Martha and Mary: Attentive Hospitality

Revd Clare Hayns
Trinity 5C
A sermon for Christ Church Cathedral, Oxford on 16th July 2022

Genesis 18.1-10
Luke 10. 38-end

Diego VelázquezChrist in the House of Martha and Mary   (I love how grumpy Martha looks here!)

‘It’s not fair’

Last night I went to a milestone birthday party for my sister who’s 2 1/2 years younger than me. We are now the best of friends but our childhood consisted of almost constant arguments. I was the oldest of four and considered myself to be the one who was always expected to be helpful, to lay the table, to help my mother in the kitchen, to be responsible (I’m not sure I was particularly, but that was my perception!). My sister had a gift of always being absent when the table needed laying or a job needed to be done. Particularly if there was hosting to be done and just as people were arriving. She was normally to be found hiding away and reading a book, often in the bath where no one could find her, or sitting under a tree writing a poem about her feelings. It drove me mad.

‘it’s not fair’ was my regular refrain. I would often go to my parents and say a similar plea to that of Martha to Jesus:

Do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself? Tell her to help me.

Luke 10:40

There’s a lot of hosting going on in both readings from Genesis and Luke. In Genesis three angelic visitors turn up at the tent of Abraham and Sarah. They are on their way to Sodom and Gomorrah and have an important message to impart on their way.

And in Luke’s gospel, Jesus and his no doubt large group of disciples turn up at the home of Martha of Bethany and her sister Mary.

And the hosts spring into action to provide hospitality. Abraham rushes around, he runs to his guests, he runs to the herd, and he ‘hastens’ to give Sarah instructions.

And there’s Martha. Similarly rushing around to provide food for her guests. I love Martha. In my view she’s one of the best female bible characters in the New Testament. She’s feisty and not afraid to speak her mind.  In John’s gospel, it’s Martha who runs to Jesus after her brother Lazarus dies and she rebukes him ‘Lord, if you’d have been here my brother wouldn’t have died’ (John 11.21) She is loved by Jesus, clearly loves him, and feels comfortable with him.

And so when Jesus turns up with all his friends and she’s left alone to do everything because her sister has abandoned her, she doesn’t hesitate to speak her mind.

And can we blame her? We’ve probably all been there at some time or other.

It’s important to remember a couple of things of context here.

What Martha was doing was providing hospitality and welcome, and this was vitally important in the culture of the time. In first-century Palestine, hospitality was (and still is) about allowing the guest to share the sacredness of the family space. The women’s role was (and still is in many households) to do the cooking and food preparation. Martha was doing just what was expected of her.

What was unexpected was what Mary was doing.

It was very unusual for Jewish Palestinian women to join male guests before they are done with all the food preparation. And even more unusual for a woman to be sitting amongst the men in the posture of a disciple.

And can we blame Mary for taking this opportunity to sit with the male disciples and listen to Jesus? It was an unexpected and surprising gift.

But it is this that infuriates her sister the most.

It’s not fair.

And Jesus’ response? He points out her frustration. (rather a brave thing for him to do!)

Martha, Martha, you are worried and distracted by many things; there is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part, which will not be taken away from her.

Luke 10.42

It seems as if Jesus is rebuking Martha for doing what was expected of her. The comment ‘the better part’ seems as if Jesus is creating a hierarchy where sitting and listening is ‘better’ than active service.

This has often been how we’ve read this passage. Where the contemplative life is seen as better than the activist life; where the call to a life of prayer as a nun or monk or priest is seen as being more spiritual than the call to being a parent or medic or homemaker.

Is this what Jesus meant by this? I think not.

The word for the ‘many things’, or in other versions ‘many tasks’ that Martha is distracted by is ‘diakonia’: service/ministry. It is where we get the word ‘deacon’ from.  It can mean all sorts of different aspects of ministry, from preparing food to looking after the poor.

Elsewhere in Luke’s gospel those who provide service (Diakonia) are commended. Last week we read of the Good Samaritan who was commended for his active service and the disciples surely had Jesus’ words ‘go and do likewise’ ringing in their ears as they went to Martha’s house. (Luke 10.37) Also, Jesus describes himself as ‘one who serves’.

So it can’t be right that Jesus is criticising Martha for also being one who serves. Or for doing what is essentially ministry.

So what is he saying?

