Living like Hagar – an invisible slave

Today I am continuing in a series where I reimagine* the stories of biblical women I am discussing in a small group bible study. In the previous post I re-imagined part of Sarah’s story, before they set out for Canaan. But now I move on to Hagar, Sarah’s Egyptian slave, who is a foreigner, a stranger with no rights. I try to look at her life with Sarah and Abraham through her eyes.

I hope this creative retelling of Hagars story helps you to see her in a new light. I hope it also shows you how different people in the bible might experience God. And perhaps you could try it for yourself, when you are reading your bible. To take one of the carachters in it, and imagine what life might have been like for them. Fill in the gaps with your imagination. You don’t have to write it out like I did. But take a few minutes after your normal bible reading to try this, prayerfully. But for now, let’s dive into Hagar’s story.

Invisible

I ran away. My child wasn’t safe there, not with her. She pushed me into his tent, let him have his way with me. And all so that she could have my child. I will not let her have him! He is mine.

Home

For most of my life I have been invisible. My mother was a slave in Egypt, and she often told me I was not supposed to exist. So I never knew who my father was and she died before my seventh year. I ended up in the slave quarters of the palace and was trained to clean there for the wing-eyed people. We slept during the day and cleand at night, because we were not supposed to be seen. If we heard sandals clapping while we were working, we had to run and hide. I usually worked in the scribe rooms, until about my 12th year. That was when some foreign guests came to stay and I was given to them as a gift. I became a body slave to a new lady in the harem: Lady Sarai.

Sometimes I stilll think how strange it is that I am property, just like jewelry or even cattle. I am a thing people can do with what they like. But I cannot change that, so it doesn’t do me any good to dwell on it.

Lady Sarai was terrified back then. She was obviously foreign and knew little of what went on in the harem. I saw how skittish she was, and I felt sorry for her. I tried to make her more comfortable, to help her by teaching our customs and explain how things worked here. I don’t think she understood much of what I said. But it didn’t last long. There was a scandal and she, along with her family, was banished from Egypt. I struggled to comprehend it at the time, but I was her slave now. So I had to leave the only home I had ever known.

Everything changed

On the way out of Egypt I was the foreigner among these people. I became even more invisible because I was different and couldn’t understand their strange tongue. Lady Sarai and her family lived in tents; they’re nomads, so they move around alot. That took some getting used to, since I have only ever lived in one place, and in stone buildings. In these tents and with their simple way of dress Lady Sarai had little need for me as a body slave. She rarely called on me, except to prepare for bed each night.

These people have a strange god. Really, everything about these people is strange to me, but I guess I should get used to it after ten years with them. Back home we had many gods. The most important one was the sun-god Ra, but we also had to worship others to ensure the Nile would flood and for harvests to succeed. This family does not worship any of those gods. They say they worship the one god, Elohim, who made all the other gods. I struggled to comprehend that. But then again, no god has ever paid attention to me, so I have never given them much thought.

That one night

A few months ago Master Abram came back home acting weird. Saying he had spoken with Elohim, who had promised him a great family. I was hanging up laundry to dry behind Lady Sarai’s tent when he walked in to tell her. I giggled to myself. Lady Sarai has never had a child and is old now. She will never have a child. So Master Abram must have drunken too much wine and had a fevered dream.

That night though, I saw her go to his tent. But a few weeks later I washed the blood from her undergarments and heard her soft sobs. The tears, however, gradually subsided and something in Lady Sarai changed after that. She grew harder, I guess. I saw her looking at the other women in the camp, the maids, the wives of servants, their daughters. She always had a look of longing for the children, but now I could see those eyes had grown cold, angry. More and more often that steel, gaze would fall on me. She was angry that her god had not given her the child he had promised to her husband.

But there was something more behind those eyes. Something I couldn’t quite place, until two moons ago….

She called me to help her get ready for bed. “Egyptian!” She has never once called me by name. I actually don’t think she knows my name. As I helped her undress she looked at me; something she never does. She always pretends I don’t exist. A few times I saw she almost wanted to ask me something, but then she thinks better of it. I guess she was still shaken from the horrible fight I saw her have with Master Abram earlier. I couldn’t hear what it was about, but I did hear them shouting about their god, and Egypt.

I had actually hoped that the fight meant we might be going back home… But no, they had been fighting about me.

As Lady Sarai is finished for the night she says she wants me to walk with her to Master Abrams tent. Something else she has never done. But I know better then to ask. So I go with her into his tent…

I wish I could forget what happened there. I wish I could forget what she told me. I wish I could forget how, when I tried to run away she tied my wrists to the tent poles. I wish I could forget that she left me there. I wish I could forget what came next. I wish I could forget. I know I never will, just like I know nobody cares and there is no point in talking about it.

Pain and anger

After that night I was broken, but I could not let that show. These are proud people and they punish ther slaves easily. But I was not the only broken one, something broke in Lady Sarai as well. I wasn’t invisible anymore, at least not to her. Instead I was like a magnet to her eyes. She followed me everywhere. Her eyes barely left me when I went to relieve myself. But she never spoke to me, except to bark orders. Her ice cold gaze, however, held me hostage.

