from a solar eclipse, lighting up the clouds around a browny-orange. Text: Who walks when you walk in darkness? (a poem inspired by Isaiah 9:2,6–7) Faith in Grey Places

Isaiah 9:2,6–7: Who walks when you walk in darkness? (a poem)

Continuing the series of poems drawing on the scripture readings in a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

OK we’re getting into very famous territory with today’s reading. It’s all about God’s promise to raise up a righteous leader, like David was, who will lead the Israelites out of darkness. 

Continue reading Isaiah 9:2,6–7: Who walks when you walk in darkness? (a poem)
Smoking flames of a small camp fire in the daytime. Text over the top: The Day to Live (a poem inspired by Genesis 22:15-18). Faith in Grey Places

Genesis 22:15–18: The Day to Live (a poem)

Continuing the series of poems drawing on the scripture readings in a Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols

Genesis 22 is all about the time that God tested Abraham, who prepared to sacrifice Isaac — even though Isaac was the only son he had by that time. I wrote more about that story (and the theological debates that surround it) in my letter to Abraham as part of the previous series.

Continue reading Genesis 22:15–18: The Day to Live (a poem)
Window in a stone wall with closed wooden shutters painted scarlet. Text over the top: Acting in the moment: a letter to Rahab. Faith in Grey Places.

Acting in the moment: a letter to Rahab

This is the last (for now) in the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. I will probably return to Hebrews 11 in the new year to cover those the author said they didn’t have time to go into (Gideon through to Samuel).

Rahab was a Canaanite and a prostitute who hid two of Joshua’s spies when they came to the city. The story is in Joshua 2, Joshua 6:17,22–23. 

Continue reading Acting in the moment: a letter to Rahab
Landscape of sand dunes with a trail of footprints at the side. Text over the top: To fight and be good: a letter to Joshua

To fight and be good: a letter to Joshua

This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. This one is to Joshua. 

Joshua was Moses’s successor, though he had quite a career before Moses died. He fought the Amalekites (Exodus 17); he went with Moses, at least part of the way, when Moses went to meet God on Mount Horeb (Exodus 24); and he had a habit of sitting at the tent of meeting (Exodus 33:11). 

Continue reading To fight and be good: a letter to Joshua
Manuscript of Hebrew text from Exodus 15. Text over the top: Trusting God's goodness: a letter to Moses. Faith in Grey Places

Trusting God’s goodness: a letter to Moses

This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. This one is the second of two letters to Moses. The first letter is on my blog here.

The author of Hebrews mentions Moses both as a young man and as a much older one, when he led the Israelites out of Egypt. Far from how Hollywood is wont to portray him, Moses was 80 years old during the Exodus and, I suspect, someone who stammered (Exodus 4:10, Exodus 6:12 – albeit there are other ways to interpret these verses). 

Continue reading Trusting God’s goodness: a letter to Moses
Black and white photo of the head and shoulders of a young person, viewed from behind, attending a protest. They wear a backwards cap with the word “Freedom” on it. Text over the top: Passion and justice: a letter to Moses. Faith in Grey Places.

Passion and justice: a letter to Moses

This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. This one is the first of two letters to Moses. 

When the author of Hebrews writes about Moses, there are several “by faith” statements. In this letter, I’m going to focus on the first two: about how he refused to be considered an Egyptian, and how he left Egypt. 

Continue reading Passion and justice: a letter to Moses
Yellow reeds in a river. Text over the top: A mother's courage: letter to Jochebed. Faith in Grey Places

A mother’s courage: letter to Jochebed

This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. This one is to Moses’s mother, Jochebed.

We’ve moved from Genesis to the beginning of the book of Exodus.

Continue reading A mother’s courage: letter to Jochebed
Brown silhouettes of mountains against a yellow sky with a dark silhouette of a camel in the foreground. Text over the top: The witness of the body: a letter to Joseph. Faith in Grey Places

The witness of the body: a letter to Joseph

This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. This one is to Joseph.

Joseph had a very eventful life. It’s the subject of Genesis 41–50. Although his brothers sold him as a slave, he ended up in Egypt and rose to power just in time to manage a famine. He reconciled with his brothers and then his whole family came to live in Egypt. When Jacob/Israel died, Joseph led a large entourage to bury him with his wife, father and grandfather. Curiously, Joseph didn’t ask for the same thing when he died. Well, not in the same way: he asked for his bones to be taken back to Canaan when God came to his people. 

And that’s what I focus on in this letter. 

Continue reading The witness of the body: a letter to Joseph
House plant near a desk that holds up a white canvas with words from Micah 6:8 on them; the top of the canvas is out of shot but the words "walk humbly" are visible. Text over the top: The truth of worship: a letter to Abraham

The truth of worship: a letter to Abraham

This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Today’s is to Abraham and in particular the part of his story where he very nearly sacrifices Isaac. The story is in Genesis 22, though Genesis 18:1–15 and Genesis 21:1–7 provide context.

Jews refer to the (non-)sacrifice of Isaac as the “Akedah.” Some of what I write in this post draws on a book by scholar Aaron Koller: Unbinding Isaac: The Significance of the Akedah for Modern Jewish Thought (2020: Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press).

Continue reading The truth of worship: a letter to Abraham
Yellow wall with small purple flowers growing up it. Text over the top: The story less told: a letter to Sarah

The story never told: a letter to Sarah

This is part of the series of letters I’m writing to people listed in Hebrews 11 as the “cloud of witnesses” who went before us. Today’s is to Sarah. Her story is broken up and intersects with those of her husband, Abraham, and her slave Hagar. You can find the relevant passages in Genesis 12:10–20, Genesis 16, Genesis 17:15–22, Genesis 18:1–15, Genesis 20, Genesis 21:1–21.

Sarah’s not exactly a comfortable story—both in terms of how Abraham treated her and how she treated Hagar. Nevertheless, Sarah’s story and her identity as a mother figure was of huge importance in Jewish thought and we can see this in New Testament writings. 

Continue reading The story never told: a letter to Sarah