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Magdala By the Sea

By Historic Novelist, GK Johnson

A hiking trip through Israel was one of the inspirations for my debut novel, The Zealots, appearing on shelves in January of 2021.

I first saw this incredible painting when my husband and I visited the ancient town of Magdala located on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. The painting, named ‘The Encounter’, by Daniel Cariola, takes up an entire wall in the Duc in Altum spiritual center.

As I sat on the rough-hewn stone bench across from the larger-than-life depiction of a woman’s hand snaked through a maze of dusty, sandaled feet, (view link to The Encounter) I was transported to a time over two thousand years ago.

***

When the bleeding first began she didn’t worry. Like all women, her menses arrived regularly. As required by law she gathered up her mat, some clothes, water, and food and bade farewell to her husband and children.

Wedding Scene from The Zealots by G.K. Johnson

She walked outside the gates of Capernaum and joined the other women gathered in tents on the outskirts of the city. They shared this in common: they were all considered unclean so long as their menses continued. Once the bleeding stopped they would complete the ritual purification rites and rejoin their families in town. The women were far from bemoaning their temporary exile, however. In fact, they thanked Adonai for the respite from their daily responsibilities, enjoying the time of community, and the rest with the other women.

She anticipated returning to town after seven days, the normal duration of her cycle, the required time by law. When the bleeding did not cease after seven days she refused to worry. A woman’s body was an unpredictable thing. She would enjoy the extra day of rest and return home soon. After ten days she began to worry. Her young daughter brought more food and asked when she would return home. She tried to reassure her, “soon.” Surely the bleeding would stop tomorrow.

Another week passed and then another.

It became a singular torture to see the other women come and go back to their husbands, their children, their bodies dependable and self-healing. Her body, broken.

She cried out to Adonai to stop the flow of blood. Her husband and sons sent messages to her asking. They often stood at a distance from the tents, their conversation disjointed and awkward. She tried not to cry when her daughter visited. Was this curse to pass down to the little one? Each time her daughter visited, she seemed a little older for carrying the duties belonging to her mother at home, a little more resigned to the fact that her mother now lived outside the gates. Magdala not only experienced the physical cramping, but also the cramp of guilt, resignation, loss, humiliation.

Many nights the woman cried herself to sleep, craving her husband’s arms around her, longing to touch her sons’ faces.

Months passed, then years.

The woman’s daughter soon joined the women who came to the tent every few weeks, but empty years had untangled their ties as mother and daughter. The girl seemed guarded and withdrawn. Other women treated her like a leper. They worried the issue was a contagion. Shamed and confused, Magdala grieved her years. The bleeding was a thief! Every morning and evening she removed and replaced the bloody cloths that evidenced her required isolation.

Watching her numbness to the physical pain and a growing bitterness to the emotional pain that tore at his wife’s heart, her husband had commissioned many doctors to try to find a cure over the years. None had been successful.

Where was Adonai?

What had she done that she was being punished–as people insinuated?

One day a friend arrived in the tent bearing news of a traveling rabbi. The man spoke like no other teacher and healed the sick and lame. The woman begged those who came to the tent for news of the great rabbi. She sat enraptured, listening to the accounts. At night she dreamed that the rabbi came to the tent and healed her, but when she awoke she knew it was impossible. Those in the tent were unclean. No man would ever enter the tent.

It had been twelve years since the bleeding began.

Magdala had missed the marriages of her children.

She hadn’t been home to share in daily intimate conversations with her husband, or touch the softened wrinkles that time had worn in his face. She was in the tent when her daughter gave birth to her first child, and had listened, tears streaming down her face, as her daughters-in-law described her grandchildren. She had missed so much.

In that moment she wished the bleeding would consume her.

When she heard that the rabbi was in Capernaum that day, the woman made a decision.

It was unlawful for her, an unclean woman, to leave the tent. If she were discovered she would be publicly humiliated, punished, forced outside the city, and her actions would bring dishonor on her family. But she was desperate. Hadn’t all of these things already happened to her and to them? From what she had been told, large crowds followed the rabbi everywhere he went. If she could simply touch the hem of his garment, perhaps then her prayers would be noticed as the physical reality they were.