Her eyes grew even more cold and hard, when my monthly bleeding doesn’t come and I start feeling sick. I started to feel small under them. I knew I received something she hadn’t; something she wanted more than anything. I knew there was envy, anger, pain, betrayal and tears behind those eyes. But when I was near her, I felt small, I felt that I was the source of her pain and somehow she made me feel guilty.

I think that I would feel that same envy, pain and anger if I knew my husband was having a child by another woman. But then I remember she pushed me into his tent. And my empathy trickles away to make place for anger and pain of my own.

Sometimes, though, when I was alone, I would think to myself. I would think about the child inside of me. The new life that I am carrying. A new hope, a future. I dared to dream of different life. I dared to hope. And in hose moments I would smile to myself.

Lady Sarai saw one of those tiny smiles, and … she exploded. Slapt me and she screamed a storm of insults and accusations at me. That I did not give her the proper respect. That even tough I was carrying his child she was still his wife. That I should not think that I would ever replace her. That I had ruined her life. And then she said

“You are still my slave, so your child is mine. When he is born I will raise him for the promise Elohim made Abram.”

I tried to protest. She could not have my child, my ony source of hope and light. But when I tried to open my mouth she slapt me so hard everything went black. So when I woke up in the middle of the night…

I ran away. My child wasn’t safe there, not with her. She pushed me into his tent, let him have his way with me. And all so that she could have my child. I will not let her have him! He is mine.

Living water

I wandered through the desert. I didn’t even think about where I was or what I needed. I just had to leave that place and those people. I couldn’t stay. I didn’t bring water, I was so thrusty. I started to cry, when I realized what I had done. ‘I am in the middle of the desert, without food or water. I have no idea where I am, or where I am going. I don’t know how to survive on my own. And to cap it all off, I am with child.’

But slowly my tears start to dry; and as I lift my head I see a spring in the distance. It is almost like it isnt’t really there. But I go to it anyway. Because somehow I know that in that water is my salvation. That water is life. I stumble to the spring. When I get to it I am so desperate I simply fall on my knees and start scooping water into my mouth.

“Hagar, slave of Sarai, where have you come from and where are you going?”

I have to steady myself, sitting on my knees at the pool of water.. Did I hear that right? Did someone just call me, by name? I have not heard my name in over 10 years.

Promises

I turn around. There is somebody there, but also not there. It looks like a man, but also not like a man. I know that many many years from now I would still recognize him anywhere. But if you ask me to describe him I know I never could. I think that I should be afraid, but I’m not.

I know this man-that-is-not-like-a-man, though I don’t know how. I know that he comes to tell me something, to give me a message. I know I have never seen him before. And yet I have seen him in every dream I have ever dreamed. I have met him in every prayer I have ever prayed. Every song I have ever song was to him.

I am stunned. Then I remember that he has asked me something. So I tell him. I cannot stop myself, I tell him everything. I tell him about Egypt, about my mother, about Lady Sarai and Master Abram, and finally I tell him about my child. I tell him.”I ran away. My child wasn’t safe there, not with her. She pushed me into his tent, let him have his way with me. And all so that she could have my child. I will not let her have him! He is mine.”

At this the messenger tells me that my child will be a son, and that he will have many many descendents. That I will call him Ismael, because Elohim has heard me. Which is when I realize that I am speaking to the god Lady Sarai has worshiped. I am speaking with a God. Wow…. My mind races to comprehend it. It is too much….

But Elohim is not finished talking to me. “He will be wild, and will have conflict with many people, including his own family.” Again, I struggle to comprehend. A God is telling me about my child… no… about my son. My son who will become the father of a great nation, of many people. He will have conflict. But I have known conflict, many other people have conflict.

Elohim is still not finished. He tells me that I must return to Lady Sarai and Master Abram. That my son, is not only my son but Master Abram’s as well. That he has made promises to Abram and that I must go back. That he will be with me and with my son, but that I must return. Elohim never explains why.

Again I struggle to comprehend what is happening or what is being said. A god is speaking to me. A god is telling me to go back. To return to a place where I have been used, abused, beaten and hurt in so many ways. A god is telling me to return to a place, and a people, where I was invisible.

Which is when I realize I am no longer invisible. Elohim has seen me. He has seen my pain and my suffering, my hope, and my tears. “You are the god who sees” I say to him. I don’t know why, or how. But in my deepest I know I can trust this god. So I get up, I turn around and I start walking back to where I came from…


Keep your eyes peeled for my next retelling of a story about Rachel.


* Reimagining Bible stories

For this way of reimagining a story I combine two traditional ways of reading scripture, Ignatian Contemplation and Midrash. Ignatian contemplation is really a way of prayer with the bible, where as you read you imagine yourself in the story. Midrash on the other hand is a Jewish Rabinnical practice in which you look for unusual words, curious plot twists, or contradictions in the biblical text and use these textual anomalies as a window for interpretation or re-imagination of the back-story to the brief biblical tales.


Resources

These resources have helped and inspired me in writing Hagar’s story:

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