Intuition or Logic

Isaac and Rebekah’s first children were twins: Esau and Jacob. The brothers always seem to be in competition with each other. In Genesis 25:19-26 tells that they were struggling with each other even before they were born. That struggle continued into their life as Jacob, the younger brother, stole the birthright (Genesis 25:29-34).  In this passage, Genesis 27, Jacob and his mother conspire to steal the blessing as well.

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Like many families, Isaac and Rebekah’s family is complicated. They each have a favourite son and there is a rivalry between the brothers. You might think the situation between Jacob and Esau is a bit extreme but there are certainly situations where children encourage a parent to leave another child out of the will or to sign the family home over to one child leaving others with less inheritance.

Isaac questions whether or not the correct son has brought him a meal. His instincts tell him that something is off and yet he chooses to trust his senses over his intuition. Senses are verifiable. We continue to place more faith in what we can see, touch, taste, smell or hear. They can be verified and corroborated by others. But as Isaac discovered, he should have listened to his heart and his intuition. He knew it wasn’t Esau but his senses (except his hearing) told him it was Esau, so he believed it.

How often have you had an instinct about someone or a situation? Perhaps you couldn’t explain it to anyone. It was just a feeling that something was wrong or that you needed to do something particular.  But it isn’t just a feeling. It is a very real way of knowing and experiencing the world. We live in a culture that values tangible evidence over instincts and feelings. It values rational thought and logic. If Isaac had listened to his instinct, he wouldn’t have given the blessing to the wrong son. Perhaps Isaac didn’t think his own child was capable of such deceit or that Rebekah would be an active participant in the deception.

I’m learning that sometimes I overthink certain situations or decisions. I value my thinking, planning and logic but sometimes I spend so much time thinking that I miss opportunities. Sometimes I find that I think myself into decisions that are logical but not necessarily right for me at a particular moment.

How often do you find yourself doubting your intuition and overvaluing logic and tangible evidence? How would life change if you were more able to trust your intuition? We need both our reason and our intuition but we need to hold them in balance.

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Water: Enough to Survive or Thrive?

In Genesis 26, we move on to the story of Isaac. This passage begins with famine and ends with water. The famine requires that Isaac and his household move to the foreign land of Gerar. As he sets out for Gerar and the land of the Philistines there is hope and promise for a better life and life for his descendants.

Like Abraham before him, he passes his wife, Rebekah, off as his sister as a way of protecting himself. When the Philistines realize that Isaac has been lying to them, fear and mistrust develop between them.

Isaac planted a crop with a great harvest at the end of the season. We are told that God blessed him, but I suspect, he and his household also worked hard. Isaac became wealthy and the Philistines resented his wealth. What Isaac didn’t have was access to water because the Philistines had blocked all the wells that Abraham had dug in his lifetime.

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Because there was no access to water, Isaac was forced to move again. As he dug wells, the Philistines disputed their ownership and he had to continue moving. He wasn’t welcome. Like Isaac, 32.4 million people in 2013 were environmental refugees. Many refugees struggle to find a place where they are welcome. I regularly hear an anti-refugee and immigrant sentiment which echoes Isaac’s experience of resentment and mistrust. We see globally, refugees arriving in places that already have limited resources and adding additional stress to communities and countries. Environmental refugees are not on the move by choice but because the climate has somehow impacted their ability to survive. In order to survive, they need to relocate.

The dispute over wells speaks to the ongoing need for access to water. This continues to be a huge issue for many people around the world. Globally, there are approximately 844 million people ( ) without access to clean water. In Canada, there are 174 Indigenous communities with boil water advisories. Each advisory can affect up to five thousand people. By my math that 87,000 people in Canada without access to clean water. For many of us, these are just numbers, but each number represents someone’s life and their ability to survive and thrive.

Since water is a necessity for life, isn’t it something that each person should have access to—regardless of geography or ability to pay?  Climate change disproportionately impacts the poorest people of the world and is the reason many become refugees—some because of a lack of water leading to drought, some because of too much water to flooding. Either way, there is no longer a place to call home, a place to belong.