She crept from the tent and covered her head with her cloak. She kept her face to the ground and joined those entering the city, glancing up furtively every so often. Maybe she would be seen as a foreigner. No-one had seen her up close in years. She hurried to the hope of a savior.

It wasn’t difficult to find the rabbi as the streams of people surrounding her carried her to where he stood, surrounded by his disciples. She listened. He spoke with authority just as they said. But how was she to get close enough to touch him?

Years of pain and desperation had worn away her pride. She began pressing through the crowd, one hand grasping her shawl over her face, so that only her eyes were visible. If anyone discovered who she was she would be removed from the crowd, this she knew.

Perfumed people stood with sweaty. Thickly, their robes overwhelmed her. They complained and elbowed her as she pressed past them, hunched over against the pain. Soon she stood just the space of another person from the rabbi, but here the people jostled one another, each wanting to be as close to the man as possible.

She sank to her knees and crawled around the leather-thonged feet. A curse rang out above her. She was kicked and stepped on, but still, she reached forward, her eyes fixed on the white linen tunic only a couple of steps from her. Finally, she was close enough. She stretched desperately to touch the hem of his tunic.

A jolt of pain wrenched through her then left entirely.

She sank back on her heels and was knocked over by someone. She didn’t care about that. Delighted in the complete absence of cramps, she also realized that the helpless river was stopped. She was healed. She could feel it.

Tentatively she stood to her feet. Drops of sweat and dust rolled down her forehead and neck.

Her back hunched, a body instinctively trained from years of pain. Yet now she felt nothing, no spasms or pangs. She drew her shoulders back, forcing herself to stand tall. Still no pain. A sigh of relief slipped from behind lips still covered by her cloak. She had forgotten how it felt to be well.

As the wonder enveloped Magdala, the Rabbi in white tunic turned and looked straight at her.

“Who touched me?” He questioned, looking into her eyes.

One of his disciples gestured to the masses surrounding them, “Master, this whole crowd is pressing up against you.”

“Someone deliberately touched me, for I felt healing power go out of me.” The Rabbi replied. His eyes continued to hold hers, and the woman began to tremble. She fell to her knees. Those surrounding her drew back, hundreds of eyes now looking at her and the Rabbi. Voices quieted.

“I…I’m sorry, Rabbi.” The woman pulled back the shawl covering her head and face and heard some around her voice their recognition.

“I have been bleeding…for years now. None were able to heal me. I have been separated from my family…” Salty tears ran down her cheeks; she could taste them. She glanced up and saw her husband’s astounded face in the crowd.

“I heard about you…about the miracles you do. I had to see if you could heal me. I touched your garment and immediately I felt the bleeding stop.”

Tears flowed down her husband’s face. The woman wanted to stand and throw herself into his arms, but she restrained herself. What was the Rabbi going to do now that he had singled her out of the healthy crowd?

She hadn’t sent him messages about healing her before touching his robe. She, an unclean woman, had touched a holy man against the law, and had she made him unclean? Would he withdraw the healing and demand punishment? Would he make her pay for her disobedience to the law?

Trembling, she waited. She looked up into the Rabbi’s face.

Rather than condemnation, she saw his kindness.

“Daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace.”

The crowds around her surged back to life, surrounding her. She shakily made her stance and wiped the hair from her eyes. Though people studied her, curiously, no one laid hands on her. She was free to go.

She flinched when a hand landed firmly on her shoulder and turned. Her husband stood before her. Without waiting a moment longer she fell into his arms. The tears they shared were tears of wonder, victory in love, and peace.

The town recognized that this rabbi had singled her out and pronounced her healed. Yet surely he was more than an ordinary rabbi making pronouncements.

“Where is he? Please thank him!” She turned to locate the Rabbi again among the people, but he was already blocked from her view. Still no pain.

