New Testament Women and the Piercing Embrace of the Following Life

Flannery O’Connor is known for her short stories, but she packed images large and alarming into her economical word count. Murder, road side ambushes, and the cast of grotesque characters who populated her writing reinforced her oft-quoted credo:

“You have to make your vision apparent by shock — to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost-blind, you draw large and startling figures.”

In Pierced and Embraced, Kelli Worrall borrows one of O’Connor’s “large and startling figures” to write in bold script a parable of the gospel. The story of a defenseless old woman being violently gored by a bull portrays the shocking nature of grace as O’Connor’s protagonist is stabbed through the heart with one horn and encircled about the waist by the other.

It was the piercing that grabbed Kelli’s attention in the midst of her struggles with infertility and the heartbreak of three miscarriages. She raged against the unfairness and felt abandoned by God until He helped her to see the embrace of His love that came alongside the piercing. She began to study the lives of women in the New Testament and was startled to note that Jesus’  manner of dealing with women was a uniquely gentle pursuit of their hearts.

One by one, Pierced and Embraced recounts the stories of seven New Testament women, their encounters with the Savior, and His impact upon their lives. At the same time, Worrall weaves in her own story of a challenging childhood, her marriage and career, the adoption of two children, and a growing faith and obedience.

  • Prophetically warned that a sword would pierce her heart, Mary of Nazareth embraced and was embraced by the call of God to a one-of-a-kind journey that put the power of God on display in a humble, faithful life.
  • The woman at the well found, at the end of Jesus’ piercing questions, a grace-filled embrace of her need and her longing — and then a new identity as “an instrument of change in the lives of many others.” (80)
  • Pierced physically, emotionally, and spiritually by life, we all hurt. The woman with the hemorrhage had experienced life’s piercing, but received the embrace of acceptance and healing when she placed desperate and believing hands upon Jesus’ garment.
  • Used as bait in a moral and theological snare for Jesus, the woman caught in adultery was about to be executed by a cadre of the self-righteous.  Jesus turned the tables, and skewered her accusers with His piercing interrogation. Expecting death and shame, the guilty received forgiveness and hope for a new beginning — a hope that encourages this present-day believer to come quickly for the embrace of forgiveness and the all-important words:  “Neither do I condemn you. Go and from now on sin no more.”
  • Worrall experienced the piercing anguish of God’s waiting room in the six year process of an international adoption. Mary and Martha waited on pins and needles for Jesus to heal their dying brother Lazarus. When Jesus shows up, He works in ways that no one could have predicted, but the lesson reveals that the jolting embrace of a wild and powerful Savior leaves His followers convinced of His presence and His love.
  • The woman with the alabaster jar pours out her worship with abandon and beauty and yet experiences piercing disapproval. Jesus’ rebuke of the scolds in the room is an embrace to all the beauty-lovers, the lavish prais-ers, and the devoted followers who put the glory of God ahead of practical concerns and even their own reputation.
  • Chosen to know Jesus and to make Him known, Mary Magdalene has been the subject of much speculation through the centuries since her eye-witness experience of the resurrected Christ. Pierced by sorrow and then embraced by a commission to be Jesus’ “apostle to the Apostles,” Mary received the privilege of being the first herald of the resurrected Christ.

Because He is timeless and immutable, Jesus continues to work in the lives of women, drawing us into conversation, commissioning us to share His message of Truth, and piercing our hearts with the conviction that His words are true and His path worth following.  May we find grace in this following life to lean into His gentle embrace as we are transformed and empowered for our own beautiful offerings of service and worship.

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This book was provided by Moody Publishers in exchange for my review.  I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255 : “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”

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Sisterhood is Eternal

Unbelieving, I held the phone to my ear.
Joanne?
Sick?
We had always talked by phone every few weeks, but wait . . . how long had it been?
And now a call from her husband with tears in his voice.
I could feel the conversation moving in a direction that I could not absorb:
Hospital
Organ failure
Death
The easy, relaxed freedom of our ties suddenly appeared to have been foolhardy. Although Joanne had been in her seventies, I truly had thought that she would live forever – or at least until we were both “caught up together with Him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.”

(We spoke of it often.)

Now she was already there, and I hadn’t even given her a proper send off.

Homeschooled sons, a toddler, a baby, and a five-hour drive make for some challenging funeral logistics, but the patient husband and I managed to attend somehow, because I had been asked to share words about Joanne and our friendship — an incredible gift to me in processing the beauty and the loss.

But it was not what helped the most.

Morbid as it sounds, the empty shell of her; the sick body looking so wrong and so hollow pierced the grieving just enough to make room for thanksgiving that God had allowed her to fly free of it. Here’s where the theology gets fuzzy, but “absent from the body, present with the Lord” superseded the void she had left behind, and with Holy-Spirit-fueled certainty, I knew that something stronger than heredity had been passed along to me during our decades-long sisterhood, a genealogy of spirit stronger than blood that came to me through:

Shared ministry in which we lost ourselves in the communication of Truth;
Witnessing her determination to be ordained during her retirement years;
Hours spent in prayer at a messy kitchen table;
Arguments over obscure Scripture passages when I was a headstrong teenager;
Her unshakeable conviction that God had plans for me.
Although it is untraceable from a practical standpoint, still, I ponder this concept:

A genealogy of Spirit – a sharing of faith and calling that runs back through all my known spiritual influences and beyond memory to the time of Christ.

Capture

I’m pondering the eternal sisterhood over at SheLoves Magazine today, and I hope you’ll join me there to read the rest of this post.  And while you’re there, be sure to read the thoughts of others on this month’s topic:  sisterhood.

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Subscribe to get regular Bible studies and book reviews from Living Our Days delivered to your inbox.  Just enter your e-mail address in the box at the top of this page.

I link-up with a number of blogging  communities on a regular basis.  They are listed in the left sidebar by day of the week.  I hope that you will take a moment to enjoy reading the work of some of these fine writers and thinkers.