One of the wells that Isaac dug was called Rehoboth which alludes to having a space or a home. The fact that it is a well that designates this sense of home speaks to the connection between water and life. Isaac was able to make a covenant with the Philistines, to find a way for them to live peaceably together. It ended up that there were enough water and resources in the land for all of them to live together. What would happen if we thought about water as a resource that everyone needs access to and created space in our communities and countries for those who are currently environmental refugees because of water? How would Canada change if all our Indigenous communities had access to clean water? These would be good changes allowing people not just to survive but to thrive.

Remembering Life–Honestly

Genesis 25:1-18 is the final installment of Abraham’s life. It begins by telling us about yet another woman in Abraham’s life and the sons she bore. The passage lists Abraham’s descendants, describes his death and burial and how his sons were provided for. It is a wrapping up of life.

Abraham’s death is described this way: (v8) “Abraham breathed his last and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years, and was gathered to his people. 9His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah … There Abraham was buried, with his wife Sarah.”

We are told that Abraham was 175 when he died. He lived a long life with all its messiness and complications. He died peacefully surrounded by family and is buried next to his wife Sarah. Abraham’s life was not perfect. He didn’t always do the right thing. He didn’t always live with faith in the God who created him. He didn’t always treat his family well. He wasn’t always entirely honest in his business dealings. Abraham was perfectly human in his complicated relationships and his attempts at faithfulness.

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Like all of us, our lives are a mixed bag. We make mistakes. We hurt people we love. We try to live in ways that are faithful and life-giving but we don’t always get it right. Sometimes in working with families to prepare a celebration of life, there is a temptation to gloss over life—to only remember the good things, the things people did well, the things they liked. But then we only remember part of a person. To find meaning in life we need also to talk about the ways in which relationships were broken and people were hurt. It encourages the healing of grief and anger. We cannot forgive and grow into healing and health if we don’t acknowledge the pain and hurt. Acknowledging all of a person’s life helps us to learn and grow in our own attempts at healthy relationships with those we love. It is also honest. Knowing that others are not perfect gives us permission for our own self-reflection and acceptance of our own mistakes.

Life isn’t perfect but hopefully, we learn from mistakes and when we reach the end of life we can look back with a sense that we did the best we could.

Patriarchy is Still with Us

This week, Genesis 24:50-57 continues the story of Rebekah’s betrothal to Isaac. The servant has explained his errand, a description of the dowry has been made. Rebekah’s brother, Laban, and father Bethuel attribute this opportunity to God and that seems to be the end of the debate. The marriage is neither good nor bad. It is simply God’s will. There is an assumption that God planned for Isaac and Rebecca to be married and the way in which the servant found Rebekah at the well follows this theme of God’s action.

And then there is a moment of hesitation. Laban and Rebekah’s mother request a ten-day waiting period. Are they wrestling with the reality that they may never see each other again? Is there some question about the suitability of the match? Maybe the dowry could be increased a bit if more time were involved. Do they need a few days to prepare Rebekah for travel or for her role as Isaac’s wife? The servant refuses to wait and insists on leaving immediately. Ultimately, the decision is left with Rebekah.

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I’m curious about Rebekah’s role in this transaction considering the patriarchal society in which she lived. Did Rebekah feel like she has a choice in her response? Was she a willing participant in the marriage? Was she sad to leave her family or was she ready to strike out and see the world from a different location? Did she buy into the idea that this marriage was God’s will for her and her life? A marriage to Isaac would give her family access to Isaac’s wealth. Was the marriage really about Isaac and Rebekah as people or was it a convenient way to restrengthen family alliances?

Patriarchy continues to influence lives. When I was younger, I assumed I would marry and have children. I did marry but have chosen not to have children. Up until recently, I was regularly asked when I would have children and told I would change my mind when I was older. There continues to be an assumption that a woman’s role is to parent children. I don’t think men are asked as often about when they will have children. I suspect this attitude about women and children is changing but it feels like it continues to lurk just below the surface of our society. Like, Rebekah’s marriage to Isaac, there is an underlying assumption of patriarchy as God’s will that lingers.