We are told in John’s Gospel that: ‘Jesus Loved Martha’ (John 11.5). And in the context of love that he points out to her the truth.

Martha’s attention was in the wrong place, even if what she was doing was the right thing. Jesus is gently pointing out that her service, her ‘diakonia’, was being done with distraction, worry, and irritation. Her attention was on herself and on Mary not doing what Martha thought Mary should be doing.  

In her distraction, Martha was missing what was important right then.

Jesus was pointing out that what Mary was doing was, at that particular moment in time, was exactly what Mary should have been doing. She was paying attention to Jesus, to the Son of God who was right there in her home.

How often have we been in a conversation when we know we aren’t really focused on it. My kids always know when I’m pretending to listen to them but really my mind is on something else. When I’m talking to them and just saying ‘hm, hm’ – they can tell. They now call me out on it. 

Simone Weil, who was both political activist and contemplative, said that: ‘Attention is the rarest and purest form of generosity’. [1]

Can you remember when someone last sat and listened to you, giving you their full attention, and how that felt?

Paying attention to someone is an act of service, of generosity. It shows that they are of value to you.

Paying attention to God though is even more important. It can literally change our lives.

Sarah (Genesis) was paying attention whilst Abraham rushed about and she heard the angelic visitors telling her she was to have a child. We don’t know what Mary was hearing as she sat listening, but Jesus says it was ‘the better part’ and that ‘it wouldn’t be taken from her’.

I think Sarah and Mary were providing hospitality to their visitors by paying attention to them. What they were doing could be described as attentive hospitality. What Martha was doing was distracted hospitality.

What might attentive hospitality look like in our own lives and in the lives of our churches?

Do we pay attention? To one another, to Jesus.

Or are we so busy doing stuff or being distracted that we don’t notice that Jesus is in our midst, wanting to bless us?

Are we so anxious about what others are doing or not doing, so worried about fairness, that we forget to realise what we are being invited to?

And what are we being invited to?

A loving relationship with Jesus who, like Mary and Martha wants to spend time with us. Who knows and loves us even when we’re distracted and gently draws us back into relationship with him.

Perhaps that’s what we are being invited to, in this time as we head into the holiday season.

What might it be like to give Jesus attentive hospitality?

To put aside all our worries and distractions for a little while.

To respond to the invitation:

 ‘there is need (right now) of only one thing’.  

[1] https://lithub.com/simone-weils-radical-conception-of-attention/

Unveiled #Me Too: courage in the face of violence and threat

Helen Paynter, author, Baptist minister, and the director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence at Bristol Baptist College. 

This article was written by Helen Paynter as part of a series based on our book Unveiled and commissioned by BRF. This was first published by BRF and is reproduced here by kind permission from Helen and BRF.

TW: Domestic Violence/sexual abuse

Standing up to a powerful man comes at considerable cost. 

Unveiled, p. 177

In 2017, the #MeToo tag went viral, becoming a global phenomenon within a matter of weeks, and emboldening millions of women – and also men – to name their experience of sexual harassment and abuse. What had, in many places, been a shadowy secret was brought into the light. The scale of the pandemic of abuse became clearer to many. Systems and structures that collude to silence women were brought under scrutiny. Serial abusers who had concealed their crimes with threats, non-disclosure agreements and the ‘old boys’ network’ were exposed and brought to justice.

What few people might imagine is that the women who shouted ‘Me too!’ had sisters who had gone before them and had left their traces in the pages of the Old Testament.

The Old Testament has a surprising collection of stories about women who stood up to powerful men, some of whom feature in the beautiful book Unveiled by Clare and Micah Hayns. Not all were speaking up about sexual abuse per se, but they share other common features: boldness, courage and truth-telling in the face of violence or threat.

Old Testament sisters

We might think of the two different Old Testament women named Tamar. The first Tamar’s story is told in Genesis and features in Unveiled. The second Tamar’s shocking story is recounted in the book of Samuel. The daughter of King David, she appeals to her lecherous half-brother with remarkable courage and wisdom. ‘No, my brother, do not force me… do not do anything so vile… you would be as one of the scoundrels in Israel’ (2 Samuel 13:12–13). Tragically, Tamar’s entreaty is over-ridden by her rapist, but when she is thrust out from his room afterwards, she raises the outcry, which is the traditional appeal for justice. ‘Tamar put ashes on her head, and tore the long robe that she was wearing; she put her hand on her head, and went away, crying aloud as she went’ (v. 19).

