Jump directly to the Content
Jump directly to the content

Diane Glancy

A Raisin Cake Wrapped in Cloth

Anna, a prophetess.

Introduction to Uprising of Goats: A Collection of the Voices of Ten Biblical Women

Wherefore, seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily besets us, and let us run with patience the race that is set before us.—Hebrews 12:1 (KJV)

Do you see what this means? All these pioneers who blazed the way. All these veterans cheering us on. It means we better get on with it, strip down, start running and never quit.—Hebrews 12:1 (The Message)

I wanted to explore the voices of a few women in the cloud of witnesses—those veterans who went before us.

I decided their voices would be like the goat-hair bolster that Michal, the daughter of Saul and first wife of David, put in David's bed when her father wanted to kill him. The bolster made it look like David was sleeping there, though he had fled, letting himself down from the window.

I knew the voices of these women weren't really there—no one had recorded them, or if they had, their words were few. But I wanted a facsimile of what they could have said, as best as could be told by what I read of them in Scripture.

I wanted to look at their predicaments and personalities. I wanted to hear their hopes, angers and disappointments. Michal, for instance, always has been dismissed as someone who mocked David when he danced before the ark. But a different picture emerged when I looked at her life. She raised her sister's five sons after her death. Later, she saw them hanged by David because their grandfather, Saul, had broken an old covenant with the Gibeonites.

I wanted to walk in the shoes of these women. I wanted to experience what they faced—their triumphs, injustices, failings. It was as if their lives were not complete without ours, as ours was not complete without theirs.

I don't know why these particular voices came to me, but they did. I heard Dorcas' voice one afternoon as I worked in my office. Miriam came next. I heard the voices of the four daughters of Philip in my semester of research at Baylor University. I also heard their voices when I traveled to Israel and western Turkey. It seems true that the land holds some sort of record of what happened on it. Or the land carries voices of those who lived upon it. Does not Scripture say, "The voice of your brother's blood cries to me from the ground"?—Genesis 4:10 (KJV)

Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And coming in that instant [when Simeon recognized the child Jesus in the arms of Mary] she gave thanks likewise to the Lord, and spoke of him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.—Luke 2:36-38

Just before Christmas, the pastor of our church was talking about Simeon and Anna. He said that Anna must have led a lonely life in the temple. He saw her languishing for 84 years. I was working on Anna's voice at the time. She seemed full of life to me. She couldn't wait to pray. I wanted to raise my hand and disagree with the pastor.

It [the story of Christ] does not exactly work outward …. It is rather something that surprises us from behind, from the hidden and personal part of our being …. It is rather as if a man had found an inner room in the very heart of his own house, which he had never suspected.—G.K. Chesterton, The Everlasting Man

All day I pray until I forget to eat the little raisin cake wrapped in cloth. I pray for the lame, the crippled, and those carried on biers. I pray for the blind, the deaf, the poor, the destitute. If I hear someone crying or pleading with God, I go to them. I tell them of my hope in our God. I pray for the maimed. The leper. The possessed. When I feel the heat of the sun, I fold my head-cloth over my forehead again. Someone has given me another raisin cake wrapped in a cloth. Someone has given me another walking stick. I give to someone who needs it.

I hear a cry above the others. I find the woman, and pray for her. She lost a child, probably taken by herders who come into the city. Maybe one of them had a wife who had no child. Or whose child had died. She pleads: Is there no one to track them into the desert? I sit with her while she grieves.

I pray in the main courtyard of the temple all day. At night, I sleep with other widows in our rooms in the smaller women's courtyard off the main courtyard. I hear the soldiers passing in the street. I see the flicker of the centurions' barrel fires. I hear the noise of chariots. What would it be to ride in a chariot with those horses that rumble the streets when they pass? But Scripture is a chariot. I wonder where that foolish thought came from. How pitiful thoughts are—forgotten little cakes wrapped in cloth. I pray for the soldiers. They have duties that keep them from God. I grieve for the world. I offer it my prayers.

Prayer is a longing for the absence of separation.

I hear the olive orchards from the hill—their voices raised in praise. Once, I played there as a girl. Once, I was lost in the orchard when my mother gathered olives after dark—I sat with small animals until my mother called. When I was older, I helped her pick the olives. I helped her press them with the mortar and pestle to make oil for our lamp.

In the daylight, I watched the men shake the olive trees, or hit the branches with poles until the olives fell. The small animals, resting in the shade of the trees, would run. The men left a few olives for the wayfarers. It's what Scripture instructed them to do.

After dark, I stand in the main courtyard under the moon round as prayer. I pray when I go into the women's small courtyard to sleep. I pray in my dreams. I dream I am praying. I pray I am dreaming when I hear the noise of trouble in the streets—the crazy ones, the beggars, the robbers. Prayer is silver as an olive orchard wrapped in moonlight.

Be quiet, Anna, someone says.

She's dreaming again, another widow interrupts. As if we didn't have enough worries, she stirs them up in her sleep. She invents more sorrows.

Lord—there is war in my thoughts. What must it be for others? The evil one tries to interrupt my prayers. Lord, I have seen into your heavens. Yet I cannot keep my mind there. Hosts after hosts upon hosts. Do we stand with them? Do we stand in your courtyard? In front of your throne? Will you tell us where to go? Will there be someone there to guide us?—When your heaven is turned upside down like fishing boats on the shore.

