With a small group study I am working on some really interesting ladies from the bible. In preparing for the small group I am trying my hand at Ignatian Bible Contemplation, where you imagine yourself as really being part of the story. In this series I want to paint my imaginative portraits of these women. There is so much that the Bible never really discuss, and women rarely get much attention. So I try to walk an imagined mile in her shoes. These posts will be the stories I come up with to fill in the blanks. I will try to stay faithful to the Bible, but these will not be based in fact. That however, doesn’t mean that they cannot convey a form of truth. In that sense I think these portraits are a little like Jewish midrash.
Our first lady is Sarah: so I tried to place myself in her life. But I also tried to place her story into the narrative of the Bible as a whole. Because we often read the Bible; and especially the OT, with Jesus, the Cross and all the rest of the NT in mind. Sarah doesn’t know what will happen, and perhaps we can learn something new by experiencing her wonder and doubt as it is happening.
I started my study with asking “What does Sarah know about God, when we meet her for the first time?” Because it is an early story, so there is not that much that has happened yet. Every thing she does know she has heard from stories, because she cannot read or write. And in her time all the societies in the middle eastern regions believed in many gods, who controlled many different aspects of daily life, and that you had to give them offerings to keep them happy and to provide for you. So here you find my attempt at answering that question.
My husband, Abe, comes home with a very strange story. He tells me that he talked to a god. Apparently it is the god Abe’s ancestors have told stories about, with enormous floods and magical trees, called Elohim. Anyway, Elohim told Abe to leave everything behind. All of our family, our home and everything we own. Abe has to leave it all behind, according to Elohim; and go to a land far far away…. I have to say I was sceptical. Abe doesn’t even know where Elohim wants him to go. But, Abe continues that Elohim promised to bless him, if he follows and trusts him. Elohim will give Abe a great family, by which by will be blessing to the entire world.
At this point I snicker. It’s a beautiful dream, but Abe is 75 years old; and I’m no spring chicken, either. We have built a nice life, one I am really content with. We live in Haran now, but we have traveled a lot. I grew up in Ur of Chaldeans, together with Abe. Along with his family we left Ur to go to Canaan, way out west. I enjoyed the trip a lot. I saw so many new things and liked to see the exotic people we came across. Unfortunately, when we were in Haran Abe’s father died and we never continued on to Canaan.
In Haran we built a nice life, and learned how to talk to the local people. The only dark cloud that hung over our life is that we can’t have children. We have been married for so long and tried so hard. I wanted a child so dearly, but the gods have not granted me one. Over the years we have grown close to our nephew, Lot, the son of Abe’s brother. He lives with us in our tent, and I see him as my son.
I snickered at Abe’s story, because what god could make a child happen, for a couple our age? I have heard about so many gods, especially during our travels. Gods that give water from the sky, gods that give children, gods that provide safe passage, gods that protect your house. But I have never really seen any god that gave children to barren women as old as me.
Also, a twinge of doubt creeps into my mind. Abe’s story doesn’t mention me… maybe I am not included in Elohims promise. Some men here have a strange custom of marrying many wives. I trust Abe. I have always had faith in him. But Abe is different now. This promise, this encounter he had, it has put a zeal, a purpose, in him I haven’t seen before. If Abe is promised a family I am definitely not able to give him one. So maybe…
I actually don’t know much about this Elohim, who has caused my husband to uproot out lives. He is quite an enigma when you compare him to other gods around. What I know, I have heard through stories from familie and people along the way here. But those stories are all jumbled.
Apparently it all starts with Elohim some how creating the entire world. That would make him a very powerful god. I cannot imagine that creation. I mean, what was here before ‘here’ was a place? The first people were also created by Elohim. And then stories about rebellion, apples and snakes start to blend together in my memory. Eventually the first people wandered into the world and did what people do, what people have always done. They created violence, beauty, hate, joy, jealousy, community, family, and fighting…
Elohim, however, was not satisfied with how his creation was developing. Noah, a mythical ancestor from many many generations ago, intervened with Elohim, and pleaded not to wipe out all people. So Noah and his family were tasked by Elohim build a huge boat, or a basket that could hold many many animals. (I don’t really know how a basket would work. But then I don’t even know what a boat is. It has something with traveling across water, but I have spent my entire life wandering desert wilderness.) Noah, his family and the animals went onto the basket and Elohim flooded everything for many many days. Everybody in the basket was saved. Happily ever after, I guess.
There is also a weird story about Noah and his sons after the flood, in a vineyard. But I don’t remember the details. Then there is a story about the city of Babel. That’s a place I would like to avoid. Nothing good ever happened in Babel, and this story is no exception. The people there thought they could build a tower to the skies, so they could talk to Elohim. Most gods live up there. But Elohim doesn’t want the people to come talk to him, so he tears the tower down. He then makes all people speak different languages. I don’t remember why that was. But everytime we get to a new place and I have to use my hand and feet to buy things at the market, I am reminded of that story.
These stories about this god, Elohim, have been mixed with stories of other gods. My friends have told me about the miraculous rain that saved their harvest, and the fires that came in the night to destroy homes. I know of other gods that apparently created the world by ripping their mothers apart. And then I also have heard stories of gods that love the world so much they give themselves. Those are my favorites. But there are so many that it is hard to keep track. The people here are worried about offending all of these gods, and look at us wearily. I hear their whispers and see their side glances, because Abe has a preference for Elohim and doesn’t worship the other gods here. I know some blame him for the drought, because he didn’t sacrifice to Baal, the storm god.
And now Abe is packing our stuff, breaking down our tent, and readying our donkeys. Tomorrow we set out, to god knows where. Lot, our nephew, is also packing his things; Abe asked him to come. Though, Elohim told Abe to leave everything, including family, behind. I am not sure bringing Lot is a good idea…. I have started to think more about Elohims promise. If he is indeed as powerful as Abe told me, than perhaps there is still hope. And yet, I cannot help but feel that the journey we start tomorrow is towards a destination that Abe and I will never reach.
Check out my next post. Another imaginative portrait, this time on Hagar. The slave woman Sarah gives to Abraham, because she doesn’t trust Elohim yet…