“Rizpah daughter of Aiah took sackcloth and spread it out for herself on a rock. From the beginning of the harvest till the rain poured down from the heavens on the bodies, she did not let the birds touch them by day or the wild animals by night.” 2 Samuel 21:10 – Image by ©MicahHayns

Or we might turn the pages to read of Rizpah, whose two sons were brutally murdered, on King David’s orders, in retribution for a crime their father Saul had committed. To compound this villainy, David allowed their bodies to remain exposed on the hillside for months, a dreadful act in the ancient world. In the face of such injustice, Rizpah, like Tamar, protested vigorously, making a public nuisance of herself as she guarded her sons’ bodies and grieved for them (2 Samuel 21:10). Such actions were dangerous under despotic kings who could easily have their thugs knife you (as one example among many, see 2 Samuel 20:8–10).

Or we could thumb further through our Bibles to read of another despotic king. In the book of Esther we read the story of Vashti, who boldly refused to be objectified by her husband at his debauched party.

Each of these women creatively and boldly called out the violence of a powerful man. They were noisy, stubborn and caused a public nuisance.

But not everyone was able to do that – then, as today. In Judges 19 we read of the horrific gang rape and murder of a secondary wife, thrust into the hands of a mob to protect her husband. She has no voice, her protest is stifled and she does not survive to raise the outcry. And though the act precipitates civil war in Israel, many more women were raped as a direct consequence of that military action, suggesting that the chief motivation was wounded male pride rather than outrage about a woman’s violation.

And so it falls to her sisters to take up her cause. To name the abuse, to call out the abuser, to cry for justice and safety.

In modern times many women have taken up the story of that nameless woman: Bekah Legg of the domestic abuse charity Restored, and biblical scholars Phyllis TribleIsabelle Hamley and myself (Helen Paynter), to name just four. I am reminded of what took place after the murder of Sarah Everard: the protests on Clapham Common and the Reclaim These Streets movement, which employed public grief to make a wider claim for justice.

Sadly, I can’t think of any good examples in the Old Testament narrative where a man takes up a woman’s cause or speaks effectively on her behalf (Clare’s note: perhaps the story of Suzanna and Daniel in the Apochrapah comes close). But if we keep turning the pages, we will eventually encounter a man who does, and repeatedly. A man who publicly defends a woman whose ‘great sin’ (probably sexual) has been forgiven, and whose gratitude leads her to weep over his feet and anoint them with oil (Luke 7:36-50). We can just imagine the sniggering and lewd remarks that were probably rippling through the onlookers as she did so. Jesus sternly rebukes them.

This is the same man who refuses to join the crowd in baying for the blood of a woman caught in the act of adultery, the crowd that was desperate to vilify the woman while curiously indifferent to the man she was with. Jesus shames the crowd into leaving, and then sends her home with gentle words.

Brothers, be more like Jesus

Because I (Helen) have written about domestic abuse, I find myself invited to speak on the subject from time to time. When the audience is free to choose whether to attend (unlike, for example, when I speak to trainee ministers or priests), it is always predominantly women who attend, usually outnumbering men by around seven to one. Why are men not more interested in this matter? (There are, of course honourable exceptions, such as this.)

Brothers, be more like Jesus, I implore you. Speak out against injustice. Actively stand against abuse. There is so much hatred and harm out there that it requires more than just passive non-complicity.

But the fact that these stories are present in our Bibles should encourage us. The accounts of these ancient women and the things they suffered have not disappeared in the patriarchal sands of time. These women mattered to God, and so he ensured that their stories were preserved in his word. And so they should matter to us, too – they and those who suffer like them in our own day

These stories should encourage contemporary sufferers of abuse to believe that God cares, and maybe to embolden them to speak out.

It is much harder for abuse to thrive when it is brought out of the shadows into the light; when it can no longer hide behind threats, non-disclosure agreements and the old boys’ network.

But, rest assured, in the end all will be revealed:

Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing secret that will not become known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered behind closed doors will be proclaimed from the housetops

Luke 12:2–3

Because, as the psalmist reminds us:

He who planted the ear, does he not hear?
He who formed the eye, does he not see?

