Diary entry # 1: Hagar and the Well – God cares for those who are outcast. We are called to repair our human failings.
So, here’s a story that I think really gets twisted to the point that we lose sight of the central message of the bible that without G_D in our lives, we will really struggle to live in the harmony with which G_D created us to live. We’ll get to that in a second, but first I want to plant a seed.
There’s a brilliant psychologist by the name of Steven Hayes – I say brilliant because he invented a psychotherapeutic system called Acceptance and Commitment Therapy – who says something along the lines of this: We humans struggle to contend with the consequences of our own autonomy. That’s a more serious way of saying, “Be careful about what you wish for.” Sit with it. Because the implication of what Steven Hayes has said backed up by 25 plus years of research is pretty important. What you and I will call the Power of the Holy Spirit, Hayes will call psychological flexibility. I think those two concepts as two sides of the same coin. You can’t really have one without the other. Of what good is the Holy Spirit if we don’t make our souls available to become psychologically flexible – to make our souls available to become unstuck? And if we in fact have much trouble contending with the consequences of our own autonomy, what hope do we have to become psychologically flexible without inspiration from something bigger and more eternal than ourselves? The answer is that it takes both.
Now that we’ve got that concept in place, let’s look at this story. Like I mentioned last week, I will provide some interpretation of the Bible stories I am sharing here. But the bulk of the work will be done by you and the bulk of the true to life content will come from you.
The story of Hagar and the Well can be found in Genesis 16 and Genesis 21, roughly. Other things happen during that time, but for our purposes we are going to zero in on this rather tragic story. Do you remember that I said that this story gets twisted a lot? Well let me address that now, before we get to the story. Depending on how you look at things, I would dare say, that if you choose to look at the bible as allegory and metaphor (rather than forensic science) then the truth of the matter is that this story points to beginnings of Islam and G_D’s way of compensating for human beings contending with the consequences of our own autonomy, in this case very poorly. People like to say that religion causes wars. Taken another way, I’d say that people cause wars and use religion as a convenient excuse for it, a convenient excuse to stay stuck in rigid ways of thinking.
So, what is this story about?
Here’s the thumbnail version. Abraham and Sarah are married, but they can’t conceive. So, Abraham takes one of his servant girls, Hagar, and has her bear him a child. Hagar gives birth to a son, Ishmael. Now what is wonderful about this story so far, and something that speaks to G_D’s grace, is that even though Hagar is a foreigner, meaning that Ishmael is not of a “pure bloodline”, everyone is considered family at this point. That is until another miracle happens and Sarah does conceive. She bears a son, Isaac. Now there’s tension. And there’s jealousy. And there’s weakness. No one in the family system of Abraham and Sarah stands up for Ishmael. And Abraham and Sarah choose, of their own free will, to cast out Hagar and Ishmael into the desert to fend for themselves. At this point, G_D intervenes. G_D promises that G_D will also make a great nation out of Ishmael. And during their exile, the exile of Hagar and Ishmael, G_D protects them by providing a well for water. Historians believe that the bloodline of Ishmael is the bloodline at the root of the Muslim faith. Look at that – right there in the Bible. Muslims, Jews and Christians (by the time you get to the Pentecost event) all coming from the same seed. All choosing by human free will to continue waging war against each other. Now that’s a tough pill to swallow. It doesn’t get more stuck than that.
The message that I would like you to retain in this story is found in the title of this reflection: God cares for those who are outcast. We are called to repair our human failings. And the lesson that I would like you to retain is this: The only way for us to repair our human failings is to find a way to care for those who are outcast. Key to understanding this is that we are all connected, just like Abraham’s family. Can you imagine how different the world might be if Abraham had not cast out Hagar and Ishmael and the family had found a way to make it work. Think about the damage done because people had allowed their souls to be stuck. I can’t help but feel that this story was told, not just for the sake of history, but as a cautionary tale. My guess is that the tensions between Ishmael and Isaac continued for generations upon generations. In fact, history did repeat itself as Isaac’s two sons, Jacob and Esau, also had conflict and Esau was also cast out, perhaps joining the family of his half uncle Ishmael. Permit me to repeat the lesson again: The only way for us to repair our human failings is to find a way to care for those who are outcast. Key to understanding this is that we are all connected. The implication then, is that we receive and we offer support. To repeat a well-worn phrase, we “pay it forward”. When we do this, we experience the Grace that Hagar must have felt when she first saw that well in the desert.
And so there you have it. At this point I am going to turn it over to you. I’d invite you to do two things.
The first is to go and read the story for yourself and place yourself in it. Maybe even place yourself in it by identifying with each character in it. How does the story speak to you and whether or not your soul is stuck or available? Does it change depending on the character you play in the story? Take a few days for that to settle.
The second is to return to your questions from the introduction. Do this after the few days of settling into the story. Have your answers changed? Are they the same? Is it a bit of both? I guess I should share with you now that we will be following this process through to the end of the series. I hope you enjoy the experience, just like reading a diary.
See you next week! In the meantime, … Be Blessed. Be a blessing.