Hope of the Heavens (fiction for Advent 2012)

spiral arm

And the Nephilim were on the earth in those days… (Genesis 6:4)

Nephilim have long been thought to be the children of fallen angels and mortal women. The mythology has held that they were mostly destroyed in the flood in Genesis 7. Mostly, but not all, because the they show up (based on translation) several times later in the Old Testament, at the Tower of Babel (Genesis 11) and as the Children of Israel are trying to conquer Canaan (Numbers 33).

While I think many of us can feel “not at home” on Earth because we are fallen and the creation is equally broken, we have moments where beauty bursts through and we remember that God created us for this world.

But to be perpetual outsiders, I thought, for the Nephilim would be the most painful kind of hope. And what if in these days, they were no longer on the earth…

-Bethany K. Warner, 2012

Hope of the Heavens (advent 2012)

Advent 2012 — Art

by Kyle Ragsdale

I Timothy 3:16 by Kyle Ragsdale


Tidings of Great Joyby Kyle Ragsdale

Tidings of Great Joy
by Kyle Ragsdale


Advent 2012 — Sonnets

Sonnets are a poetic form that demands rigid structure.

When Cindy Ragsdale told me she was writing sonnets, I was amazed, but her rationale made a lot of sense. The form, she said, was helping her find boundaries in what can be a chaotic time of year.

In a precise scheme of lines, she’s built images and metaphors around words of Scripture, in the end a poetic prayer.


John 1 Sonnets — Advent 2012

Into the Light

The Son has risen.

While winter in Indiana was never truly bleak — never blanketed in snow, never locked into frigid temperatures — we are through this season and reminded of the Resurrection through spring.

With spring comes the need to stretch limbs, to breath deep of warmer air. Even we writers and artists feel the pull to step outside of our studios, away from our computers. Just for a time to observe the world around us again, to restock our well of creativity.

In (Joy) the Bleak has been an honor for us to share our works with you. The blog isn’t disappearing any time soon, but there is no new planned content. We hope the work will remain a place you can turn for inspiration through art and through words as we all must wrestle with bleak times, no matter the season.





All writers and artists retain the copyrights of their works. No reproduction without permission.

The Last Supper

by Jennifer Jackson; inspired by Matthew 26: 20-30



by Mark Pfeiffer
It was difficult to take my eyes off the tattoo. From when I greeted her in the waiting room, my eyes were drawn to it, trying to study its details with short glimpses as I listened to her story. It was a confusing image; I can’t say for sure what it was or what it was supposed to be or whether it was even finished.

She was wearing a low-cut blouse and the tattoo covered most of her visible chest. The color of the shirt and some of the lines of the tattoo were similar, making it difficult at times to make out where the shirt ended and the tattoo began. I think I saw a skull and maybe a horizon or a landscape. It was beautiful in its perplexity.

She was crying, very emotional. Nothing was going right. Pregnant, with less than 8 weeks to go, she struggled to stay clean. A recent relapse resulted in a recommendation that she would be detained when she went to court next week. She had just found this out today. Would she have to have her baby in jail? She had not seen her first child for half of her tiny life. She was 4 now. “I’m just tired. I’m done. I just want to die.”

She cracked the lid of the cauldron bubbling deep down with potions of memories and experiences and life. She raged a rampage of ugly sickness, offering me glimpses of the horrors of her story. She glossed over the atrocities in a monotone of self-protection.

Why did the men in her life do those things to her? Weren’t they supposed to protect, to shelter, to shield? She was supposed to be able to trust them!

As I scrambled in my mind to point her in the direction of a hope I couldn’t see for her, the lid sealed the cauldron again. Enough pressure had been released. She’d been to this place before. She was suddenly strong and aware and told me what she needed to do, that she’d be okay and that she just wanted to go home.

In her resilience, I was reminded of a fount of the purest blood, like the cleanest and clearest water, that bubbles up and runs over and unsoils our sick souls. It cascades far beyond the saving of the elect and touches every crack and crevice of the broken universe. It can shatter her cauldron. I remember that I need the same hope she does.

I see the tattoo artist’s pen etching lines that won’t disappear across her chest – the skull, with gaping mouth and hollow eyes. Maybe the tattoo displays her story, the confusion of it. But, maybe it’s not finished, yet.

A Reflection of Thursdays

A Reflection of Thursdays

by Bethany K. Warner

When I hear the phrase Maundy Thursday, I can’t help a few other thoughts about Thursdays going through my head.

First, a quick review of what I’m doing on Thursday.

Then, a skip through vibrant plot points of Jasper Fforde’s witty and literarily irreverent “Thursday Next” series.

Finally, I land in more science fiction with galactic-hitchhiker Arthur Dent as he declares, “It must be Thursday. I never did get the hang of Thursdays,” after watching Earth get blown up.

 *          *          *

The first time I encountered Maundy Thursday, I was in high school.