Psalm 94:9

Following a career in medicine, Helen Paynter is now a Baptist minister and the director of the Centre for the Study of Bible and Violence at Bristol Baptist College. She is the author of two BRF books – God of Violence Yesterday, God of Love Today? and The Bible Doesn’t Tell Me So: why you don’t have to submit to domestic abuse and coercive control

Leavers’ Address – 2022

An address for Leavers’ Evensong
Christ Church, Oxford, June 12th, 2022
The full service is available to watch on YouTube

Numbers 27. 1-11 and Philippians 4: 1, 4-9

Some of the Christ Church ‘leavers’- 2022

It’s a privilege to be able to speak to you at the end of this academic year, especially to those of you leaving us to move on to pastures new.

I begin with a story.

In the 14th Century, there was a monk called Brother Bernard who lived in a monastic community. Every day when he left his house an old man in rags stood outside the door and shouted the same two questions to him.

Who are you? Where are you going?

After several months one of the other monks asked Brother Bernard if he wanted something done about the old man. He could be moved on.

Not at all, said Brother Bernard. I pay him in bread to be here every morning to ask me those very questions.

Who are you?

Where are you going?

In your time at Christ Church, you will have been asked and been examined on many and various complex questions. You will have struggled through problem sheets, dissertations, tutes, and submitted thousands of words.

But these two simple questions are crucial and we forget to ask them at our peril.

Who are you?   Oxford student, Christ Church member, medic/historian, etc,
gifted at xxx, lover of xxxx, feels fully alive when xxxx (Fill in the blanks)

Also, fallible, weak, vulnerable. pretty useless at xxx, addicted to xxxx, struggles with xxxx (Fill in the blanks)

Where are you going?

Not just what job are you going off to do. Or what internship will you join. Where are you going?

What is it that propels you out of your door in the morning? What is it that fires you, that fills you with life, or joy? Or what is it that fills you with rage or frustration at injustice so much so that you can’t help but speak out.

You may not know yet, but I’d like to suggest that this is a question to keep asking yourself.

Our first reading from Numbers is of a story rarely heard in Church, and is of a group of women who have inspired me over the past couple of years.

Daughters of Zelophehad by ©Micah Hayns

Mahlan, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah, the five daughters of Zelophehad.

Their father had died and as this period of history was a classic patriarchal society, all the land belonging to his clan was to be passed to another clan.

And the daughters decided this wasn’t good enough. So they joined together and went to the tent of Moses and the elders. And they argued their case.

‘why should the name of our father be taken away from his clan because he had no son?’

Numbers 27.4

Moses didn’t know what to do. So he prayed.

The Lord said:
‘the daughters of Zelophehad are right in what they are saying; you shall indeed let them possess an inheritance’.

Numbers 27.7

And this transformed women’s land rights for generations of women to follow them.

They knew who they were and where they were going. And they were not afraid to rise up and speak up. What is it that makes you rise up and go the tent of Moses, as it were?

There is much to rise up about isn’t there.

  • Environmental issues
  • Racial or LGBTQ or disability inclusion
  • Integrity in public life

But we don’t do any of this on our own. The daughters of Zelophehad would not have been heard alone. They needed one another.

Archbishop Desmond Tutu died this year. In his book God Has A Dream, he speaks of God who calls people to join in with the work of justice and peace.

All over this magnificent world God calls us to extend His kingdom of shalom-peace and wholeness — of justice, of goodness, of compassion, of caring, of sharing, of laughter, of joy, of reconciliation. God is transfiguring the world right this very moment through us because God believes in us and because God loves us. What can separate us from the love of God? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. And as we share God’s love with our brothers and sisters, God’s other children, there is no tyrant who can resist us, no opposition that cannot be ended, no hunger that cannot be fed, no wound that cannot be healed, no hatred that cannot be turned into love, no dream that cannot be fulfilled’

Archbishop Desmond Tutu. God Has a Dream

Who are you?

The most important aspect of who we are is we are people loved by God. Nothing can separate us from that love.

If you remember nothing else from what I say today remember that. You are loved. Not because you are clever, or you’ve got a degree result that you’re proud of, or even because you have unique gifts you hope to use for the good of the world.

You are loved just because God is a God of Grace

And so where are you going? Well, in some ways that’s a mystery.

