by Linda McMillan
THE TESTIMONY OF THE UNNAMED WOMAN
This morning The Episcopal Cafe is pleased to present the recently discovered Testimony Of The Unnamed Woman. This ancient text is not real, nor is it ancient. But it does give us a glimpse into what it might have been like to be one of the first Christians. It is what may have been written by the woman with a spirit of divination who followed Paul and Silas on part of their journey through Macedonia. Today, she finally speaks in her own words:
THE TESTIMONY OF THE UNNAMED WOMAN
1. Abdiel, a servant of God, to the followers of Jesus Christ, to those who walk in The Way:
2. Glory! Peace! Honor! to you, my spiritual kinsfolk.
3. I first believed through the word of Paul, and now I live with you, all of us together, as one soul, in the glory of God.
4. When it was first told me that my story of deliverance had become part of the Salvation Story I was pleased. And it pleased me more that my name was not given, that my story should flow into your stories, becoming one testimony of the glory of God. For we are one, as our brother Jesus prayed for it to be.
5. Now, though, the time has come for me to end my life of discipleship and ascend to Heaven to be with Jesus. My time is short, and I want to flesh out my story.
1. I was born, the second child, first daughter, into a poor family on the outskirts of the Roman empire. I was named Jemima, because my father said that he had lost so much that he felt like Job, and Jemima was the name of Job’s oldest daughter. Thus, even my name was indicative of the misfortune that my family was in. There was little money, and my father’s crops were thin. The only source of income our family had was my old Aunt Kaja. She had remained free all her life, never married. And she supported herself — well, she supported all of us — by telling fortunes to passers-by. It would have been a good living if only there had been more passers-by.
2. Before she died, Aunt Kaja taught me how to tell fortunes too. It’s not that hard if you know a few tricks. Soon I was as good as Aunt Kaja, and I took her place as the family bread-winner. One day, after revealing a prosperous future to a pair of passers-by, they offered to buy me! I was shocked, that such a thing could happen, and even more shocked when my father agreed! Aunt Kaja had taught me to be a free woman, and now I was enslaved!
3. Life for me became a blur of towns and fortunes. Nothing meant anything to me. It was as if clouds and storms engulfed me. When I was telling fortunes back home I was also providing for my family, and I missed the laughter of my sisters and the smell of good cooking coming from the kitchen. Now my work was purposeless, my life lacked meaning, I was well and truly enslaved.
1. One day two men came to our town; you have surely heard of Paul and Silas. As soon as I saw them it was as if every other god I had known suddenly fell down prostrate, causing an earthquake in my soul. Even though my understanding was darkened by years of mindless fortune telling I sensed flashes of light, like lightning, and I was able to see that these men were slaves like me, but they were slaves by choice! Slaves of the God of Gods. After years of faking it, a real spirit came on me and I was compelled to tell the truth about Paul and Silas, and I yearned to know their god.
2. I followed them everywhere, shouting out what I knew: “These men are slaves of the Most High God, who proclaim to you a way of salvation.” I know that it irritated Paul, but I was compelled. I did it for many days. Finally, Paul had enough of that spirit. And, really, so had I. Paul turned to me, but he addressed the spirit that had taken over me and told it to leave.
3. The flashes of lightning which had both enlightened and tormented me melted into joy. The clouds and darkness were gone. Even though I was still a slave, I felt free.
4. Paul was still pretty upset with me. Apparently I’d been quite a bother. But Silas was more even-tempered and he began telling me about Jesus and how he had come to liberate everyone. I attended all of Paul and Silas’s meetings, and I learned a lot. Immediately I knew that I wanted to be a slave of this God too!
1. After the service, the women and I sat together, the way women do, sharing our stories. They were free women and worked together selling purple cloth and taking care of the poor. Their lives sounded so full of purpose and joy. I never dreamed that my own life could be that way, but I felt so happy to know these women and to know that like my Aunt Kaja they were truly free.
2. Finally, one of the women, Lydia, said, “Little sister, what’s your story?” And in that way that women have for centuries, I told my own story, such as it was.
3. When I had finished telling my story, Lydia instructed us to begin singing and said that she’d be back in a little while. We sang and sang. We sang for the joy of our new lives, and for the pain of all we’d lost in the process. We sang for hope, and for loves lost, dreams long dead, and because it felt good. I felt as if I could have sung all night.
4. Finally, Lydia came back and sat down beside me. “I have bought your freedom, Little Sister,” she said. At first, I couldn’t believe it, I could hardly comprehend it. “You are a free woman,” she said as she handed me the paperwork to prove it.
5. Every woman knows that economic freedom is one of the keys to spiritual freedom. You are not truly free if somebody, or something, or some system owns you! Finally, I was a free woman, and as a free woman, I had agency for the first time in my life. I choose to become a slave of God like Paul and Silas, like Lydia and her friends. I could give myself freely, unencumbered with the weight of being owned.
6. I urge you, dear friends, if anything besides God owns you, find a way to get out from under it. Money, fame, accomplishment… it will all try to enslave you. But, you can over come it!
7. If you see a sister or a brother who is enslaved and it is in your power to help them, you must do it. There is no such thing as “someone else’s problem.” If one of us is enslaved, all of us are enslaved. My sister and mentor Lydia understood that, and she bought my freedom!
1. I went home with Lydia and her friends that night. They taught me all about the purple cloth business, and it turns out that I have a head for numbers! I became part of the business, and the work there gave meaning to my days again. Once again I heard laughter in my home, and we cooked good meals for anyone who wanted to join us. Poor people knew that they were welcome in our home. Many who were in trouble came to us. Lydia never turned anyone away.
2. As I come to the end of my life, I am so grateful for all I’ve learned, and for the fellowship of these women. I lost my mother, my brother, and my sisters; but I was repaid a hundred times over in these women who took me in, and in the ones who came after me too.
3. That’s how it is in The Way. We receive blessing, and we give blessing. There is a stream of us mothering creation back to God. Through lightning, and joy, dark clouds, and delight… one after another, we are led, and we lead, finally home.
4. Abdiel, Servant of God
Linda McMillan lives in Shanghai
Some notes of possible interest:
The story of the woman with a spirit of divination is in Acts, Chapter 16.
The Psalm appointed for this morning is Psalm 97 which has a theme of light and dark. That’s where I got the imagery of clouds and storms, and lightning. The lightning gave just enough light that Abdiel could see that Paul and Silas were from God. That is also where I got the earthquake imagery.
John, Chapter 17, also appointed for today, talks about Jesus praying that we would all be one even as he and his father are one. There are several interpretations of that which I like. I think Jesus was praying that we would be one with him, not necessarily one with one another. But people who are more qualified than I disagree on exactly what it may mean so we’ll just leave it at that. I think Abdiel is on target!
Image: Distant Shores Media/Sweet Publishing [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons