“Ritual’s Comfort” by Rev. Chris Davies

Bible Translation:  Abraham Sacrificing Isaac.
Gen. 22

Come in, would you?  Thank you, dear.  Pull the tent closed.  I’m going to tell you a story.  There’s a point, in a life, where one can look back and see where her moments made meaning.  Where she had an effect on the world, and the world had an effect on her.  I’m nearing the end, now, and at that point.  My days are filled with memory…

Now, though, most of my being is uncomfortable.  They don’t tell you that part, when you’re young.  I’m telling you now, so you know..  There’s no easy way to sit or lie without the body reminding you of the years upon it.  So I look into memory…

But even that comes and goes.  The words… they escape me.  I know the meanings, I search for different ways to say it… I wish I had studied more.

But the memories… each moment punctuated by the rituals that sustain me through.  Even when the words are gone, the rituals will remain.  They’ve helped me mark the moments in memory that I return to… and help me see the curve of a live lived.  Lived well, I hope they say, one day.  Certainly lived though.

Rituals define the events that made meaning in my life, all throughout.  The marriages, full and empty, the wandering, the connections with Abraham.  The rituals stabilized and gave me comfort, the day-to-day prayers and month-to-month services, like the beating of a drum throughout the fullness of my journey.

First it was the Marriage to Abram, we called him, then.  We were young.  I wasn’t altogether certain—his religion was different than mine, but he courted me well.  (I used to be so beautiful, believe it or not… Now, though? ….)  Anyway.  His passion and energy for his God captivated me.  So when he asked my family, I let them see the sparkle in my eye, too.  And taking me away from home felt like a grand adventure.  I suppose it was.   I remember the wedding ritual.  The exchange of the sheep and the promises of a future.  He seemed so passionate.  And the first night…  he spoke to me of promises of a large, large, family…  and promises of the Lord… blessings and fulfillments…  So I relaxed my anxieties… and joined with him in his adventure.

But once it seemed that I was on board, his energy left me, this time, and we looked to Egypt!  Still searching for the land Promised.  Once we got there, I could feel others’ eyes on me, again.  We settled… and Abram pitched his tent on the outskirts of the city, ready to go negotiate with the Pharaoh, and that’s when we were called in…

Unfamiliar rituals.  Abram picked up on it before me.  He whispered “Say you’re my sister!” and I nodded.  They moved in ways that seemed route, practiced… but still bizarre for me.  Brothers are safer than husbands.  Husbands can be killed and wives taken, but brothers have negotiating power.

So we echoed again the marriage ritual, negotiating what cannot be had, and my true status as wife disregarded.  The ritual marked the moment, again.  We took the sheep, oxen, donkeys and servant-girls.  I burned with anger.  Sister!?  So then, the plagues, Pharaoh got the hint, and we left. … with the goods.

In the wilderness, Abram was mine again, and we returned to the rituals of daily life in the desert.  The days merged together.  Remembering them now, it seems I hold the small things more than the extraordinary…. how when he’d return from pasture he’d brush past me, kissing the top of my head, and onto more business with the men.  Our family rituals.   We hoped for children, and despite everything we tried…. nothing.  He spoke of blessings, again and again, and I grew tired.  Looking back, I should have listened, instead of tuning out that well-played track.  It’s easier to say that, looking back.  Treasure those little moments, now, dear, would you?

He spoke so about our large, large, family (ha!) and I had to take things into my own hands.  One of the women offered in my Egyptian dowry seemed the answer to the promise the Lord made our family— multitudes!— and so I had to make it happen.  It took some convincing to make Abram go along with the plan… and it broke my heart to do so… but eventually he did.  The ritual, again, this time, this time with the girl.  It was becoming comforting, this near-miss-Marriage ritual… I knew the words, I leaned in,  I let it happen.  I could only pray.  And from this: Ishmael.

