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Night Prayer from A New Zealand Prayer Book

“Lord,

it is night.

The night is for stillness.

Let us be still in the presence of God.

It is night after a long day.

What has been done has been done;

what has not been done has not been done;

let it be.

The night is dark.

Let our fears of the darkness of the world and of our own lives

rest in you.

The night is quiet.

Let the quietness of your peace enfold us,

all dear to us,

and all who have no peace.

The night heralds the dawn.

Let us look expectantly to a new day,

new joys,

new possibilities.

In your name we pray.

Amen.” (p. 184)

“What has been done has been done; what has not been done has not been done; let it be.”

As I stand on the edge of an unknown journey, I am thinking about this prayer. I am about to embark on four months of sabbatical. After sixteen years of ordained ministry, I am going to stop working for four full months. This is hard to comprehend. Since college days, I have never not worked. I do not really know much about Sabbath.

I was raised in a Southern Baptist preacher’s home. This means that other people’s Sabbaths was a work day for my father. And since Mama taught Sunday School, played the church organ and sang in the choir, then taught elementary school from Monday through Friday and then took care of family needs on Saturday, she never had a Sabbath either.  In fact, the longest vacations I remember were. . .work-related. We traveled to different parts of the United States when I was a child, but almost all of those times, we were going to wherever the Southern Baptist Conventions were meeting.

So this business of taking four months to decompress, to rest, to play, feels strange to me. It is an experience I have never had. And sadly, the model that I learned, early in life, was to work all the time. This model, plus being a single mom for a number of years, means I have much un-learning to do!

We have prepared for this sabbatical time in the parish. My present and past Vestry helped me to plan. We applied for, and got a Lilly Foundation grant. When Vestry members first saw my proposal, they told me, “You have to cut some of this stuff out. We want you to rest. We don’t want you coming back to us as exhausted as when you left.” Oh. That. So I went home and excised some of the things I had put in the proposal.

A sabbatical prep team formed, and my just-past Senior Warden (head lay person of our governing board, in case you are not Episcopalian) said she would be the leader of this group. So I met with that group a number of times, so we could plan how to handle the different tasks of the parish: pastoral care, administrative tasks, worship, special events that focused on our general sabbatical theme of Creativity and Welcome, etc. We found a very capable priest to be supply during this time.

So now, it is time.  I have registered for a preaching conference; a National Geographic Photography weekend; some relaxing time with dear friends in NC and Canada; a digital technology conference at Virginia Seminary; a writing workshop at Kenyon Institute. And vacation—the usual “happy place” called Maine. I will spend chunks of time at home as well—writing, playing with my camera, and walking. Working in the yard. Taking deep breaths. Sleeping. Reading. Journaling. Thinking.

My life has been so busy with “to do’s” that I have not spent very much time just “being.” All that is about to change, I hope.

This next four months may be life-changing for me. I may find parts of myself that I have forgotten. I may find parts of myself that I have never known.

Nervous. Excited. Eager for this journey to begin. My soul is ready.

In my parish, we have moved Announcements to just before the Processional Hymn and Dismissal, to see if the liturgy flows more smoothly (yes, it does). At the Announcement time today, my Sr. Warden did them, then asked whether there were any more. I said, “I have a request, not an announcement.” Then I told the gathered folks that as their spiritual leader, I would like to ask them to join me and pray EVERY DAY for the violence and political division in this country. I said, “I don’t care if you are Republican, Democrat or Independent. What I care about is the conflict, violence, and lack of civil discourse that has become reality in the US. We in this country are blessed. We have the freedom to express ourselves. We have the freedom to vote. But I see that our brothers and sisters of color are even more scared to go into certain public spaces. And this past week, a young Muslim man showed up at a political rally to give away coffee and doughnuts as a sign of peace. The way a so-called Christian treated him broke my heart.” I noted that we have eight months to go before the election, and that they were welcome to consider this an open-ended invitation, but that I hope they will join me in praying every day for the situation in this country. Parents are forced to turn off TVs so that their nine, ten, eleven and older year olds don’t see and hear this brutal and abusive behavior (yes, name-calling is abusive behavior) and mimic it? Really? God must weep over God’s children.

