The story of Anna has always fascinated me. Yes, part of it is because I was named for her; as I grew up, my mother would often remind me: "You were named for two women from the Bible - one from the Old Testament, and one from the New..." And the one from the New is the most challenging example.
Anna's life started out in a normal way. She was a little girl, she learned to be a homemaker, she got married, and probably looked forward to doing the things of a typical wife and mother. Yet, the Bible doesn't mention that she had any children; like many other women God worked through, she was probably barren. And, 7 years after she married, her world was turned upside down.
Here's how she is described in Scripture:
"There was also a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying.” - Luke 2:36-37How did she make the decision to spend her time at the temple? Was an immediate thing? Or did she have to first get over her grief? When did God make clear His call on her life, to prophesy about Him?
She was of a Levitical tribe. Perhaps there were tasks at the temple for the unmarried/widowed women to do. Perhaps through that, she was drawn closer and closer to the Lord. Whatever happened, we know that she was dedicated to the Lord with her whole being.
I pray for that same dedication.
It has been an honor, yet a challenge, to bring her to life. I'm trying to balance her age with grace, to figure out how old she should talk and act while not being inconsistent with her dances. Through makeup, I've added old-age wrinkles to her character, though not nearly enough for a typical 84-year-old woman! I like to think that spending so much time in the presence of the Lord would have kept her young. =)
What would she have felt, spending each day and night at the temple? My mom jokes that I've truly taken on her character, with the amount of time I've spent at the church building these past few months. Teaching, planning, organizing, and rehearsing does take a lot of time. Though I've never been there night and day, I've spent a few days there from morning until after the sun goes down. I'm there for an average of 3-5 hours at a time, but have spent upwards of 7 hours getting things ready. It hasn't been every day, but I have averaged 4 days a week - and a few times every day of the week except Wednesday and Friday!
The majority of time is spent with others, teaching classes or directing rehearsals. But there have been many hours spent alone, organizing costumes in closets, working on my own dances in front of the mirrors, or looking for props through the long, empty hallways. Those times spent alone, as I worked while praying for Beyond Bethlehem, have been tiring, but refreshing. Through them, I've gotten a glimpse of how Anna might have felt, as she worshiped the Lord and interceded for her nation.
The most difficult dance I've choreographed thus far is Anna's beginning solo. When I heard "Hope of Israel" by Michael W. Smith, the instrumental music stirred my soul, and I could just see Anna dancing to it. But when it came down to setting the movements, I kept getting stuck, then going back and changing what I had come up with the day before. It was the last dance to finish choreographing for the muscial, and as the time neared, I wondered if it would come together. But finally, as I danced alone in the church building after Tuesday classes two days before Thanksgiving, God brought it together. As I ended on the ground, panting as my muscles cried in exhaustion, I prayed that God would use it all for His glory.
Beyond Bethlehem isn't about Anna - it's about our Lord Jesus Christ and His descent to earth. But Anna is a part of the story, as she longed for Him to appear, rejoiced at His coming and told others about Him.
I pray that God will use me as His instrument, showing others the example of this woman of His, who has inspired me so greatly.
Photo Credits: Lavonne Hart, Samantha Brooks, JP Lofgren