But if you hold as a guide a desire that wherever it is you go you extend God’s realm of love, justice, goodness, compassion, caring, sharing, laughter and joy. That’s a pretty good guide for the journey.

And you do that with the blessing of this community of Christ Church.

Desmond Tutu also used to quote a Xhousa word, which is what I’d like to leave you with.

VUKUZENZELE

It means, ‘Get up and do it’

VUKUZENZELE

And so ‘get up and do it’, and do so with all our love and our blessing.

Amen

A Heart of Peace: Lessons from Abigail

From a sermon given at Led by the Spirit, High Wycombe, Bucks – 22nd May 2022

1 Samuel 25
John 14. 23-29

Abigail, by ©MicahHayns

Peace be to you, and peace be to your house, and peace be to all that you have

1 Samuel 25.6

Said David, the outcast future King of Israel to Nabal, the owner of the land David had been protecting.

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you

John 14.27

Said Jesus to his disciples just before he was to be taken away to be tried and crucified.

Peace be with you. We say it to one another just before communion as we nod in an Anglican kind of way: certainly no hand shaking or hugging anymore!

Peace.

What is it?

Is it the absence of something? An ending of conflict. The cessation of war?

Or is it a feeling? That feeling you get when you’re on holiday or having a massage?

But we all know that after a war ‘ends’, conflicts can continue to simmer within communities for years.

And I don’t know about you but when I’m meant to FEEL peaceful (on holiday or having a massage) I find I’m anything but. My mind fills with worries. I start chuntering about a problem or annoyance.

So, what does Jesus mean when he says ‘my peace I give to you’?

What does having Jesus’ peace mean when we find ourselves, for whatever reason, in the midst of conflict?

Because conflict is part of human existence isn’t it.

Think for a moment of the conflicts that impact you in some way.

  • Global – Ukraine is on all our minds
  • Communities or work situations
  • Home life/family life

None of us are immune. As soon as one finishes something else begins!

When I was a child, my mother counted the seconds in the morning to see how quickly I would say something mean to my sister that would cause her to cry or shout. Never much more than ten!

Both our readings begin with ‘peace be with you’ – but then both lead pretty quickly into conflict. We know what happened to Jesus soon after this. But the story in 1 Samuel is less well known. As is the main peacemaker – Abigail.

Abigail found herself in the middle of two warring men.

She was married to Nabal, a drunken,  boorish man whose name literally means ‘fool’. He was the landowner of the region that David had been protecting with his men.

Nabal threw David’s ‘peace be with you’ back at him by pretending he had no idea who he was (1 Samuel 25.10). David, thin-skinned and easily offended reacted immediately:

‘Every man strap on his sword!’…David also strapped on his sword

1 Samuel 25.13

And they head off to murder Nabal and all his household.

Before we judge too harshly let’s pause to reflect on ourselves here.

We may not have an actual sword or an army of men with swords like David. But let’s be honest, we can all strap on our metaphorical swords when we find ourselves in a conflict. Our weapons may be a caustic tweet, a winning takedown in an argument, an angry gesture in a car, a passive-aggressive ‘ghosting’. We all have our weapons of choice, don’t we?

Abigail is alerted to the conflict by one of Nabal’s men. He knew she was the more sensible one to speak to. And her immediate response isn’t to ‘strap on her sword’ and gather the troops.

Her response was one of peace-making. Her response was considered, thoughtful, and prepared.

The first thing she did?

She baked! OK, she may not have baked it all herself but she knew food was required. I know this may be rather gendered but….a clever woman’s tactic! She prepared fig cakes, loaves, wine and put them all on a donkey, and sent them ahead of her.

Street Pastors

She perhaps knew what the modern-day Street Pastors know. They go to nightclubs armed with lollies as they know it’s hard to fight whilst sucking a lolly!

When Abigail reached David (who was chuntering in his anger), she threw herself at his feet and used every peace-making tactic in her repertoire.

She flattered him – ‘my Lord, my Lord’; she told him Nabal wasn’t worth it – ‘fool by name and fool by nature’; and she handed over her gifts.

But the thing that made all the difference in the end?

She raised David’s eyes and reminded him of God. And she reminded him of who he was in the eyes of God.

The Lord has appointed you prince over Israel…. you are fighting the Lord’s battles…..my lord shall have no pangs of conscience’

1 Samuel 25.27-31

Abigail reminds David who he truly was and who he would one day become. And David changes his mind, and puts down his weapons.

