Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Lydia, Lydia, Have You Met Lydia...

In the midst of all those lovely Maytime tasks--piglet-tending, seedling-planting, power-washing the barn--I've dived into some additional adventures: a temporary census job and the ongoing challenges and opportunities of my ministry internship at a local U.C.C. church.

This coming Sunday, I'm supposed to lead worship and preach. The assigned lectionary readings include the story of Lydia. I've heard the old song about "Lydia the tattooed lady," but this biblical Lydia is a bit less "revealed." In fact, she is almost completely obscured by the purple cloth she purveys. We know very little about her, except that she appears to have been a successful business- woman who opened her home to some wandering apostles, whether they wanted to stay there or not. Some scholars suggest she was a devout follower of Judaism. Others say she was a foreign woman of questionable repute, possibly a Goddess-worshiper. Some say she didn't exist at all, but was merely written in as a symbol for the sort of people whose hospitality made the early house-churches possible. I wish I could know Lydia better... so I tried to imagine what her life was like in the Roman colony of Philippi, what brought her down to the river, what moved her to be baptized and then to ask those apostles, devout but dubious, into her home:

Acts 16: 13-15 (NRSV)
On the sabbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there.
A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul.
When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, "If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home." And she prevailed upon us.

Here's the Lydia I met in my mind's eye, crafted (so to speak) from whole (purple?) cloth:


The purple wouldn't wash off. Still,
Stubborn and savvy as ever, she planned her path
past market stalls, walled gardens, city gates
past the buzzing, glittering temple,
to a place outside: a praying place.
She went down to that dirty river and
prayed for the soft golden skin of her youth,
the bangles jangling on slender wrists,
the traceries of henna,
painted lines of prettiness and praise--
She prayed with hardened hands for better days.

She went down to that rough-edged river and
prayed for the soft smiles of all her servants,
so deft and deferent, so smooth and skilled
she could not quite learn whether she'd
earned—or merely bought—their trust--
She prayed with oil-rubbed skin and the taste of dust.

She went down to that deep old river and
prayed for the soft hollow of her soul,
the empty ache under the fine fabrics of her trade,
like a weeping burn, all bandage-bound.
She prayed at the river, where the women gathered.
She prayed at the river, where men seldom wandered.
She prayed at the river till a stranger prayed with her,
and the purple folds of her heart fell open
and the stains of her trade no longer concerned her
and she opened her house to apostles and pilgrims
there at the river,
there at the fringes,
where the Spirit weaves through
and the floods bring fertile ground.

--copyright MaineCelt 5/2010

Photo Source: The Global Spiral


revkjarla said...

Wow! I like this very, very, very much. I am working on my sermon, and like you, am intrigued by Lydia.

revkjarla said...

in fact, I am wondering if you would give me permission to quote your words with fullness of credit, of course.
let me know!

MaineCelt said...

Gosh, RevKjarla, thanks! Glad you like it. You have my permission to quote!

Sue 2 said...


Lauren said...

MaineCelt, thanks for the visit! Plus, I got to visit your site and view the most amazing new cow I've never seen before. I have always loved Jersey cows but Iona with bangs and pointy horns is every bit as adorable.