I’ve just finished reading Listening to the Echo by Tom Sherwood. It is an analysis and compilation of interviews he did with the Echo generation (Millennials) about religion and spirituality. One of the themes that emerged throughout the book was a critique of the ways in which religion has been used to justify patriarchy. That’s one reason many of those Tom interviewed are choosing to identify as spiritual but not religious. (I highly recommend this read. It was fascinating and I may write another post about it at a future date.) Patriarchy seems pervasive through much of human history and I agree with the critique that religion, specifically Christianity, has often supported and encouraged the oppression of women and other marginalized people.

Rebekah probably had little choice about if she married or whom she would marry. As the story continues, we see Rebekah’s character emerge as a strong influence in her family. What would Rebekah’s life have been like if she had other choices? Would she affirm the choices that were made for her or would she choose something else for herself?

We live in a time when there are many more choices available: to marry or not, to marry someone of the same or different gender, to have children or not. I don’t think Christianity needs to be synonymous with patriarchy and limited choices. The history (as is evident in Rebekah’s story) is one that Christianity needs to come to terms with and work to reverse the damage patriarchy has done to individuals and to our society.

Worry and Faith

Last week, Abraham sent a servant to find a wife for Isaac. He was just about to explain his errand to Rebekah’s family. This little bit of the explanation in Genesis 24:39-41 gets left out of the lectionary.

It seems that the servant was really worried that Isaac’s future wife or her family would not want her to move so far from home. He voiced his concern to Abraham, and he repeats it here to almost complete strangers. He wants to make sure to fulfil the oath he made to Abraham but seems to worry about all the things that could go wrong. Last week, he wasn’t sure he would find the right woman. This week he isn’t sure she will want to leave her family.

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Have you ever worried about all the things that might happen or that might go wrong in a situation or plan? But what if… and you can fill in your own answer here. A few years ago, when I was looking for a new position, with relatively little experience, I wondered who would call me when there were lots of experienced people looking for positions. I worried because I’d already given notice and we had to move and with that date fast approaching the options seemed limited. I was afraid that we would be unemployed and homeless—we were living in a manse. I got caught in needing to find a job rather than trusting that the spirit would act and an opportunity would open. It was a really challenging time. I can relate to the servant with his “what if…” questions.

That’s one of the challenging things about living it faithfully. It requires us to act even when we have doubts and don’t know how something will work out. It would have been easier and safer for the servant to say, “You know Abraham, no one is going to want to send their daughter this far away from home. It’s pointless to even try to convince someone to come. Can’t I just go down the road to the next village?” And maybe Abraham would have been persuaded that it was a hopeless cause. But that isn’t how it happened. Abraham was convinced that the journey would be successful. He convinced the servant that it was necessary. Now here he is having dinner with the future in-laws and he tells the story of his doubts and worries and by including the angel he acknowledges God’s presence in the outcome of the story.

The doubts and worries that we have can point to real challenges or even probable outcomes. When we step out in faith, we find there are still possibilities that our worries may not come true. An alternative we might not have considered may present itself. Regardless of outcome, God continues to walk with us and be present.

How to Find a Wife…Pray

In Genesis 24:1-33, we are moving on to the next generation of the Genesis family. Sarah is dead and Abraham is elderly. Abraham wants to see Isaac married and sends a trusted servant to search for an appropriate wife. This wife is to be one of Abraham’s own family. Abraham is adamant that this woman will come to live in the land where Abraham and his family have settled.

The servant travels and comes to Abraham’s homeland and stops at the well. He doesn’t know who he is looking for and so he prays. He prays that God will point the woman out to him. The sign will be he will ask for water for himself. Whichever woman also offers to water the camels will be chosen as Isaac’s wife. Sure enough, the servant waits by the well and Rebekah comes along. He asks for water which she provides and then she offers to draw water for the camels. At this point, the servant begins giving her gifts of expensive jewelry.

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It seems strange to me that in a culture where interaction between men and women was strictly regulated that the servant would approach Rebekah and that she would interact with him. I wonder why she didn’t go and get her brother or father. Providing water for the servant and his camels could be an act of hospitality and maybe she could justify her actions to her family. But then the servant gives Rebekah jewellery. If someone I just met offered me jewellery, I would be suspicious and wonder about their motives. It would feel inappropriate and uncomfortable. I wonder how Rebekah felt as her act of hospitality became something else. After giving the jewellery the servant asks who her father is and for a place to stay.

