A Prayer Life or A Life of Prayer?

Today is the feast of 'The Presentation of Christ in the Temple'.

This feast is also known as 'Candlemas'.

Its about the story told by Luke in chapter 2: 22-40 of his gospel, featuring Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus and 2 elderly people, Simon and Anna. 

The old woman Anna is the one who often doesn't get remembered as much as the others, but she deserves to be. 

In Tissot's painting (shown here) Anna's arms are raised in prayer and praise as she saw the sign of her deepest hope fulfilled.

On 14th January 2012, my #digidisciple post at the 
BigBible  project 'Anna: A Life of Prayer' was published in my monthly series 'Blogging Women of the Gospels'.

This series about women of the gospels is intended for individual or group Biblical reflection or discussion. So in case you might find that helpful, here is what I wrote in that post about Anna:

Do you know who you are?

  • What do others see in you?
  • How do you think God sees you?
  • What do you most deeply hope for?

I am thinking about these questions because of Anna.

She was 84 years old. At that age some people feel invisible, unnoticed, useless. Or that others see them, not for who they really are, but as stereotypical old people – drains on society rather than contributors. In the Bible people of great age are seen more positively. To live long is to be blessed by God. Older people are honoured as elders, leaders, sources of wisdom.

This 4th post of my monthly series ‘Blogging Women of the Gospels’ is about Anna the prophet(ess). Her story is told in Luke 2: 36-38, but it helps to read her story along with that of Simeon so read all of Luke 2: 22-38.

Anna knew who she was.

  • She was Anna, daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher, a tribe known for the beauty of its women. As a young woman, probably from about 14-21 years she was married. Then her husband died and, for reasons not explained, she remained a widow. Now she was 84 years old. For decades she fulfilled a calling to dedicate her life to God. Some of us have a prayer life. Anna had a life of prayer.

Others knew who Anna was.

  • She was Anna the prophet, the old widow who never seemed to leave the temple in Jerusalem, but spent all her time there in worship and fasting. Her fasting may have been a sign of mourning, initially for her husband, then chiefly for her people.
  • She was recognized as one of a faithful minority who, is spite of many reasons to lose hope, continued against all the odds to long and pray for the redemption of her people. Did some see this dedicated life as a wasted life? When Jerusalem seemed more firmly under foreign domination than ever? And where so many had turned away from God and no longer trusted God’s promises?

God knew who she was.

  • She was Anna, a name that means ‘grace’ or ‘gracious’. 
  • She was a beloved child of God, full of the Holy Spirit, a woman of wisdom and insight, endurance and faithfulness.
  • She was favoured by God as a prophet, one gifted to speak God’s word into current situations.
  • She is the only woman in the gospels described as a prophet.

Anna’s deepest hope

When Mary and Joseph brought baby Jesus to the Jerusalem temple to present him to God, Anna saw an ordinary baby with a very common name, no signs, wonders or miracles. But like Simeon, with the eye of faith she saw in Jesus the light of hope for all people. She was seeing her deepest hope fulfilled and proclaimed this because she knew it to be hope for all.

Anna was looking for God but she already knew him, so recognized God’s grace in Jesus. Anna’s father’s name Phanuel means ‘face of God’ or ‘face to face with God’. Perhaps she learnt from Phanuel that while no-one can look on God and live, God’s image may be seen in a human life. And, prepared as she was by decades of prayer, God favoured her with a glimpse of his glory. It was in the face of a baby. And from then on she couldn’t stop praising God and talking about Jesus to all who were ready to hear. Anna’s family name ‘Asher’ means ‘happy’. I like to think she died happy because she met Jesus and knew her life of prayer had not been wasted.

For Further Study

For Reflection

  • Frail elderly people are often rich sources of wisdom. How often are their voices heard in your church? 
  • Has a child ever caused you to wonder or praise God, given you new insight – a glimpse of glory? 
  • For what do you most deeply hope? How is that expressed in your commitment to prayer (and fasting)?


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