Ref: Luke 8:43-48 NLT

G.K. Johnson is the debut author of The Zealots, a story of Barabbas and Peter, a story for boys and men. Johnson is a regular contributor to the Books For Bonding Hearts blog.

 

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The Zealots, coming soon. For men and boys. Illustration and cover design by James Dawson.

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Author tools and hacks, captive audiences, kingdom ethics, musicians, op-ed

A Kingdom Perspective on Treating Your Musicians, Writers, and Artists

By Laura Bartnick

Maybe I’m exposing a dirty little secret known only to musicians, writers, and artists, and those who use them, but here it is. The artistic segment of the population has historically struggled with penury, personal poverty which subsequently makes them financially unstable enough to support a spouse, let alone a family. Out of this turbulence, a variety of perversions and imbalances in lives may occur.

There was a time when the law forbade marriage, even for a well-respected musician, when a musician could not account for the funds he would need to keep a wife and a family. In 1814, Schubert, an Austrian composer, met a young soprano named Therese Grob, daughter of a local silk manufacturer, and wrote several of his liturgical works (including a “Salve Regina” and a “Tantum Ergo”) for her; she was also a soloist in the premiere of his Mass No. 1 (D. 105) in September 1814. Schubert wanted to marry her but was hindered by the harsh marriage-consent law of 1815 requiring an aspiring bridegroom to show he had the means to support a family. Although this year for Schubert was most prolific in his compositions, it proved disastrous to his health because he began to womanize with a variety of women. In November 1816, after failing to gain a musical post in Laibach (now Ljubljana, Slovenia), Schubert sent Grob’s brother Heinrich a collection of songs retained by the family into the twentieth century.

You can also learn about the inability of Haydn, Schubert, Chopin, Schumann, and even Wagner to be allowed to marry.

A contemporary list of articles on the subject of the risks of marrying a musician appears in Google. Perhaps, this is why, in 1998, Rita Steblin published her research promoting the general underwriting of arts scholarships, “In Defense of Scholarship and Archival Research: Why Schubert’s Brothers Were Allowed to Marry”. Current Musicology. 62: 7–17.

Maybe it was derived from one or more of the ten commandments, i.e., the seventh commandment, “You shall not steal”, or the 5/6th commandment, “Don’t commit murder (Exodus 20:13), the Psalmist, King David believed, “Don’t make your living by oppression, extortion, or put your hope in stealing,” (Psalm 62:10a). In fact, both King David and King Solomon instituted and adhered to a sacred law whereby the priests, musicians, and gatekeepers were to be paid “in produce, firstfruits, contributions, and tithes” in Israel and Judah. This fact is encoded by connotation or application of the culture and kingdom’s commands according to the records of Nehemiah 12:44-47.

For the musicians, the reason for coding their support into law was because, “there had been directors for the musicians and for the songs of praise and thanksgiving to God.”

David gave his musicians duties, recorded in 1 Chronicles, chapter 25.

Following, David, and honoring his father’s intentions and walk with the Lord, King Solomon, the wisest man who ever lived also provided God’s people professional musicians. “According to music historian Abraham Schwadron, ‘probably the most important musical contribution of the ancient Hebrews was the elevation of the status of liturgical music in union with ritual ceremonies.’ He notes the “high degree of musico-liturgical organization” from the descriptive accounts of King Solomon’s Temple, such as the 24 choral groups consisting of 288 musicians which took part in 21 weekly services.

There is a rich Biblical history of musicians and creatives in service to God’s people. Even musical instruments were carved and professionally designed.

Do you have a director of music in you place of worship who leads a choir or a band? Do you believe that great music takes skill, training, and practice to achieve a high result of quality praise music and songs of thanksgiving? Let’s talk about this, then.

Statistically, artists and musicians, the creatives in your church left to their creative means, are probably among the poorest of the poor, and yet it is they who provide you the highest experience of your faith connection with God? Most likely, the pastors and maintenance keepers of your church facility are paid a living.

When inventoried, it becomes clear, many musicians are asked to offer their music as a gift to the church, rather than offering them a living for the work they do for the benefit of the church’s spiritual well-being.