Blessed be the Lord who sent you to meet me today…blessed be your good sense.

1 Samuel 25.32

The end of the story is that family is saved. Abigail waits for her husband to sober up before telling him what she’d done, and Nabal is so shocked he had a heart attack and died… and she ends up marrying David (which by all accounts isn’t necessarily a happy ending!)

So what might we learn from Abigail when it comes to peace-making?

That peace is not an absence of conflict or a feeling, but can also be an action. An action that can involve heading into conflict and not hiding away from it.

One of the books I found helpful this past year has been ‘The Anatomy of Peace’ by the Arbinger Institute.

The authors speak of the choice between having a ‘heart of war’ and a ‘heart of peace’ in the midst of conflict. Having a ‘heart of war’ involves seeing people as objects, often using language in a way that dehumanises: this always makes things worse and leads to further conflict.

The alternative is to enter conflict with a ‘heart of peace’: seeing others as people, human beings beloved of God.

It’s been something I keep going back to. I certainly don’t always get it right. If I find I have a ‘heart of war’ I need to seek out Abigail’s to help me look up and remind me who I am.

And this perhaps is what Jesus means when he speaks about the peace he leaves with us. He gives us a heart of peace.

The Hebrew word for peace is Shalom.

It is not the absence of something at all. Shalom means fullness, rightness, contentment, wholeness. Shalom is all things made well.

So, if you are in the midst of a conflict situation right now – Shalom
If you are concerned about a situation involving others – Shalom
If you are stuck in the middle of warring parties like Abigail – Shalom
If you are struggling to find a heart of peace – Shalom

Jesus’ peace isn’t like the world’s peace. It’s the ‘peace that passes all understanding’. It’s Shalom. And he offers this to you, to me today.

Amen

Prayer

God of peace and love,
We thank you that you offer us a peace that passes all understanding. We pray for that peace, that Shalom, today. For ourselves, our world, and for those we love, and especially for those we are in any kind of conflict with. Amen

Milton Keynes Half Marathon

Hello!

I seem to have signed up to run the MK Half Marathon which is on 2nd May (it seemed a good idea at the time!) and could do with some support to keep me going. 

The aim is to finish it, and to raise some funds for a good cause.

ZANE supports many vulnerable people in Zimbabwe, and I’m running to support the wonderful work of the team in Harare, which empowers women who have suffered from violence, trauma, and abuse. The project empowers and equips them through creative therapy and education programmes.

https://www.justgiving.com/fundraising/clare-hayns

Thanks for taking the time to visit my JustGiving page.

Donating through JustGiving is simple, fast and totally secure. Your details are safe with JustGiving – they’ll never sell them on or send unwanted emails. Once you donate, they’ll send your money directly to the charity. So it’s the most efficient way to donate – saving time and cutting costs for the charity.

Presentation and Art Workshop for Church/Community Groups

Women of the Old Testament

Clare speaking at an event in Hazlemere, Bucks

How many women from the Old Testament can you name? Did you know the first worship leader in the Bible was a woman (Miriam), that Shiprah and Puah were the brave midwives who stood up to Pharoah, that Abigail was a peacemaker who stopped a war, and that five plucky sisters transformed land rights for women down the centuries?

Clare and Micah Hayns are a mother and son team and together created the book Unveiled: women of the Old Testament and the Choices they made which is published by Bible Reading Fellowship. The book tells the story of over forty women with each chapter written by Clare and illustrated by beautiful and original artwork by Micah.

They would love to come to your church/women’s group/community to speak about the wonderful women of the Old Testament that feature in the book. Their talk brings these stories to life in an engaging and lively way which is illustrated with Micah’s images and can be accompanied by a short art workshop and table discussion questions. It’s suitable for those with no prior knowledge of the Bible/Old Testament as well as those who have been in church for years.

About Clare and Micah

Micah and Clare Hayns

Revd Clare Hayns is College Chaplain & Welfare Coordinator at Christ Church, Oxford. She grew up in rural Bucks, her childhood more Pony Club than church youth group. Pre-ordination she was a Social Worker specialising in substance misuse. She is married to John, an entertainer, and has three creative sons

Born in 1997, Micah Hayns is a contemporary classical painter from Oxford. He takes the classical techniques and tradition of the old masters, whom he studied at the Florence Academy of Art, and infuses them with a contemporary aesthetic, inspired by street art, abstract expressionism, and collage. He has a gallery and studio in Oxford and teaches drawing to children and young people.

