Viewing entries tagged
ridiculous anachronisms

retreat address 1: Hagar, Abraham's Other Woman

Once upon a time,
there were two people named Abraham and Sarah   [pause]
Perhaps you've heard of them.
They were the superstars of their day
—larger than life,
more faithful to God than anyone around,
blessed with a miraculous child in their old age,
the lead actors in the story everyone was in
—think less Brad and Angelina and
more Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward
Abraham and Sarah were the patriarch and matriarch of a great nation,
chosen by God,
given not just a promise but The Promise
—their descendants would number as the stars
and they would be remembered unto ages of ages.
But this is not their story.
This is the story of one of their supporting actresses
—not even that, an extra with a couple of lines.
This is the story of Hagar.
Once upon a time,
there was a woman named Hagar.
Hagar was not a newspaper comic strip character,
not a Viking warrior a la "Hagar the Horrible."
Hagar was Sarah's slave.
She was a woman of little consequence
—no money, no family, no status at all
         and like all women of her place and time
                  she was property, like a toaster oven or a family pet
she had no legal existence of her own,
no recourse, no personal bank account
         yet she was happy
                  she was a part of a family, not mistreated but useful and needed
                  she went about her daily life
                           doing the laundry
                           weaving and mending
                           helping with the grocery-ing
shuttling the children of the camp to and from school, lacrosse, and band practice
                  it wasn't a bad life
so we begin with act one:
the first hiccup came when Sarah,
despairing of ever having a child of her own, said to herself:
         "it has ceased to be with me in the way of women"
         at least that's what the King James Bible tell us
"I've got a plan…" she said
         and Sarah went to Abraham and said,
"it has ceased to be with me in the way of women
—so I want you to take my slave Hagar
and get her pregnant and that child will be mine"
         and Abe said, "ok"—what, did you think he'd say no?
         so they went to Hagar and Sarah said,
"it has ceased to be with me in the way of women,
so I want you to get pregnant by my husband
and give me the baby"
         and Hagar, a woman of great poise and wit, said, "what?" [deep Dr. Who]
                  but this kind of arrangement wasn't unheard of in those days
so… Hagar slept with Abraham and conceived a child
                  and even in the midst of a kind of Jerry Springer-like mess
                  Hagar was happy
—she was bringing life and prosperity to her family
she was pleased and proud to be needed and wanted and included
now she was part of The Promise everyone talked about
now she was in with the "in" crowd
                           the first time she felt the baby move it brought her to tears
                                    there was life in this body, joy in this hard life
         and even though Sarah didn't take Hagar's pregnancy as well as she'd hoped
                  and cursed and beat her and drove her away to the desert
                  Hagar didn't give up
                  in the desert, she met God—I mean really met God
                           God spoke to Hagar
                           God saw her misfortune and God saw her
                           and God gave her a promise, too
—her children would one day number as the stars
and she would be the matriarch of a great nation
                           and Hagar, this unknown, inconsequential slave girl, named God
                                    not a title or a description but a name
becoming the only person in the bible to name God
                                    "el-Roi" she called God—"God who sees"
and so Hagar returned to the camp and to her adopted family
rejoicing in the divine knowledge that she was truly a part of the Promise
                  rejoicing in her physical and spiritual wealth
act two:
         Sarah, no longer a spring chicken, felt her age
when strangers came into the camp proclaiming that she would become great with child
                  she laughed—nervously? deeply and heartily?
knowing what she had lost?
         either way, it came to pass that she was again in the way of women
                  and lo, she became great with child
                  and as amazing and wonderful as it was, she was scared
                  she went to Hagar, her slave, and wept and laughed and learned
                  they talked about their aches and pains,
their hunger, their deep connection with their babies
                  they discussed birthing plans and breathing techniques
and prenatal yoga
When Hagar gave birth she named her son Ishmael after the narrator of Moby-Dick
and soon after, Sarah also gave birth
and named her son Isaac after the Ancient Near Eastern fashion designer Isaac Mizrahi
and Sarah looked upon the child of her slave
…and she hated him
         she said, "my Isaac will not grow up playing with the help"
         and she went to Abraham,
who, after a hundred years of wedded bliss,
was used to his wife telling him what to do
                  she said, "Abe, my Isaac will not grow up playing with the help"
                  and Abe looked out into the yard at Ishmael his firstborn son
and at Isaac his miraculous child
                  and he went along with it
         Abraham turned Hagar and his own son out into the desert
with only a single bottle of water
                  and Hagar asked, "where is God and God's Promise now?"
                           out here in the wilderness,
we wander the literal desert and the metaphorical one
out here in the wilderness where there are no street signs
and no restaurants
—not even a trickling stream
Hagar was alone, unmourned, and unloved
a secondary character in a made-for-TV movie
all she could think of was the look of triumph on Sarah's face
even her friends in the camp couldn't look at her in her shame
her family, her group, her clique
         had kicked her out like a dog
         because of who she was, what she'd done or said or seen
         Hagar wandered, carrying her toddler son and the bottle of water
                  the one getting heavier
                  the one getting lighter
                  her heart breaking
                  and her eyes were opened
and behold, she knew they could not survive on their own
                           so she laid Ishmael under a bush
                                    not able to watch her own son die of starvation
                           and she stumbled away, hot tears streaming down her face
                           and she lifted up her voice with her son's
and wailed with no one to hear
         but God hears
act three:
God hears her cries and joins her there in the wilderness
                  God sits with her, suffers with her
a few hard paces from her squalling baby boy
                  and God mourns with her for all she has lost
         and God reminds her of the Promise she already has
                  you will never be alone
                  I will be with you
                  I will make you the matriarch of a great nation, too,
and you will be remembered unto ages of ages
                  there is light here in the midst of your darkness [gesture to the Table]
there is hope here in the midst of your wilderness
and God shows her a well in the desert
         and she drinks deep
so, Hagar names God el-Roi, "the God who sees"
and God hears her cries in the wilderness, "the God who hears"
and God does not leave Hagar or Ishmael or Sarah or Isaac or us
"God is with us," EmmanuelHagar and Ishmael Sent Away
God sees,
         God hears,
                  God is with us

And we all lived happily ever after.

*       *       *

Questions for conversation:
·      What stood out for you in Hagar’s story?
Share a story about when you felt God’s presence—what happened? How could you tell it was God? What did you learn from the experience?