Would you identify with Hagar or Sarah?

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 23, 2020

By Patricia Kadick

You may recall God’s promise to Abraham: he’s to be the father of nations. For Hagar, it’s a tale in two parts. Abraham, at 99 years old, and Sarah, his decades-long wife, still had no children. Anxiety and sadness enveloped them both. Then Sarah proposed that he father a child with her maid Hagar. Abraham agreed and Hagar conceived. When Hagar appeared to lord it over her, Sarah sent her away; after wandering alone in the brutal countryside, Hagar returned and bore a son, Ishmael. Unexpectedly, Sarah then conceived. Adamant that her son Isaac was the rightful heir, Hagar must be sent away permanently.

During one class, an African-American view of that story was considered. Then our delightful Zimbabwean professor — looking right at me, fair-faced, asked, “So who do you identify with, Sarah or Hagar?”

Taken aback, as if again a school girl ready with the answer the teacher wanted, I said “Sarah.” Rationalizing within myself that “well I’d never been a slave, nor so crassly ill-used as Hagar.” Then fumbling tried to clarify.

Yet it wasn’t til days later that clarity came for me.

I’d been learning that this and other biblical tellings were crafted in ways to serve the Israelites. For example, not all women in scripture have names or identities. With Hagar, being named and even included, was the intent to convey openness? A nod on the part of the Hebrew people to the other?

Yet it was the word “served” that kept repeating itself to me. I realized that when I read Bible story, verses even, it’s my yearning, fear, joy I seek to have served. So if I identified with either woman, it would definitely be Hagar. Sarah, sorry to say, has pretty much seemed to me a “my way” person, though in God’s name of course; or perhaps in Abraham’s name, for historically Biblical writings pretty much underline women as subservient to a man. Genesis 3 says so — “he shall rule over you.”

The Annotated NRSV has attempted to soften that by the use of the word, “humankind,” as in Genesis 1 having God create not man, but humankind. I do have issues with the use of the word “humankind,” particularly in Genesis I, but that’s another story.

The point for me here is, that when I go to the Bible, it’s for spiritual reflection . . . that very intent has become a kind of safe-guard against the distractions of when, why, who. Inspiration is what I look for in Bible study, whether for a story to tell, or not, and that’s what I find if I listen long enough.

With Hagar, the important thread for me is whether her fleeing or being cast out becomes her listening. Not how desperate. Seems to me she’s a listener. Not about choices in either situation but her compulsion.

It can be argued that desperation compelled her, yet how about love for the baby she carried? That led her to take the wise route of returning to Sarah the first time.

Her inner voice rising up? Otherwise how would she have heard God’s extraordinary angel message.

Motives and identities imposed on Bible figures seem an uninspired way to read these holy works! I’d rather approach them with my listening heart and find how their thread pulls, inspires, frees me to rely on the divine good.

Desperation can open listening, so can fear and definitely love. Hagar’s second leaving — an expulsion not voluntary and without option — put her in that harsh land. For someone like me never having been without water to drink, wash, or cook with, it does take concentration to truly realize her plight. How quickly both she and her son could die. Alone.

According to the story, the angel says: “God hears the voice of the lad where he is . . .”

In a situation completely out of your control — when suddenly someone you love is in danger — to hear that the divine presence has it in hand, how powerful.

When my three kids were 11 years and under we moved from a country setting to a city neighborhood that was a bit rough and not upscale at all. And we moved from schools that were entirely white. Yes, anxiety set in … but our first Sunday at a local church, the Bible reading included, “God hears the voice of the lad where he is …”

Peace washed over me as I consciously loved that promise. God had it all in hand — after all, they were God’s children not mine. And they were attending school with God’s children. Our three years there weren’t without tough spots, but I’ve never forgotten the joy of resting on the truth: “God hears the voice of the lad where he is …” and of resting on it many times as they grew to manhood and womanhood.

That promise and its relevance spills over as a cup running over.

Yes, if a choice is to be made, I think I’d rather be Hagar. But mostly I love going to the Bible listening for answers, knowing that if I’m quiet long enough it speaks right to me.

As a Psalmist sang, “Be still and know that I am God”

Patricia Kadick’s website is at aroundabovebeneath.com

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