Silent, Strong Women

During Lent, I have been going a bit deeper with morning quiet time. I have, for years, read the scriptures appointed in the Morning Prayer office in the Book of Common Prayer. But while on Vestry retreat with my folks, we all promised each other that we would read the Daily Office–a commitment to deepening all of our spiritual lives, and particularly as leaders of a parish. Our plan was to then ask the parish and other parish leaders to do that with us during the Easter season.

Fortunately, I have had, at hand, my I-Phone app for Forward Day by Day, so reading the Morning Office has been easy. In the past couple of weeks, we have worked through the Joseph novella in Genesis, and at least one person has commented that they have loved reading this. He said he was seeing new things in it, deeper things.

Yesterday was the story of Joseph’s death, and burial. Today, we moved into Exodus. But I noticed something I had not paid much attention to before. The two Egyptian midwives, in the previous chapter, are named–something that is not usually done unless someone is important in scripture. They defy the Pharaoh and do not throw male Hebrew babies into the Nile. And God blesses them.

Now, in this new chapter, Moses’ mother has a baby boy. She successfully hides him for three months. But three-month old babies, with new-found sleep schedules and stronger cries, can not be hidden so easily. So Moses’ mother (who, by the way, is Jochebed, according to Numbers 26:59, but we don’t know that yet) prepares a special boat/cradle for the baby and places him in the reeds near the Nile.

What I love is her craftiness, her wisdom, her strategy. This mother seems to have known the daily bathing habits of Pharoah’s daughter. She knew when this wealthy young woman  was going to come down to the Nile, accompanied by her women-servants, to bathe. And Moses’ mother placed him right where he would a) be safe (perhaps at low tide) and b) be found by a princess. But Jochebed did not just abandon her baby son. She left Miriam, her daughter, with him. So as babies will do, Moses cried, the princess heard him, and decided she would adopt him. But what then?  She could not nurse him.

But Miriam–clearly as smart and strategic as her mama–piped up from nearby. “Shall I go and get you a nurse from the Hebrew women to nurse the child for you?” Oh. That. Yes, what a good idea. So Pharoah’s daughter agrees, and of course the “Hebrew woman” the child fetches is the baby’s own mother.

Here’s the best part: Pharoah’s daughter, who clearly does not put two and two together, orders Moses’ mother “‘Take this child and nurse it for me, and I will give you your wages’.” so the woman took the child and nursed it.”

Jochebed’s calculated strategy works far better than she might have imagined. Not only does she save her infant son from death, but she provides a life for him that will include wealth, education and a home. Better yet, SHE IS PAID FOR IT. In a culture of slavery, where her husband and other men are forced to “brick bricks” under a hot sun in Egypt, building buildings for a cruel ruler, she provides an income for her family.

As I read this passage this morning, this “I will give you your wages” popped off the page at me. Moses’ mother is, at this point, just an un-named slave. Yet she has incredible power. She, like African-American slaves in the United States in the 1700’s and 1800’s (and arguably beyond that), lived under oppressive conditions, where community mattered, and where strategy and courage were critical. I thought about the Ignatian Solidarity Network devotion, which I have also been following every morning on my I-phone (entitled “Lift Every Voice; A Lenten Journey Towards Racial Justice), and today’s meditation was entitled “In the Presence of Enemies.” While this reflection focused on Dr. King and his own enemies, the questions at the end were broader–about how enemies don’t have to be people. They can be “any kind of oppositional force in your life that keeps you from flourishing as you were created to do.”

So there are many forces in my, and your, lives, that oppose us, that hold us back. Today, I am strengthened by the silent, strong presence of those in our midst who–in the throes of conflict, oppression and political power–speak Truth to such power. Sometimes they do it with words. And more often than not, they speak Truth to power with their very bodies and minds. For such, I am deeply grateful. Jochebed, may your daughters keep on keeping on.

Isaiah 55:1-13

 If you are thirsty, come to the waters. If you have no money, come, buy and eat.

Imagine, if you will, that every day, you walk past a particular house in your neighborhood. Sometimes, at dusk, you walk by, on your way home. Through the clear glass windows, you can see into the dining room. What can you see? A huge dining room table that stretches from one end to the other. Beautifully polished silver candelabras, their candles lit, flickering with a warm glow. All kinds of delicious food waits on this table—roast beef, turkey, ham. Brightly colored sweet potatoes and green vegetables. Homemade pasta dishes. Fish, crabmeat, shrimp. Loaves of hot, homemade bread. Someone has poured good red wine into the wine glasses to decant. Folded napkins rest neatly at each place. The banquet awaits.

