Learning from Simeon and Anna

Learning from Simeon and Anna

Anna Chaplaincy pioneer and founder, Debbie Thrower, is the author of the current series of reflections, ‘Learning from Simeon and Anna’ in our New Daylight January–April 2022 Bible reading notes. Today, we’d like to share with you the introduction to Debbie’s notes, as well as the reflection for today.

Introduction: Learning from Simeon and Anna
Over the past decade or so I’ve had good cause to reflect on the story of Simeon and Anna. Our Anna Chaplaincy approach to supporting older people, focusing on the importance of the story of one’s life, is named after the widow in the second chapter of Luke’s gospel.

Left: Prophet Anna painted by a nun of the Benedictine Community at Malling Abbey

There are many reasons why the 84-year-old woman we meet in the temple with Simeon is an inspiration for this form of ministry among men and women in their later years and their carers. Simeon and Anna are great role models of faithful older people. We’re told Anna was steeped in the disciplines of fasting and prayer. We know she’d found a new way of life in the temple in her old age, one which was transformative. Together, she and Simeon are sufficiently perceptive to recognise that the young couple who brought in their baby that day for the customary rite of purification following a birth are none other than the parents of the long-hoped-for Messiah.

Luke’s gospel tells us she was of the tribe of Asher. Simeon might well have been a Levite. Jews of the time would realise Anna and Simeon were poles apart socially, low and high on the ‘class’ spectrum, respectively. The gospel writer wished all manner of people to be able to identify with these elderly agents of God’s redemptive work, who came from very different backgrounds in terms of the twelve tribes of Israel.

Today’s Anna Chaplains, many of them in the older age bracket themselves with time to offer post-retirement, minister to people of strong, little or no faith at all. They’re Christian chaplains but they offer spiritual and emotional care (and religious care when and where appropriate) to men and women of any and every walk of life. They’re motivated by their faith to draw alongside people in their communities irrespective of whether someone has a professed faith or not.

Luke’s narrative inspires Christian service today. The story of Simeon and Anna’s encounter with Mary holding her new baby challenges us; it goads us in our contemporary settings, just as much as it did those in the temple precincts, to listen to Anna as she steps forward to ‘speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem’ (Luke 2:38, NRSV).

Lectio divina
Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.
Luke 2:27–28 (NRSV)

I once used the story of Simeon and Anna as the passage for a group of people on retreat to practise lectio divina on – reading slowly, bringing all our gifts of imagination to bear on the words of scripture and harnessing our senses to place ourselves in touching distance of the sights, sounds and smells of a hot day with crowds pressing into the temple courts.

Those who took part in the exercise described vivid images of cooing doves, sweaty bodies, dust motes in the glare of shafts of sunlight and pillars casting deep shadows. This was where these two elderly people spent so many of their days and, in Anna’s case, nights, perhaps hunkering down with only a woollen cloak wrapped round her old bones for warmth.

Lectio divina, a traditional monastic practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer, is intended to promote communion with God and to increase our knowledge of God’s word. It doesn’t treat scripture as text simply to be studied, but as the living Word. It pays dividends to dwell on a passage in this way. Doing so with these verses in a group brought home to me how diverse we are. Each person conjured up their own image of what the scene might have been like that day, how it felt to be there in the throng. What visceral responses we each had to experiencing the scene from the inside, identifying variously with Mary, the onlookers or with Simeon himself gingerly taking the vulnerable child in his arms and beginning to burst forth with praise.

Nicola Slee has written a poem called ‘Anna’, which is surely the fruit of quietly meditating on this passage in the style of lectio divina. Just as she has done, let’s imaginatively inhabit this story.

I’ve learnt how the Word comes
rising like fire from a thrown spark
or dropping like a stone
into the stilled mind’s surface.
(‘Anna’ by Nicola Slee)

Explore our New Daylight Bible reading notes at brfonline.org.uk/newdaylight.

Learn more about our Anna Chaplaincy ministry and keep up to date with their blog at annachaplaincy.org.uk.
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