In the morning, I hear a little flock of goats. A man tries to lead them with a stick. I lead my prayers with my walking stick. Sometimes prayers are unruly. They bleat and make noises. I wrestle with the thoughts that are hard to manage as goats.

Someone puts a fig in my hand. I thank them. I hold the fig up in the air. No beggar takes it. I eat the fig, giving thanks to God.

In the mornings, I hear the priests inside the temple where women cannot go. I hear Simeon enter the courtyard from the street. Each morning, he says he will not see death before he sees the Lord's Christ, the consolation of Israel. I feel the uprising of air. I ride the chariots of praise—salvation is upon us. Blessed is the Lord of hosts. Holy. Holy. The earth is full of holiness. You have given us your foreshadowings—you came as Melchizedek, as the messenger to Abraham, as the angel who wrestled with Jacob, as the appearance of one sitting on his throne to Isaiah, as the one walking in the furnace with Daniel's friends. What will you do now?

Lord, my thoughts wander like a flock of goats. What is death? I think sometimes I'm more dead than alive. I'm past the years of dying. Is death passing through an olive orchard—my thoughts catching on the gnarled roots, and I trip? Or are we transformed from goats to new beings in your presence? Do we keep our ears or hooves? No, we are not goats. We are people that act like goats. I feel a goat tongue in my mouth. I nat and bleat. Yet you allow me to stay in your presence.

The Lord's hosts are in the corners of the courtyard. They stand like olive trees when they blossom with white flowers. They are bright sunlight, but Lord, you are brighter. Grace to you and peace to your Almighty name. Forgive us, Lord. We're blind to what you are. Or we see less of you than there is to see. Surely you have borne our grief and carried our sorrows. You are wounded for our transgressions and with your stripes we are healed. All prophets promise your coming. Our doors are open. Our houses ready. We have not heard from you since Malachi. Our eyes will see, and we will say, The Lord is magnified from the border of Israel.—Malachi 1:5.

Long ago, my husband was sick. I went to the marketplace and when I returned, he was on the floor. I think he was trying to get to the door. His arms outstretched as if he was trying to reach something. If I had been there, I could have reached it for him. There were times I could hear his heart. He always was out of breath. My mother did not want me to marry him, but she finally agreed because he could provide for us. He was a kind husband.

Was it not the same with my father, Phanuel? He was sick and calling out, and I went to my grandmother's house because my mother didn't want me to hear. My father died while I was gone.

What if my father and husband passed through the main courtyard on their way through the Gate of Nicanor into the temple. Would they notice an old woman as someone they had known?

I stumble and fall. What had I tripped on? I don't see anything. Is it those memories cluttering the way? They should ease with age, but they live no matter how long ago they happened. No one helped me up when I fell. I was glad no one saw, or if they did, they ignored me.

Someone puts my walking stick in my hand. I thank them. It's the weight of prayer that keeps me off balance—O God. O edge of light. O moving shadows on the wall. O roll of clouds. O birds flying there. O fig tree. Pomegranate. Olive orchard. Anointed olive leaves. O moving hems of the robes of widows praying in the open courtyard. O dust that blows there. O women sweeping in the courtyard. Little flock—your shepherd will arrive with healing in his wings.

For years, the widows lived in a lean-to near the stables. For years, we prayed in the main courtyard of the temple, and at night, returned to the lean-tos near the animals. Finally, a room with straw mattresses was opened in the women's courtyard. I didn't want to leave my place with the animals, but there were mites in the stalls. Look at those bites on your face and arms, they said. The soldiers drink at night as they sit by their charcoal fires. What if they try to rob you on the street when you walk from the temple in the dark? I tell them I'm beyond danger. The soldiers know I have nothing to steal but a little raisin cake wrapped in cloth. I'm invisible to them—nothing more than a goat.

I pray until I forget the light of day is past. Sometimes I hear a voice—Go to your room, Anna. The Lord knows you're faithful. Where was the voice coming from? One of the priests on the way to his room? I turned, but could see no one.

Sometimes I hear voices in the streets—the animals tethered for the sacrifice. The little goats know what will happen, as I know.

I pray for the weak. The suffering. I pray for God's blessings on his people. The praises pour from me. I can't hold them back. They keep coming and coming. Blessed is the Lord. The first and the last. And all that is in-between. I praise my Redeemer. The author of our lives. The coming one. You have declared it. I call it out unto you.

I remember when I lined a few pebbles against my mat in the stables. I listened to their voices. I heard them praise the Lord in the night. Their little voices traveled on the wind to the olive orchard. The little stones and olive leaves tried to out-praise one another. They tried to praise as loud as the multitudes I hear from the heavens.

I am caught on earth. I am in between this world and the next, part of one and part of the other. Lord—I feel your approach. When Simeon praises you, my own voice joins his. Are we like the stones and olive leaves? No, we are your people—hidden in every tribe. We wait for you. Are you in your chariot, your horses ready to jar our streets?

I have many prayers. Day and night cannot contain them. Sometimes I taste pomegranates when I pray. Sometimes a raisin cake. Sometimes I'm walking in an olive orchard. I see the silver underside of leaves as stars in the heavens. There is no end to praise.

Diane Glancy is visiting professor of English at Azusa Pacific University. Her most recent book is The Dream of a Broken Field, published by University of Nebraska Press in 2011.

Most ReadMost Shared