Testimonials

Clare and Micah visited one of our regular Ladies’ nights and what a super evening we had! We learned about some awesome women of the Old Testament and Clare had a wonderfully warm way of bringing the stories alive and connecting with both our teenagers and those wise in years. Micah is an outstanding artist and with his gentle direction and encouragement enabled us to create our own masterpieces within 45 minutes! A fabulous evening celebrating awesome woman – then and now – and we felt truly blessed by them both. Thank you for a memorable evening!

Revd Trudie Wigley, Rector of the Dorcan Group, Swindon (March 2022)

Clare and Micah did a fantastic joint presentation for us as part of our Pause for Thought in Marston. Clare bringing to our consciousness the women who’s voices are seldom heard in the old Testament and Micah giving them substance and colour through art and form. The evening was a highlight this year and as one of our parishioners said it was one of the best evenings they have had in a very long time! The fact that Mothering Sunday was close by and we were in Lent made unveiling the Old Testament women even more special. 

Revd Skye Denno, Vicar of Old Marston and Elsfield, Oxford

Costs and details

The costs are:
Talk with Q&A – £100 plus travel expenses
Talk with Q&A plus art workshop and table discussion questions – £150 (includes materials) plus travel expenses

The talk lasts approximately 45 mins which includes Q and A
The art workshop/table discussion lasts up to 45 mins
We can also bring along books and prints/original art to sell

Art Workshop using charcoals led by Micah (lasts approx 45 mins) – image is Tamar’s eyes
Three generations of women enjoying an art workshop with Micah

How To Book

To enquire about booking, please contact Clare on haynsclare@gmail.com

Artwork Display

We can also bring along original paintings by Micah Hayns for sale and/or display

Original artwork by Micah on display
Original artwork by Micah on display

Jochebed: a tale for Mothering Sunday

Magnificat by ©micahhayns

Exodus 2

Moses is no doubt the most important prophet in Judaism, and one of the most significant for Christianity and Islam. He led the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity, was given the Ten Commandments thereby establishing Jewish law, and he is believed to have been the author of the Torah, the first five books of the bible. However, without the bravery of several women, he may never have made it beyond the first few months of life. There was the bravery of the midwives (Shiprah and Puah) who prevented infanticide, and now we learn of how his mother (Jochebed), sister (Miriam) and an Egyptian princess came together in an extraordinary way to protect his life.

Having a baby at the time of war or persecution must be a terrifying ordeal, one that millions of women encounter every year – we have all seen with horror the images of pregnant women fleeing bombing in Ukraine. The situation for Jochebed and her child was dire. The Pharaoh had issued an edict to murder all the Hebrew baby boys by throwing them into the River Nile and Jochebed had given birth to ‘a fine baby’ at this dangerous time.

Jochebed was one of Levi’s daughters, therefore was one of Jacob’s grandchildren.  She was married to Amran and had two older children, Aaron and Miriam. She had successfully hidden her new-born baby for three months but this was becoming impossible and so she needed another plan. She created a basket out of reeds, waterproofed it with a plant resin and took the ‘moses basket’ and hid it near to the place the wealthy women bathed in river. Her daughter Miriam was stationed to watch over the baby, and I imagine both mother and daughter prayed earnestly to God for his protection. They could not have imagined in their wildest dreams that his salvation would come from the very place that also posed the greatest risk to his life.

Pharaoh’s daughter Bithia was bathing in the river alongside her entourage and she spotted the baby in the reeds. If she had followed her father’s rules she would have been obliged to hand him over to the authorities. What she did was far more risky. Realising he was a Hebrew baby she took pity on him and decided to adopt him. He was still breastfeeding and, in an extraordinary twist and an answer to Jochebad’s prayers, Miriam, who had been watching all this unfold, stepped forward and offered to find a ‘wet-nurse’ for the baby. So Moses’ own mother was paid to look after her child until adulthood, presumably from the safety of the royal palace or its surroundings.

