Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother’s son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. Then the Lord appeared to Abram, and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built there an altar to the Lord, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the Lord and invoked the name of the Lord. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb.
I really enjoyed reading Maggi Dawn’s comments on today’s passge. I’d never quite taken on board the implications of a nomadic lifestyle, nor the “live and let live” implied in these early narratives. And I am reminded by her challenge regarding our own material clutter of previous (failed) resolutions to live my life more simply, with fewer possessions. I am also challenged by her final question – “in our personal lives, we might ask ourselves what we are powerfully attached to as an idea of promise. Is it an idea that needs disentangling in order for us to discover what our true priorities should be?”.
However, another aspect of this passage also struck me forcibly, and has been growing within me as I’ve gone through today.
For sure, nomads travel light. They’d be crazy not to.
Me, I’m crazy… I’ve never learnt how to travel light! When we moved house 18 months ago it took two large vans and 4 days for a 4-strong team of professionals to move us a mere 100 miles! Of course, the 40+ large terracotta pots for the greenhouse and garden might have had something to do with it, along with the thousands (I do not exaggerate…) of books which the three of us owned between us. I now own even more… including our Advent book! And we’d taken a lot of stuff to charity shops and the tip before the vans arrived…
Nevertheless, there’s one thing we can never leave behind, try as we might – and that’s ourselves. Many of us spend our entire lives trying to escape from ourselves because we are so uncomfortable with the truth of who we are. Because the truth, for all of us, is that we are damaged, broken people who get hurt and who hurt others – and that truth can be intolerably painful to face.
It’s a truism that simply getting divorced and remarrying won’t solve anything unless you are aware of what brought the previous relationship to its end. Equally, moving house to a new area won’t of itself solve any of our deep-rooted personal darkness and damage. Indeed, it can serve to expose it, bring it painfully into the light. What then? run away again? attempt to rebury it? or face it and, by the grace of God, find a way of making peace with ourselves and with our past?
This is a challenge which faces us constantly as individuals. Abram, I think, had the right idea – at every turn, he built an altar, prayed to God… he didn’t try to go it alone.
And it is also a challenge which faces us constantly as societies. This week alone the death of Nelson Mandela has reminded us of the choice which South Africa faced when the years of apartheid finally drew to a close – to build a new society based on openness and forgiveness of one based on revenge and more bloodshed. In a different way, the Church of England is facing a similar challenge as its disparate theological groups struggle with the issue of the consecration of women as bishops. Dare I say that the challenge is not so much how to progress the cause of justice for women but how to move ahead in love? Or, if you disagree with the ordination and/or consecration of women as priests/bishops, not so much how to ensure that the status quo is protected as how to move ahead in love? And by ‘love’ I do not mean wishy-washy happy-cosy feelings… to understand what I mean by ‘love’ look to the cross…
This Advent, may God grant us the grace to hear clearly His call to us, both individually and corporately, and may He grant us the grace to respond positively to that call, if necessary letting go of long-held and much-cherished personal preferences and beliefs. And let us remember Abram, and build an altar to our God and pray to Him at every turn, remembering that an altar is the place of sacrifice… the sacrifice of our will to His in response to His sacrifice of HImself for us.