Open door sm1 And you, who have stopped for a moment in the cold winter dusk to gaze upon this scene, are hungry. Really hungry. Just when you are ready to keep walking, someone opens the front door and calls out to you.

“Hi! Dinner’s ready and on the table. Why don’t you come in and eat with us? Oh don’t worry. There’s no charge for dinner. We have freshly baked bread and a good roast from the meat market. If you want milk or water instead of wine, we have plenty of that too. Come in, and eat. We’ve been waiting for you, my dear. But you shake your head.

“No, thank you, I already have plans.” Now those plans include going home to eat a grilled cheese sandwich while you check your e-mail—another evening that leaves you vaguely unfulfilled. So that person who stands in the open doorway, backlit by the glow of candles, slowly and reluctantly closes that front door. You have refused her invitation. You stand there on the sidewalk for a moment, shivering and hungry. Then you turn and walk down the dark street. Alone. Hungry. Behind you, the feast has beckoned, and you said no.

What if. . .what if the One who bade you welcome from that open door was God? What if God is the one who has polished the good silverware, set the table, folded the napkins, cooked the food and poured the good, red wine? What if God has set this banquet for you and for me, invited us to come in from the cold, to eat and drink all we want, and we have said no?

Back in the sixth century, God reminded God’s people—through the prophet Isaiah—that God has done just this. Yes, God’s people are living far from home, in exile. The Babylonians overran Jerusalem, destroyed their sacred space—the Temple—and took everyone except the old, the feeble, and the sick off to a foreign land. The Jewish people were living in a country that was not theirs. Hearing a language that they did not understand. Surrounded by a pagan culture that was totally foreign to their own. How could they sing the Lord’s song in a foreign land?[1]

Yet over the years, some of them forgot. The mother tongue of their grandmothers and grandfathers only came to them in restless dreams. They forgot the words of the Psalms that they once knew. They found other things to do instead of praying to God several times a day. They were busy people in this brave, new world. They stopped singing the old hymns, and began to sing Babylonian songs. These new songs weren’t so bad, were they? More catchy. More upbeat. That old stuff? Please. . .

Yet some of these exiles in a foreign land did not forget the home country. They talked in their mother tongue—if only at home or in small groups. They found comfort in the scriptures and songs they had recited and sung in the holy city of Jerusalem. And some of these folks worried.

They were God’s people. Had God forsaken them? What had they done that was so wrong that God would allow a foreign nation to capture their people, take them away from the comforts and habits of home? They had been in this God-forsaken country for generations. Had God, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God of Sarah and Hagar, Rebekah, Rachel and Leah—had this God closed the door for good on them? No. The prophet Isaiah reminded his people that they still belonged to God. God had a banquet table still set and waiting for them. “Ho, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you that have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.”

 Yet perhaps there was a cost of sorts. People had to DO something in order for God to feed them. They had to begin to listen for God’s voice, to pay attention to God’s word. They had to remember that “YHWH, the Holy One of Israel, [was] the source of all good things to come.”[2] They had to seek the Lord. They had to call upon God when God was near. They had to remember that they did not belong to the customs and culture of this world. They were God’s children. They needed to remember who they were and Whose they were. To repent from wandering down wrong paths. To come back into relationship with the God who loved them. To say yes to the open door, walk in, sit down and eat. Through Isaiah, God promised that God’s people could be restored. Healed. Renewed. Forgiven. Fed at God’s table.

But too often, God’s people have not remembered or listened. They have believed in the wrong god—the god that pushes them to buy more, to pile up stuff and fill their houses instead of themselves. The god that pushes them to pile on more academic credentials or to work longer hours or to produce more and more, so that everyone around them can see how they deserve a raise or a promotion. We—God’s people—have drunk the Kool-ade of the culture. We have a new religion—what one writer has termed “the religion of the market. This new religion is a juggernaut, a never-ending mass media, a Madison Avenue-driven machine that insists that we demand and are provided more and more, with no thought to the notion ‘enough’.”[3]

Yet the irony is that as much as we work or buy stuff or fill our lives with frantic activity, we are hungry and thirsty for something more. Sometimes we don’t even stop long enough to ask ourselves “what am I really hungry for?” “What is missing in my life?” “In the last moment of my life—assuming I have the time to reflect on it—   will I regret not having spent more time in the office, or will I regret not spending more time with the people I love?”