Often, this arrangement seems to work because:

a) the church may be a startup, and no-one is fully paid;

b) musicians feel it is an honor and are happy to use their free time to practice worship songs, after all, practicing benefits their own spiritual depth and musical skill. Practicing music can also be a bit like practicing romance. It just feels rewarding;

c) music with which to familiarize an audience is readily available on national Christian broadcasting and radio to copy making it easy to copy by ear.

Let’s Break this Down.

a) When the pastor begins to be paid in a startup, is there a leadership view to budget also for a music director, and then for the select musicians themselves? Why or why not?
b) is it an inequality or abuse of the person filling a needed job in a church body to require a highly talented and skilled musician to volunteer for ministry while the pastor and the maintenance keepers are paid?
c) because popular Christian musicians must tour to earn a living, when they can no longer tour or they lose a contract due to a crises or lack of new stylistic music, the best musicians often experience financial crises themselves. They must be sidelined in favor of the next upcoming styles, and the old is passed over.

Equipping These Saints

I’d like to delve a bit deeper into the extensive problems of passing over spiritually skilled and gifted musicians according to fads rather than choosing to equip these saints:

1) if the national church is sidelining nationally touring ministers of the gospel without providing for a retirement as anyone else is provided for in any other occupation in society. How are they supposed to survive? Do they get bitter at the church? Are they able to teach or train others after their popularity has waned? Are they able to play their songs in smaller venues or in missions or camps? Do they get jobs in circuses and entertainment establishments or bars? (You would be surprised at which of your heroic troubadours have ended their ministry careers this way).

2) if local churches have local cultures and local musical styles and local spiritual needs, these may be wasted or obviated in favor of nationally acclaimed styles and songs. But, nationally acclaimed stylistic musicians do not always meet these needs. Local churches may want to keep hymns, or psalm singing, eventide and morning song, and chants as part of their worship services. Others prefer city jazz, hard rock, early singspiration songs, cowboy songs, soul or rap singing in their worship experience. Some churches seek out lyrics for lament and others for complementing the sermons which the pastor or elder team deem particularly in need for their congregation’s benefit. There are those who also pick music based on what will build an audience most efficiently.

3) if there is a talented and skilled local musician who loves the Lord who writes lyrics like a nationally acclaimed musician, does he or she have to go to Nashville or California to become famous before a church will take them seriously? Maybe there is a musician locally who can notate cantata arrangements, even a new wave of Haydn, Scarlotti, Rossi oratorios, or new classics such as the roles Handel played as the director of music to the Duke of Chandosor, or Bach played in their local societies. Please pardon my escape into actual local phenomenons in musical history below for examples.

Bach “wrote many church cantatas and some of his best compositions for the organ while working for the Duke Johann Ernst III in Weimar. During his time at Weimar, Bach wrote ‘Toccata and Fugue in D Minor,’ one of his most popular pieces for the organ. He also composed the cantata “Herz und Mund und Tat,” or Heart and Mouth and Deed.”

I am reminded of the 2nd Chapter of Acts sibling trio, Annie Herring, Nelly Greisen, and Matthew Ward, in this statement about Johann Sabastian Bach. After being orphaned at age 10, Bach lived for five years with his eldest brother Johann Christoph.

Bach was appointed court musician in the chapel of Duke Johann Ernst III in Weimar. His role there is unclear, but it probably also included menial, non-musical duties. During his seven-month tenure at Weimar, his reputation as a keyboardist spread so much that he was invited to inspect the new organ and give the inaugural recital at the New Church (now Bach Church) in Arnstadt, located about 30 kilometres (19 mi) southwest of Weimar.[25] In August 1703, he became the organist at the New Church,[26] with light duties, a relatively generous salary, and a new organ tuned in a temperament that allowed music written in a wider range of keys to be played.”
From 1723 Bach was employed as Thomaskantor (cantor at St. Thomas) in Leipzig. He composed music for the principal Lutheran churches of the city, and for its university’s student ensemble Collegium Musicum. From 1726 he published some of his keyboard and organ music. In Leipzig, as had happened during some of his earlier positions, he had difficult relations with his employer, a situation that was little remedied when he was granted the title of court composer by his sovereign, Augustus, Elector of Saxony and King of Poland, in 1736.