Reflection

We can imagine Jochebed’s joy at the return of her beautiful son and the delight that they could now live in safety without fear. It’s Mothering Sunday in the UK and this story reminds us of the sacrifices made by mothers through the ages. Many of these acts are unremarkable and go unnoticed, such as those who take two jobs or who put their careers on hold for a time. Sometimes the sacrifice is costly. I remember meeting a woman whilst working for a homeless charity who offered up her child for adoption as she knew she wouldn’t be able to have looked after him. Her decision was painful and was clearly made out of a deep love for her little boy. This story also reminds us that the care of children is so often done by a community working together, and so we think of all the foster parents, respite carers, nannies, and siblings who so often take on these caring roles to help children thrive.

Prayer

God of Miriam and Jochebed,
you care for those the world forgets
and you never forget the needs of your people.
Be present with all who make agonising decisions;
protect children who have nobody to protect them;
bless those who foster, adopt and take care of children;
and may all teh members of your family
live for one another in self-giving love. Amen


International Women’s Day – Tuesday 8th March

Daughters of Zelophehad by ©MicahHayns

On this day where we celebrate International Women’s Day, I’d like to remember the wonderful women of the Old Testament who have accompanied me over the past few years as I worked on our book ‘Unveiled’. Seeing them listed in this way reminds me that God has been working through wonderful women for centuries, and continues to do so.

These women remind us:

Eve, that we all stuff up, but God has a plan;
Hagar, that outsiders are seen and heard by God;
Sarah, that dreams can come true even when we feel past it.
Lot’s Wife, that women are fleeing from their homes because of war right now.
Rebekah, that parenting is difficult and it’s OK if we get it wrong;
Rachel, that even being loved by a man is sometimes not enough;
Leah, that it’s really tough when we feel marginalised and unnoticed.
Dinah, that women aren’t defined by the worst thing a man did to them.
Potiphar’s Wife, that God can work through sexy women;
Tamar, that sometimes it’s best to push forward and demand to be noticed;
Shiprah and Puah, that civil disobedience can sometimes save lives;
Jochebed, that we should never give up hope;
Miriam, that there is always time to dance and sing with joy.
Mahlan, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah and Tirzah (the daughters of Zelophehad), that sometimes when you speak up against injustice, change happens.
Rahab, that the genealogy of Jesus names a prostitute and so no one is ‘not good enough’;
Ruth, that at times friendship is the most precious thing in life;
Naomi, that even the most bitter and bereaved can be restored to wholeness.
Deborah, that at times we need to listen to the wise women in our community;
Jael, that some women have to take up arms and fight for freedom;
The First Mrs Samson, that marriage really isn’t the best option for some women;
Delilah, that power isn’t always about being strong.
Jephthah’s Daughter, that sometimes the people we love the most can hurt and harm us;
Bathsheba, that women are too often shamed and blamed for men’s actions;
Hannah, that our prayers from the heart are heard.
Michal, that love isn’t static and can change over time;
Abigail, that many women today are keeping the peace between feuding men;
Rizpah, that warfare leads to too many grieving mothers;
The Medium of Endor, that just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should;
Queen Vashti, that saying ‘no’ to powerful men is costly;
Esther, that sometimes we’re in just the right place at the right time.
Abishag, that even the most lowly of jobs can be important;
Jezebel, that our reputations don’t define us;
Huldah, that at times telling the truth means giving ‘bad news’;
Suzannah, that some women aren’t believed when they tell the truth;
Queen of Sheba, that seeking knowledge is a good thing.
The widow of Zarephath, that being generous with little can lead to abundant blessing;
Naaman’s maidservant, that the courage of the smallest can have profound consequences;
Athalia, that not all women have redeeming qualities, and that’s OK;
The Shunamite Woman, that at times we have to be feisty to fight for those we love;
And finally, Shallum’s daughters, that women are always part of the story, even if they’re not named or remembered by our history books.

Happy International Women’s Day!



Unveiled Videos

We are delighted to share the news that BRF (Bible Reading Fellowship) has worked with us to produce eight videos to accompany our book Unveiled: women of the Old Testament and the choices they made. These will be available from March 2022 with accompanying resource material. Each video will be released weekly from March 3rd.

Each video will be around 5 minutes each and there will be downloadable questions to aid discussion groups.

You can find each session with the links to the films and resource material here: https://www.brf.org.uk/unveiled/

Introduction Video

Eve: the first choice

Eve: the First Choice