Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Fear Not [no.2]

This one is especially appropriate for today, in my opinion. When I set out to post the meme, I didn't mean to expound upon it; but as I dealt with my own fear today, I found comfort in sussing out the larger context of this little bit of proof-texting.

Jews, Muslims, and Christians all look back to Abraham as their father, the father of monotheism. In him, all three were one faith in one god. (Hmmm. Sounds oddly familiar.) What is interesting to me is that when Abraham and Sarah decide to take the matter of children into their own hands things seem to go awry. Sarah is afraid for her position because she cannot have children. So, she gives her slave Hagar to her husband and Hagar mothers the coveted oldest son. Her precarious position makes Hagar run away, but God speaks to her and convinces her to go back. Years later, despite Sarah laughing at God's promise of children, Isaac, the actual child of both Abraham and Sarah, is born. I find these verses from Genesis especially telling:
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him.
(11) Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. (12 ) So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
(13) Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ (14) Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
(15) Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”
But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.”

She was afraid, so she lied.

Next comes the story of God destroying Sodom and Gomorrah, followed by Abraham trying to pass Sarah off as his sister instead of his wife because he was afraid.

Then, Sarah gave birth to Isaac and her position as wife was secured. Except for that pesky oldest son of whom she was jealous. So she convinces Abraham to send Hagar and Ishmael off into the desert, which he does, after taking council from God.

It is at the point where Hagar is convinced that Ishmael will die of dehydration and sits away from him so she will not have to see him die, that God sends and angel to comfort her with the message above--and shows her a spring/well. The Qur'an has essentially the same story except that she is running desperately between the seven hills looking for a spring when the angel appears and shows her water. Muslims hold Hagar in high regard, as a matriarch of monotheism, someone who submitted to God's will despite troubling circumstances. During the hajj, Muslims remember her run between the hills.

Indeed, God promises his blessing to Ishmael's descendants just as he does Isaacs. It is just that the Bible follows Isaac's descendants more than Ishmael's from this point on.

It is worth noting, though, that both sons are present at Abraham's burial and there is no mention of ill will between the two (to my knowledge, which could be spotty).

I am fascinated by this story for so many reasons. First, because God speaks to Hagar. Twice. A woman. The subservient slave. She is the first woman since Eve to whom God speaks. God didn't even speak to Sarah or send an identified angel. (There were the three men, yes.)

Further, just having come off the Sunday with the the scripture about Zechariah being told about his late-in-life son, which he also scoffed at (and was silenced because of it), the parallels there caught me. I'd never considered those two stories together before. Hagar accepts her role. (Abraham may have been the father of monotheism, but he was not the model of monogamy!) However, both Zechariah and Sarah, laugh at the promise of children. Laugh at God. But Hagar does not. Wait. Who was the other woman who graciously accepted her role to have a baby and was told what to name him? Oh, right. Mary. These four birth announcements/stories held in contrast to each other makes for some interesting reflection.

The father of monotheism, of Muslims and Christians, was one man who struggled mightily with himself and with God's will. His sons were separated, yes, but both were blessed by God, and had no quarrel with one another.

I also like that Ishmael's name means "God hears." What an affirming message: God hears women. God hears how Hagar has suffered and he hears Ishmael, a child, crying in the desert. It makes me believe even now, God hears the women and the children crying in that same wilderness.

It is especially fitting in the hours after Donald Trump's call to prevent all Muslims from entering the land of religious freedom. (I wish there were a font for irony.) I find myself being afraid of him and of what our country could become under his leadership, what it is now when our fears are fanned like a flame.

This story teaches me God hears and responds fear not.

Now the question is: Can we hear God telling us fear not... Can we hear the women and children crying for help?

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