God has enough. In God’s world, there is enough spiritual food to feed us. Enough spiritual water to quench our thirst. And often, less is more. With less, our lives are cleared out, a space made for us to go to the true Source of Life. God invites you and me to the banquet table. God invites, then waits for you and me to come to God’s table and to eat things that really nourish our souls. It is not anything you can put on a credit card. It is not having good academic credentials. It is not anything on a time card. What feeds us is God and God’s word. What feeds us is learning, even in a stumbling and hesitant way, to talk to God—otherwise known as prayer. What feeds us is coming together in community for strength and nourishment—then going out these doors to invite others to be part of this rich, diverse, amazing community so that they, too, can be fed.

Last weekend, your Vestry went on retreat. At that retreat, we asked ourselves if there are ways we in this parish can focus more on what truly feeds us. One thing that we have been doing, and will continue to do, is to look at our mission. To ask how much of what we are doing focuses inward, rather than to reach outward and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to this community. In Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s language, are we part of the Jesus movement who invites others to join us on that journey?

Daily OfficeWe also agreed that the core leaders of this parish need to feed ourselves more spiritually, and to invite you—our parish family members, some of whom are leaders who are not currently on Vestry—to join us on that journey. In particular, if you are leading a ministry, I challenge you to join us. For the remainder of Lent, Vestry members and I have made a covenant with each other. Every day, we are all praying the Daily Office in The Book of Common Prayer. [Note: If you do not know what the Daily Office is, it is Morning or Evening Prayer. Please get a hand-out on your way out the door this morning!] Some of us are doing that with apps on our Smartphones. Some are using I-Pads or computers. Some are doing the old fashioned thing: using a real Book of Common Prayer and a Bible. All good.

We want to nourish ourselves spiritually. We want to ask good questions of ourselves and our parish—so that what we are about is not just being caretakers of a historical tradition, but moving forward as Jesus’ followers in a twenty-first century world.

If you are thirsty, come to the waters. If you have no money, come, buy and eat.

wine and breadToday, I invite you to be really honest with yourself. Is your soul hungry? Is your soul thirsty? If the answer to either is yes, then know that the door of the house is wide open.    The candles are lit. The banquet table is full of good food and drink that will fill you, delight you, satisfy you.

In the seventeenth century, an Anglican priest and poet, George Herbert, wrote the following poem. I would like to close by reading it.

Love bade me welcome. Yet my soul drew back

                              Guilty of dust and sin.

But quick-eyed Love, observing me grow slack

                             From my first entrance in,

Drew nearer to me, sweetly questioning,

                             If I lacked any thing.

 A guest, I answered, worthy to be here:

                             Love said, You shall be he.

I the unkind, ungrateful? Ah my dear,

                             I cannot look on thee.

Love took my hand, and smiling did reply,

                             Who made the eyes but I?

 Truth Lord, but I have marred them: let my shame

                             Go where it doth deserve.

And know you not, says Love, who bore the blame?

                             My dear, then I will serve.

You must sit down, says Love, and taste my meat:

                             So I did sit and eat.[4]

[1] Psalm 137:4

[2] Richard A. Puckett, Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year C, Vol. 2, David L. Bartlett & Barbara Brown Taylor, Editors, (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2009), 79.

[3] Darryl M. Trimiew, Ibid., 74.

Picture of Cross on book by McJilton

Picture of open door from Lightstock

Picture of Chalice & Bread from Google images

 

[4] George Herbert, 1593–1632.

The Power of Words

Ash Wednesday 2 smYesterday, thousands of Christians gathered to usher Lent in with a Holy Day: Ash Wednesday. Some of my colleagues did “Ashes to Go.” (I had done that the past two years, but took a break this year.)  All over the internet, there were offers of daily Lenten meditations that one could subscribe to.  Many of us offered the liturgy of Ash Wednesday–which includes an invitation to a holy Lent, the imposition of ashes, the reading together of Psalm 51 (one of the most penitential psalms in the Hebrew Scriptures), a Litany of Penitence, an absolution, and then Holy Communion.

As I wound down last night, I was reflecting on the day. For me, it was a very full one. It had included meetings about Christian formation of our youth and children with our Director of Family & Youth Ministry, a tutorial on electronic media, a meeting with our organist/choir director about Lenten worship, a couple of pastoral phone calls, lots of e-mails, an unexpected connection with a first cousin whom I have never met (we are doing some family genealogy), and the two services.

