Monday, March 20, 2017

WITH - 5

For the past six months I have been working on a personal project of spiritual growth and theological understanding.  It has been my sojourn to try and unlock some of the secrets of how we are made as human beings, the exact nature of God's relationship with us, some of the problems with what is going on in our American political context right now.  More broadly, what I am interested in, is what is critically wrong with Christianity as we know it in the North American context today.  And so, I have been writing a book.

The book is entitled, "With: The Transformative Power of Going With People Rather Than Against Them".  Over the next 17 weeks, I will be writing blog posts that will flesh-out aspects of this book.  I want to invite you into the conversation.  I want to get your help in writing this book.  If anything I write over the next several weeks strikes a chord with you in any way, please let me know.  If you, like me, are as interested in unlocking the secrets of God's relationship with us, then perhaps we can embark on this journey together.  What I am after is nothing short of, as Hemingway once said; "writing something true".  And so now, if you are still WITH is installment #5:


1,100 B.C. – The Moabite Desert

The westerly winds, that formed over the Sea of Arabah, were beginning to pick up great speed and heat as they moved over the plains of Moab and sailed into the Arabian Desert.  Ferocious blasts of sand and dust swarmed together like bees in droves over the desert floor.  Far in the distance to the east, the sandstone monuments of Petra could be seen shimmering like red and orange lanterns resting on the edge of the horizon.  A horny-toad scampered away from the mid-day sun, and a locust buzzed and clicked across the road.  Two women sat on rocks side by side as the wind and heat flew past them.  The older one, Naomi, was wearing a black face cloth as a sign of grief from the death of her husband Elimalech.  The younger one, Ruth, wore a light blue face cloth.  Both had their heads down, and their hands covered their mouths to guard against the ever-present dust and sand in the air.  

Though it seemed like days that the two had been sitting next to one another in this desert scene, the truth was that they had only been there alone for about an hour.  Ruth’s sister-in-law Orpah had left about an hour before noon, and the place where she had been sitting had still left the mark of a seat in the sand.  Though Orpah was no longer with them, her presence still hung in the air.  The truth was that she had left that morning in a bit of a huff, upset that her mother-in-law, Naomi, was still in such grief, and frustrated that her sister-in-law, Ruth, was so dedicated to her. 

Naomi, the older woman, had been on a kind of delirious rant for the past month.  Whenever the memory of her late husband, Elimelech, was aroused - or the more recent mysterious cause of death of her two sons, Mahlon and Chilion was discussed, she flew into a rage.  “Why has all of this happened to us?”  “What have we done to deserve this?”  “Why has God cursed us this way?” “What good is Yahweh to me?”  It went on and on.  If Naomi wasn’t railing against Yahweh, she was saying negative things about the present state-of-affairs.  “Who will take care of us?”  “Why have we been left to fend for ourselves?”  “Why would you want to stay with an old woman like me?”  Naomi’s tirades and anger had reached such a fevered pitch of constant complaint that her friends and family were now privately calling her a new nickname behind her back: Mara – which means “bitter” in Hebrew. 

Ruth, caught in the middle between her sister-in-law Orpah who didn’t want to stick around, and her mother-in-law Naomi who was no fun to be around, was in a quandary.  Should she go back to her hometown of Kir-Hareseth?  Should she return to her own mother and father who had missed her so deeply ever since she got married and moved away?  Or should she strike out on her own?  Should she live the life of a widow, a beggar, a vagrant, like so many of her friends had told her would be the most prudent course of action?  Something deep within Ruth, however, told her that she should follow a third option.  Something told her that she should go WITH Naomi!

            “I demand that you go home!” said Naomi to Ruth.  “Go back to your mother, go back to your family, get away from me.  Just the sight of you reminds me of my poor lost son.  Get out of here!  Go back to that hovel of a Moabite tribe that you came from.  Do you not understand?  I have nothing for you.  Nothing!”  As Naomi said this she picked up a handful of sand and threw it in the air in the direction of Ruth.  “Even if I thought there was still hope for me, even if I had a husband tonight, and then gave birth to sons, it would not be enough.  I could not provide anything for you.”  As Naomi became more and more irate, Ruth cowered away, afraid that Naomi might slap her, the way she had sometimes done in the past.  Ruth hid behind her face covering and put her arm up over her head to protect herself.  Should she run away?  Or should she stay?  Stay WITH Ruth thought, stay WITH!

And then, through tears that streamed down her cheeks and through feelings that she could not totally explain, a larger feeling of compassion welled up deep within her.  A feeling of sorrow overtook her and pity for her mother-in-law, who, in a previous time had been so kind and loving and generous and nurturing.  This wasn’t Naomi, Ruth told herself.  This was not the person she once knew.  Through oceans of guttural sadness, Ruth forced herself to say these words to Naomi. “Don’t urge me to leave you, or to turn back from you.  Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay.  Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.  Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried.  May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely if anything but death separates you and me.”

And, so, Naomi, seeing that it would be impossible to run her daughter-in-law off, or brush her away, acquiesced.  She would allow Ruth to go With her.  She would allow her daughter-in-law, who, truth be told, she barely knew, to accompany her back across the Jordan River to Israel.  The trek homeward for Naomi began without much fanfare or announcement.  With her head bowed to just below the horizon, and both hands holding onto her head-covering, she put one foot in front of the other, making foot-shaped dimples in the light desert sand.  About twenty paces behind, Ruth started to walk, following her older mistress with humility and patience.  Two visages crossed the desert in the middle of the heat of the day.  Two figures, from a distance could be seen moving with purpose and resolve, separated and yet together, broken and yet bound to one another.  Most of all they were very much WITH each other.  They went together all the way back to Bethlehem.

All For Now,


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