The church I’d grown up nearly foresworn any kind of liturgical calendar outside of the biggest days – Christmas and Easter. In an effort to ensure that the congregants knew that communion or baptism weren’t saving acts in themselves alone, we only sat at the Lord’s Table about three times a year and had no baptismal in the church at all.

Maundy Thursday – Holy Thursday – had no place there.

At the time, my dad was attending the imposing stone-and-stained-glass Presbyterian church downtown.

One year, they had a readers’ theatre presentation on Maundy Thursday, so I went with him. I don’t remember much but for the black-clad actor-readers on the stage and that maybe this Thursday was different than the others.

 *          *          *

In graduate school, Thursdays were my one night of quasi-relaxation. I’d pop a bowl of popcorn, and watch the NBC line-up of “Friends,” “Frasier” and “ER” while keeping some textbook open so I wasn’t entirely blowing off the massive amounts of reading and studying required.

The church I attended there celebrated Maundy Thursday as a communion and foot-washing service.

I went for the music and the reflection and the communion part. I thought about how I really didn’t know these people. How this community was little better than a stopping point as I just worked to get through my education. How they wanted to wash. My. Feet.

And then, as we divided into men and women as was custom for the foot-washing, I slipped out.

A Thursday I certainly didn’t have the hang of.

 *          *          *

As I approach Holy Week now, Maundy Thursday remains the big mystery of the week.

Good Friday makes sense, that in our daily sinfulness, we betray and deny Christ in countless ways. I am not that far from a Judas or a Peter in my heart, an actor putting on righteousness that is still black.

Easter brings joy and celebration and relief that my traitorous life is not my chief end.

This day is called Holy Thursday, yet I often don’t see in it any more holiness than any other Thursday – any other day, really – of the year.

In old English, the day has also been called Sheer Thursday, for the changing of the dark liturgical colors to the bright white of Easter. Sheer makes me think of transparent fabric, diaphanous curtains that conceal and don’t all at once.

It’s a day of dark-dressed actors, of missed opportunities – of sinners walking around on still-dirty feet. It’s a day to feel the thinness of our humanity, and see through to the depth of what we are rescued from.

Maybe it’s a Thursday we can come to appreciate.

God is Good

 by Amy Meyer

God is good,
I am told.
I saw them on TV,
and my heart wants to help.
I am just a child;
what can I do?

God is good,
I read.
I live in a country
where there are many 
who need a mother and father.
I am single;
what can I do?

God is good,
I see.
Will He not give what is good?
But I am single;
what can I do?

God is good,
you remind me.
But I am single;
what can I do?

“I AM good,”
You tell me.
“Will you pray for them here?”

“I AM good,”
You tell me.
Will you pray for them there?
I do not understand, Lord.

I am single.
What can I do?
Ok, I will pray,

even though I do not understand.

After several years,
my childhood best friend and husband
adopted a child from here.

Oh, that is why, Lord,
You asked me to pray for here.
I hoped it would be different;
I thought it would be my husband and me;
instead you gave me several students
to teach from here.

“I AM good,” You tell me.
Will I accept that Your ways are better then mine?

A few years ago,
a cousin and his wife
adopted two children from there,

and You placed it on her heart
to travel there and teach others

how to nurture many more not yet born.
Oh, that is why, Lord,
You asked me to pray for there.
I hoped it would be different;
I thought it would be my husband and me;
instead you gave me two students in two years 
to teach from there.

“I AM good,” You remind me.
Will I accept that Your ways are better then mine?
Will I continue to pray for what I do not understand?
Will I continue to hope beyond hope and not despair?
Will I accept that Your ways are better than mine?
Will I accept that You are giving me what is good for today?
Will I accept that You are giving me Yourself?
Will I continue to believe You are good?

“I AM good,” You remind me.
“By faith, many before you
were commended for their faith,
yet none of them received what had been promised.”
You, Lord, had planned something better for us,
so that only together with us would they be made perfect.

“I AM good,” You remind me.
“Will you trust Me as I hang onto your right hand

and show you each day how to look beyond this world
to see the eternal values of My kingdom?”

The Gift

The Gift was another one of those original posts for Advent that got pushed out of the holidays from the bustle. Ironic, given the piece’s content. It might be set at Christmastime, but Christmas without Easter is an incomplete story, an unfinished picture. Jeremy Grimmer’s  writing this week holds us in the coming tension of the cost of this gift as we walk this road to Jerusalem.

–Bethany K. Warner

The Gift, by Jeremy Grimmer

Pinecone Piles & Peripheral Vision

Even the process is joy, because it is collaboration. Jen T. sent an early draft of “Fear & Hope: This Much I Know,” which reminded me of life in my own head, where my only suffering lives, which led to purge-writing, complete with bad drawing , which led to more writing (“Pinecone Piles & Peripheral Vision,” posted below), which led to joy. God of patience, praise you for lessons within the self-absorption, that even hyper-me-focus brings me inescapably around to you, every once in a while, and again and again.
–Cindy Ragsdale
Pinecone Piles and Peripheral Vision