Litany of PenitenceWhat was a common thread in all of these encounters?  Words.  I exchanged lots of words with people, in several milieus.  Yet what I was most struck with–and not for the first time–was the power of the words in our liturgy.

I grew up in a Southern Baptist preacher’s home. I was familiar with people who did extemporaneous prayers. No one used a book. The Book was the Bible. So by the time I was twelve years old, I could (and did) pray in public with no problem.

Yet I left that Baptist tradition. As a college student, and the young adult, I fell deeply in love with the music, the liturgies, the powerful words in the Book of Common Prayer. That poetry of the Prayerbook drew me in. The symbols of Eucharist–bread and wine–drew me in. It was not that there was less power in the words we prayed out of a Prayerbook. There was MORE power, for me.

So yesterday, I began both services with words written hundreds of years ago, in a long line of tradition: “Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent. . .” God hates nothing that God has made. Just think about the incredible depth and power of those words. If you claim those words, you will not ever hate yourself again. God does not hate anything God makes–that means you. That means me.

Yes, later in the Ash Wednesday liturgy, I prayed a prayer that acknowledges our humble beginnings:  “Almighty God, you have created us out of the dust of the earth: Grant that these ashes may be to us a sign of our mortality and penitence, that we may remember that it is only by your gracious gift that we are given everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Savior. Amen.”

Ashes 2And then, I slowly moved down the altar rail. One by one, people, knelt–young, old, male, female, black, white. I traced the sign of the cross on their foreheads and said, ‘Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” At both services, I knelt and asked a parishioner to etch those ashes on my own forehead. I do not want to forget. I do not want to forget that I came from the earth, and I will return someday to the earth. I do not want to forget that God created me. God loves me. God has never hated me, and never will. God is sitting in the old wing chair with a hot cup of tea, waiting for me to come and be held and loved. In this ultimate Word, I fall silent, and just know Love.

May that Word hold you this day.

Pictures taken by McJilton

Ash Wednesday

“Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.”

Ash Wednesday, by T.S. Eliot

In 1927, the poet T. S. Eliot converted to Anglicanism. This is the final stanza of this powerful poem. There are many things about life that I do not understand. One of those things is why I am so drawn to T.S. Eliot. I can still remember phrases from his “Love Song to J. Alfred Prufrock” (“I grow old, I grow old, I shall wear the bottom of my trousers rolled. . .”)

I have been living with Ash Wednesday on so many levels lately. As I have prepared for the various liturgies of Lent, Ash Wednesday is only one–yet an important one, for it is with this solemn liturgy that we usher in the forty days of Lent. Ash Wednesday is visceral.  In my parish, I make sure that there is extra space for silence during Lent, and we start today with that.  So the intentional silence, I hope, gives room for reflection. There is the solemn recitation of Psalm 51.  People either stand or kneel in front of me, and I feel the gritty texture of ashes. Etching them on the foreheads of men, women and children, I often look at the faces of these children and remember another day when I took holy oil, blessed by our bishop, and etched the sign of the cross after I baptized them. One year, I finished doing this part of the liturgy and remembered that no one had done that for me. So I went over and knelt in front of one of the acolytes, told him the words to use, and asked him to make the ash cross on my forehead. It was a powerful experience, to feel a childish hand take gritty ash and remind me that I, too, am dust. To dust I will return.

Our souls are eternal. We are, in a real sense, made of stardust–pure energy. Yet the shell that is our earthly body will, someday, become part of Mother Earth again.

This helps to remind me that I should do a little more in taking care of that earth. Fewer plastic bottles used. More recycling. Less water run as I brush my teeth (also remembering the people of Flint, Michigan, who do not have this luxury, as well as the millions of people around the world who are always thirsty because they do not have the same access to good, clean water that I do).  I am not going to spend time feeling guilty about this. I just need to do something concrete about it in my own life.

I have subscribed to a daily Lenten reflection from Ignatian Solidarity Network, which is “a Lenten journey towards racial justice,” and as I read the first reflection this morning, I was struck by the image of our (collective) standing on the ashes of those who have gone before us–especially our African American brothers and sisters who have been treated shamefully.  As a white woman, I have often wondered what I can do to make reparations. I think that maybe, I can just do my own part–to lift up voices unheard, to preach about the importance of doing justice so that there is peace.

