*Just Love Gathering Houston
When my daughter was young, she was passionate about princesses. She had several princess birthday parties. We took a Disney vacation and her goal was to get a picture and autograph from every Disney princess. She even asked to have the Princess for a day experience at Disney for her birthday present. Many of her friends were also into princesses at the time and this is when the problem with princesses began. When she went off to kindergarten, her teacher and I were friends, so silly stories were shared about how Taya was progressing in her school-work and friendships. One day, I arrived at the school to pick up Taya and I could tell on her face and her teacher’s face that this had been a hard day. I stayed after school a little while to hear the story. When I asked her teacher what had happen, she explained that the girls got into a fight over who was really a princess. The conversation started with everyone’s interest in princesses and then progressed to claiming that each of their daddy’s called them his princess. The conversation escalated as each girl claimed to be a real princess, so that meant that the other girls were not real princesses. Back and forth, the accusations flew to see who would rise to the top as the head princess. Tears were shed. Faces were red. Competition.
But this is not just a kindergarten problem. My adult siblings and I continue a silent tension filled exchange sizing each other up, comparing how successful each of us are, and vying for our parent’s love. The seeds were planted when we were young that this is how we would operate. Systems were in place to create a rising to the top of one child as favorite over the other four children. When that child fell out of favor, another child would bask in the glow of love, affection, and attention. It’s no one person’s fault. We all bought into the system. The belief that fueled the system is that there was only so much love, so if one person enjoyed their love, then that meant that no one else would receive love. One up above. Four with not enough. Scarcity.
Competition and scarcity. From our youngest years, we learn this is the way of the world. But what if we were invited into a different way of seeing the world?
In the very beginning of our sacred text, we have a story about competition and scarcity with an invitation to a better way of living.
Genesis 16 offers us a story of the relationship between two women and one man.
The story goes that Abraham’s wife, Sarah, could not have a child. In that day and time, a woman’s worth was based on her ability to bear a child, a male child, so that the man pass his estate to this child upon his death. The law of the land stated that if a wife could not bear children, then she had options. She could use a slave girl as a surrogate and adopt the child as her own child. Sounds like a simple plan until you put actual human characters into this triangle.
Sarah could not have a child so she gave her servant, Hagar, to Abraham as a wife. Abraham went into Hagar (straight from the text and very good imagery) and she conceived. When Hagar conceived, she looked down on Sarah. Sarah was angry about how this turned out. She wanted a child, but she didn’t want the complications of a second wife, so she shouted at Abraham to do something about this situation. Abraham demoted Hagar back to the status of a slave giving her back into Sarah’s charge and Sarah treated Hagar badly. The situation escalated to the point that Hagar ran away. She had to flee. She yearned to be free.
3 is a crowd. Our sacred text shows that the two women fell into the trap of competition and scarcity. One needed a child, but could not have children. Her status as first wife hanging by a thread. One could have a child and rose in status from slave to wife. They saw each other through the lens of scarcity that the culture promoted. Fighting to keep their place in the world, they could not see the suffering of the other. Mostly, the man of the house listened, obeyed, and kept his mouth shut contributing to the larger problem with his silence.
But this is not just a problem recorded for individuals to read and learn from. What is cool about this particular text is that three faith traditions trace their roots, their connection to God back to this story. 1 story. 3 faith traditions. And you know what all three faith traditions did with this story? Competition and Scarcity. The Jewish faith claimed to be the uniquely chosen ones through the line of Abraham and Sarah which meant everyone else was out. Christianity looked at this story and claimed that the Jews were like Hagar’s descendants because they still followed the letter of the law. Christians claimed that their freedom came through the line of Sarah and Abraham and everyone else was second class. Muslims found their roots through the line of Hagar claiming that all people could find a place in the story, but Jews and Christians did not welcome them into God’s family, so Islam separated citing that Jews and Christians no longer followed the message of their sacred text. 1 Story. 3 Faith Traditions. No one saw the invitation that follows.
The rest of the sacred text describes Hagar’s experience in the wilderness. When Hagar’s food and water began to run out, God came to Hagar and asked, “Hagar, where are you coming from and where are you going?” This is a significant moment because this is the first time in the text that someone calls Hagar by name. God sees her value and worth. Hagar tells God that she is running away from her masters. God tells her to go back and that God would bless her. Her blessing included a child who would fight for his freedom and numerous descendants. A very similar blessing to the blessing God gave Abraham. From her experience, Hagar named God, El Roi, the God who sees. So, Hagar returned to her master’s home, gave birth to a son, and later would be set free.
This is the first God encounter in our sacred text and the person to receive God is “the other” “the outsider.” Right at the beginning of our sacred text, the story presents us with two ways of seeing the world and each other: 1-the first way is the way of competition and scarcity and 2- the second way is through the lens of abundance. The invitation to see life through the lens of God’s abundant love and blessing of all people. Debbie Blue writes, “ In this reading, the world is not hopelessly divided. It isn’t one side or the other…Boundaries are blurred, and God’s love is let loose. May this somehow be so.”
The power of saying, “I see you.”
Four years ago, I applied for a ministry position at our church. I interviewed describing as best I could who I was and what I could offer the church. I outlined in detail how I would accomplish some of the goals that the church set out. The interview process ended with me being hired for the position. I started my job with gusto setting out to wow the church with my energy, grit, determination, and accomplishments. It did not go this way. Feelings soured towards me and I felt at a loss to know what to do. They hurt me and I hurt them. We were caught in the Sarah-Hagar narrative and I did not understand how I felt until my friend arrived in Houston and took me to coffee.
We sat in the coffee shop for hours as I poured out my heart. I shared how hard I tried and how even my apologies were met with no response. She heard my victories and my failings. At the end of my words and with my energy spent, she reached across the table and grabbed my hands. Looking intently into my eyes, she said, “I want you to know that I see you.” I felt the full power of these words. Intimacy. Vulnerability. Grace. Then, I knew that I had not been seen by my church. I tried to show them who I was and they turned away. In turn, I stopped seeing them. The sons and daughters of Sarah continued to hurt the sons and daughters of Hagar. When will the cycle of hurt end?
God sets out the invitation. See. Really see. Notice who you see and who you don’t and become curious about why. Let yourself be seen. Notice in what situations you let your true self be seen and what situations you don’t and become curious about why.
So, here is the practice. Find a partner, a friend, a mentor, a companion and sit across from each other in silence gazing into each other’s eyes. Set a timer for 5-10 min or play this song and feel the intention of the words through your eyes.
Let whatever bubbles up find full expression. Tears may flow, let them. A giggle may arise, release it. The intention is 3 fold: 1-to see the other person 2-to let yourself be seen 3-to notice what feelings arise through this intimate encounter. After the time is up give voice to your experience and explore the invitation this practice offers. What are you to be this week for yourself, for others? What are you to do this week for yourself for others? What emerged in your thoughts and feelings that need to be explored?