But the girl wasn’t as skilled at reading the nuances… while she could surrogate, she couldn’t wife.  She started with the passive aggression, to me, and turned on aaaalllllll the charm to Abram.  I was afraid to go to him—it wasn’t obvious, but it was there.  My heart clenched.  My anger burned.  I was provoked.  He didn’t understand.  Until one day, I snapped, and he called me into his tent, asking of me WHAT is going ON… and I cracked.  Crying, I begged God’s compassion, and told him the story.  Praise the Lord, Abram heard me, believed me, and affirmed my status as Wife again.  For a time…

Because even that wasn’t enough adventure and role play for my husband.  Brother, so he introduced himself, once again, to another powerful leader, with more marriage price, more empty ritual, more goods to offer.  Again, in that day— still now—… sisters are safer than wives.

The Lord works in odd ways, though— I know that now— and this rouse produced a blessing and land for our Family, and more silver and animals and a covenant with the powerful leader, all because of the fear of the Lord.   And we moved on, rag tag band of followers.

And the day to day rituals became my substance.  Prayers in the morning.  Prayers in the evening.  My body moving and my mind elsewhere.  It blurred together… until the flash of light!  and the angel!  And again God promised Good to us… and a ritual descended.  No longer Abram and Sarai… but Abraham and Sarah.  Father of multitudes and royal ancestress of nations.  We laughed… here we are in our old age….   “You will bear a son, and call him Isaac!”  More laughter.  Impossible.  My body was well past the time for such things!  Shaking my head, back to the mundane… …until…. the impossible proved possible, and I felt stirrings within me.  Wide eyed and bed-ridden, At that moment, ……….everything changed,……….. forever.  Isaac was born, and became my daily delight!  I never thought… I couldn’t believe… what miracle!  The ritual of his naming was one of the Most Important in my life… my laughter.… all the meaning behind the movement… all the feeling behind the claiming of him as my son.   The marking of new purpose.

But when I saw Ishmael playing with my beautiful boy, his hands around my boy’s neck, his smirk indicating violence, the threat alluded to for future consideration…. A mother knows.  And This time, I had no hesitation of demanding of Abraham: Send your firstborn away!  He is not the bearer of the Lord’s promise.  Abraham pleaded, argued, promised it would be fine… but I couldn’t un-see what I saw.  Isaac, my baby boy, in danger.  He relented, and gathering supplies, sent them out to the wilderness to reckon with the Lord.

Abraham and I grew distant, but Isaac kept us together.  The ritual of rearing a child, pouring all the effort and energy into a son… it kept us from talking to each other, and for us, it was a gift after all we’d been through.  Isaac grew, and laughed.  Played, and delighted in his life.  And I delighted in him.  My son!

Then, again… a moment that changed everything.  Father and son went out into the wilderness, and when they came back…

Silence.

Stoicism.

Everything shifted.

They did not speak.  Isaac was in shock.  Heartbroken.

I…. reacted to my baby boy’s fear.  I gathered him up and took him away.

How could anyone?  How could Abraham?  I once knew this man.

I poured myself into ritual once again.  The daily prayers, the moments of connection, the familiarity of finding God and self in the memorization of the words and the people surrounding.  In those moments, I could transcend what had happen, re-center myself, and be at peace.  In those moments, I could try and piece together the meaning and re-imagine purpose and see my family together again.  I could try.

Abraham moved away to Beersheba.  I stayed in Hebron.   We didn’t speak.  I was tired, at that point, I confess… Just tired.  Of all the drama, and moving and everything… I just couldn’t go.

And I need rest, now. Just rest.  And ritual. The way in which it all makes sense and comes together… comfort in that ritual.  I wish Abraham and Isaac would come back together… they have so much in common with their deep faith.  It’s even in the way they laugh, the head tilted, just so…  You know, I need to rest.

Would you bring me some water?  That’s nice, dear.  Thank you.  And thank you for listening.  Sometimes, when you get to a certain age, you think back, reflect… all the moments that define you and land you where you are… I didn’t think I’d land here.  But it’s not bad.  And could you do me a favor, dear?  I’d like to stay here.  When I die? Send word to Isaac.  Right here.  It won’t be long now.  But tell him and Abraham both.  The ritual I want is right here.  And they have to do it.  Together.  That ritual… After all we’ve done together, that will be my last gift to them.

Thank you, dear.  Close the tent on your way out.5178224_orig.jpg

(watercolor circa 1896–1902 by James Tissot)

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