Last year, when the riots erupted in Baltimore, MD, I was keenly aware of my own parish’s engagement with justice issues. We are a diverse parish, and we are a Main Street parish. The violence and unease, the conversations I had with local African American merchants who live in the west side of Baltimore–all of those made me more aware of what my own parishioners live with–fear for, concern for, their black teenage sons. Together, a group of us read Ta Nehisi Coates’ book Between the World and Me, and the African Americans in the room helped this priest and pastor learn, on a more personal level, the challenges they all face that I will never face.

I am who I am. I was born to a certain set of parents, out of a particular family line–one that may have a trace of Native American, but is mostly from Scottish, Irish and English roots. I will never, on some deep level, really understand the pain of the people upon whose ashes I stand this day.

But I can ask God to open my heart and mind to the pain that others have borne, and will continue to bear. I can ask God for forgiveness of the sin of my own racism. I can ask God to change my heart. Today, I will do that, and I will feel the grittiness of dark ash on my forehead, and be grateful for the God who has created me out of the dust of the earth, and who will–at the end of my life–welcome me to a table where all of us are welcome, regardless of our color, race or creed.  Even on Ash Wednesday, that reality is something to celebrate.

 

The One Who Sees

Clothespins in blizzard.jpgOn Saturday, you could not see much.  In the Washington-Baltimore area, we had snow. And more snow. And more snow. It snowed steadily from Friday afternoon until about 10:00 on Saturday evening at my house.  At times, when I looked out, all I could see was whirling snow, and as I peered out of the window of my front door, I thought–more than once–how grateful I was to have a warm, snug house, with plenty of food and hot chocolate at hand.  It was okay to watch–as long as I was safe and warm inside. My biggest concern was whether the power stayed on–which it did. A first-world problem, you might say, and you would be right.

This morning, I was doing my usual early morning devotions. Genesis 16 has the story of Abram, Sarai and Hagar. Sarai realizes that she cannot have children, which is a sign of shame and embarrassment in her society. However, legally, any children borne of her slave-girl will belong to Sarai. No doubt Abram and Sarai had bought Hagar back from their life in Egypt. So now, without asking Hagar’s permission, Sarai gives Hagar to Abram, who “went in to Hagar, and she conceived. . .”

Far from her home, far from her family, a woman whose skin is probably darker than that of her owners, marries a man she has not chosen (nor would she, in that culture, even back home), and whether she wants a child or not, she is having one. But this leads to even more issues, one being jealousy. Now it is clear that Hagar can have children for Abram, so maybe he will prefer her to Sarai–even though scripture lets us know that Sarai is beautiful enough that Abram was nervous when they were in Egypt–to the degree that he lied to Pharoah and said she was his sister, not his wife. Yet human beings have been broken from the time of the Garden, and so this continues in this story–the broken-ness.

Sarai is mean to Hagar, but Abram will not intervene. In desperation, the pregnant slave-woman runs away.

Who finds Hagar? Who sees her? Sarai has not seen her as a human being, nor has Abram. She is property, pure and simple. A vessel for children whom she will never call her own. The one who sees Hagar is a messenger from God. The angel tells Hagar to go back to Abram and Sarai, that the child she will bear will be the beginning of many generations, and that his name is to be Ishmael.

Very quickly, Hagar realizes that this is no ordinary conversation. She understands with Whom she is having this desert conversation. “So she names the LORD who spoke to her. ‘You are El-roi;’ for she said, ‘Have I really seen God and remained alive. . .?'”

El-roi.  The God of seeing.  This is the first woman in the Hebrew scriptures (after Eve) to whom God speaks directly. In fact, Hagar is the first woman to name God. She sees. She understands. She gets it. She names the God who speaks to her, the God she encounters.

I have thought about this amazing woman off and on all day long today. She gets very little credit. Yet she was a stranger in a foreign land. Alone. Without any rights at all. Her very existence dependent upon people who were obviously not always kind to her. Yet she saw the one God sent to her. She named God. She obeyed God. In her faithfulness lay the lives and loves of generations to come. Today, I give thanks for all the women who are in her situation. I ask God for the opportunity to SEE–to really see–and to understand what or who it is that I am seeing.

Thank you, Hagar. Thank you for your sight. You are blessed among women.

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