4) Teamwork, as the members of the 2nd Chapter of Acts in the Jesus Music era also discovered, is worth the value in developing for ongoing ministerial success. Wikipedia records that Handel’s Messiah was a phenomenon rooted in teamwork, that,

In 1735 Handel received the text for a new oratorio named Saul from its (vocal musician and lyricist) librettist Charles Jennens, a wealthy landowner with musical and literary interests.” The text also came in part from the English Book of Common Prayer taken from the Psalms. “Because Handel’s main creative concern was still with opera, he did not write the music for Saul until 1738, in preparation for his 1738–39 theatrical season. […] “Handel’s reputation in England, where he had lived since 1712, had been established through his compositions of Italian opera. He turned to English oratorio in the 1730s in response to changes in public taste; Messiah was his sixth work in this genre. Although its structure resembles that of opera, it is not in dramatic (theatrical) form; there are no impersonations of characters and no direct speech. Instead, Jennens’s text is an extended reflection on Jesus as the Messiah called Christ. The text begins in Part I with prophecies by Isaiah and others, and moves to the annunciation to the shepherds, the only “scene” taken from the Gospels. In Part II, Handel concentrates on the Passion and ends with the “Hallelujah” chorus. In Part III he covers the resurrection of the dead and Christ’s glorification in heaven. […] In July 1741 Jennens sent him a new libretto for an oratorio; in a letter dated 10 July to his friend Edward Holdsworth, Jennens wrote: “I hope [Handel] will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excell all his former Compositions, as the Subject excells every other subject. The Subject is Messiah“.”

Composition

Did you know, “the music for Messiah was completed in 24 days of swift composition?

Having received Jennens’s text some time after 10 July 1741, Handel began work on it on 22 August. His records show that he had completed Part I in outline by 28 August, Part II by 6 September and Part III by 12 September, followed by two days of “filling up” to produce the finished work on 14 September. This rapid pace was seen by Jennens not as a sign of ecstatic energy but rather as “careless neglicence”, and the relations between the two men would remain strained, since Jennens “urged Handel to make improvements” while the composer stubbornly refused.[25] The autograph score’s 259 pages show some signs of haste such as blots, scratchings-out, unfilled bars and other uncorrected errors, but according to the music scholar Richard Luckett the number of errors is remarkably small in a document of this length.[26] The original manuscript for Messiah is now held in the British Library’s music collection.[27] It is scored for 2 trumpets, timpani, 2 oboes, 2 violins, viola, and basso continuo.

At the end of his manuscript Handel wrote the letters “SDG”—Soli Deo Gloria, “To God alone the glory”. This inscription, taken with the speed of composition, has encouraged belief in the apocryphal story that Handel wrote the music in a fervour of divine inspiration in which, as he wrote the “Hallelujah” chorus, “he saw all heaven before him”.

5) The Bible asks for the equipping of the saints in the course of Church ministry.

While in Lüneburg, Bach had access to St. John’s Church and possibly used the church’s famous organ from 1553, since it was played by his organ teacher Georg Böhm.[20] Because of his musical talent, Bach had significant contact with Böhm while a student in Lüneburg, and he also took trips to nearby Hamburg where he observed “the great North German organist Johann Adam Reincken”.[20][21] Stauffer reports the discovery in 2005 of the organ tablatures that Bach wrote, while still in his teens, of works by Reincken and Dieterich Buxtehude, showing “a disciplined, methodical, well-trained teenager deeply committed to learning his craft”.

Actionable Questions

Does knowing this change your perspective on how your own church musicians or nationally acclaimed musicians should be provided for? What particularly became real for you reading this article? Will you share it or assert an opinion on this where it might matter?

Continue reading more about this subject in the book, Welcome to the Shivoo: Creatives Mimicking the Creator by Laura Bartnick (Amazon Prime).

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