Wrestling with the Bible: A Leper I Admire

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Accepting a gift isn’t easy for me, whether the gift be one of love, friendship or healing. For me, pride gets in the way.

Like the King of Israel and the mighty warrior Naaman, I often find myself keeping friends, spouses, children, admirers (and God?) at arm’s length lest –

Lest what?

Lest the gift be too good to be true – as the king of Israel suspects when he is presented with ten talents of silver, six thousand sheckels of gold, and ten sets of garments.

What a treasure! But the king cannot trust this generous overture of friendship from the faraway king of Aram. He assumes the worst, that “he’s trying to pick a quarrel with me.” Read More »

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God — Too Darned Good to Be True?

rock at joshua tree national monument. Photo by BF Newhall

Joshua Tree National Monument

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

For most of my adult life I wasn’t so sure about God. That such a thing could exist seemed far-fetched, too good to be true.

But now that I’m firmly located in the second half of my life – okay, okay, the third third
of my life (And no, I’m not calling it the last third of my life – I’m not ready to go there – yet) . . . now that I’ve moved along in my life, past the time when I have to make my mark on the world, produce those babies, get them raised to adulthood, achieve some success and glory as a writer, stash away some money for retirement . . . now that the gotta-do part of my life is behind me – I find that God’s existence is right there for all to see.

You can’t miss it. Read More »

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Finding Holy: Why Meditate — When I Could Be Sweeping the Garage?

spent rhododendron blossoms turning brown. Photo by BF Newhall

Rhododendron blossom, almost ready for deadheading. Photo by BF Newhall

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

I’ve tried meditating only a few times – a very few times. I’m well read on the subject, however. Indeed, I’ve spent way more time reading about meditation than I’ve spent doing it.
Why would I want to just sit there observing my mind, I reason, when I could be outdoors pulling dead blossoms off the shamelessly prolific rhododendron in our front yard? Those blossoms snap off their stems with such a satisfying pop.

(I do nothing to make that plant bloom. Yet year after year it sucks up dirt and rainwater and blasts dozens of grandiose purple-blue blossoms into our tiny  front yard. Hardly anybody notices this plant or its outrageous flowers. It produces them anyway.)

So – why would I want to just sit there, meditating? Read More »

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Wrestling with the Bible: Does (Can?) God Do Miracles?

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Does (can?) God do miracles? I wonder. Mostly I kind of doubt it. I’ve never witnessed a miracle personally, though I’ve asked for enough of them, large and small, over the years.

My son at age 5. He survived to adulthood. Is that the miracle?

The Bible is full of miracle stories, of course. In the synagogue at Capernaum, just for starters, Jesus is confronted by a man possessed by a demon. With a few words, Jesus silences the voice for evil and the man is healed.

Right now I’m asking for a healing miracle for a six-year-old boy who is being tormented –like the man at the synagogue – by a terrible illness.

I don’t know whether God does miracles any more, if God ever did. But I’m praying anyway.

As I form the words, I imagine that I’m asking God to heal a small boy who is suffering. But maybe I’m praying for something else – something that God actually can and does provide.

What would that be?

LECTIONARY, Epiphany 4: 


Deuteronomy 18:15-20
Psalm 111
1 Corinthians 8:1-13
Mark 1:21-28

“Jesus and his disciples went to Capernaum; and when the sabbath came, he entered the synagogue and taught. They were astounded at his teaching, for he taught them as one having authority, and not as the scribes. Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are, the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent, and come out of him!’ And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him. They were all amazed, and they kept on asking one another, ‘What is this? A new teaching– with authority! He commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.’ At once his fame began to spread throughout the surrounding region of Galilee.”  — Mark 1:21-28 NRSV

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The Most Annoying Saint

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

St. Paul can be pretty annoying.

Last week he was fixated on how sexual relations with prostitutes taint the body. (1 Corinthians 6:12-20) I get it — the human body is holy, a gift from God to be treated with respect.

But this week Paul goes too far. “Let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning . . . and those who buy as though they had no possessions.”

Ignore my spouse? Forget the mother who died a year ago? Don’t bother to buy a decent pair of boots to protect my feet from winter snow and rain?

Are you kidding?

My partner, my mother, my feet – all gifts from God. And I’m pretty sure it’s my job to care for these things, to nourish and protect my relationship with them – along with my relationship with the one who invented spouses, parents and feet.

And yet . . . those of us who are wont to read Paul with one eyebrow arched need to cut him some slack sometimes. He was after all, struck by a flash of light that left no doubt in his mind that he was to give his entire life over to God – the whole thing, and now.

Same thing with the fishermen Simon, Andrew, James and John. They saw God in the face of Jesus and that was it; they dropped their nets and followed him.

I can’t help noticing, however, that Zebedee remained in the family boat, along with the hired hands. Yes, God was walking around on earth in human flesh. But some people were attending to business, making sure that at the end of the day there’d be dinner.

The trick question, of course, is how do we know when to drop everything and do God’s bidding – and when to keep on shopping for those boots?

© 2012 photo and text BF Newhall

“I mean, brothers and sisters, the appointed time has grown short; from now on, let even those who have wives be as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no possessions, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.”  1 Corinthians 7:29-31

Epiphany 3, LECTIONARY:


Jonah 3:1-5, 10
Psalm 62: 6-14
1 Corinthians 7: 29-31
Mark 1:14-20




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© 2009, 2010, 2011, 2012 Barbara Falconer Newhall. and www.GodsBigBlog.com. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without expressed and written permission from this blog's author is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided that full and clear credit is given to Barbara Falconer Newhall and www.GodBigBlog.com with appropriate and specifc direction to the original content. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Church of Christ in the USA. The Psalms are from the Book of Common Prayer, 1979. Material originally published and copyrighted by the Oakland Tribune is posted here by permission. WordPress theme adapted from Thematic Theme Framework