It turns out Rebekah is a great-niece to Abraham. The servant gives a moment of gratitude to God that what he set out to do seems to be falling into place. He has found a kind, generous young woman of Abraham’s family. While he is praying, Rebekah finally gets her brother, Laban, who comes out to the well and encourages the servant to come home with him. He provides everything necessary for good hospitality. The servant refuses to eat until he has explained his journey.

Prayer begins and ends this section of the story. The servant was uncertain about how to find the appropriate wife and so he prayed. All the pieces seem to be falling neatly into place and the servant gives thanks. I’m all for prayer and grounding our actions in a sense of openness to God’s spirit moving in our lives and the world. That doesn’t mean life always works out the way we think, hope, plan–as the characters in this story are about to find out.

I wonder if Rebekah had any inkling of what was about to happen and how her life would change. I wonder if she had any say in what happened next. For the next bit of the story, check back next week!

Coming Home

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As I read Genesis 23, I could feel Abraham’s grief and the compassion that his neighbours had for him. A closer reading finds that even in grief there is still an opportunity for Abraham to secure land and for his neighbours to make a profit.

I’m drawn to the phrase “bury my dead out of my sight” in verses 4 and 6. The passage carries a sense of honouring Sarah with a proper burial and a sense of wanting to bury her and move on. I find with many funerals and memorials that families often ask what is normal or typical for a service. There’s a sense of wanting to do it right but there is no right way to create that service. A service of celebration needs to reflect the person and their family and ground us in God’s loving presence. At the same time, there is a tension with not wanting to linger in the grief and the presence of death. There is a move to having less ritual around death. While this might feel like it avoids the grief and other strong emotions, rituals like a funeral or memorial should help to move through the grief. This passage holds the tension between proper ritual and letting go.

Up until this point in the story, Abraham has not owned land. The first piece of land he purchased was this cave in which to bury Sarah. Eventually, Abraham, Isaac, Rebekah, Jacob and Leah will all be buried on this land in what is now Hebron. Abraham seems to have a good relationship with the Hittites who live in the area and they hold him in some esteem. The story tells of a land negotiation between Abraham and the Hittites. They go back and forth several times with Abraham insisting on buying the land and the Hittites offering the land as a gift. Abraham insists on paying for a place to bury Sarah. In Genesis 15, God promises Abraham land for his descendants. Here, after Sarah’s death, is the first piece of land. God came through on a child for Abraham and Sarah and now God comes through on the promise of land.

I wonder if it was important for Abraham to settle near Sarah’s grave. This story has a feeling of settling and coming home. This should not be read as a permanent title to the land but as a story of a particular family finding a place to belong. The stranger and alien now has a home.

Women of Faith

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Genesis portrays the ever-expanding family of God. Genesis 22:19-24 is yet another genealogy but this one is interesting because there are three women named—Milcah, Rebekah and Reumah. The details about Milcah and Reumah are sketchy. Rebekah becomes one of the main characters in the next few chapters of Genesis and one of the matriarchs of God’s people.

According to Tamar Kadari, it is possible that Sarah and Milcah were sisters and that both were daughters of Abraham’s brother Haran. According to Midrash, when Haran died, his brothers Abraham and Nahor married his daughters Milcah and Iscah (Sarah).

Later, in Genesis 24:24 when a servant is sent on a mission to find a wife for Abraham and Sarah’s son Isaac, Rebekah names her grandmother as Milcah. This is one of the few places in scripture where lineage is traced through a female line. Rebekah claims Milcah as her grandmother and Sarah as her mother-in-law.

With Mother’s Day just past, it seems important to name women in our history who shape faith. We need to know the women in our past—just their names but something about them and about their lives. Milcah, Rebekah and Reumah lived lives unimaginable to most of us and yet they stand within a family that is foundational to the Jewish-Christian-Islamic traditions. Their names remind us that God has been at work through centuries of time, across generations and through people both named and unnamed.

Give thanks for women in our lives and history who hold the mystery of faith.

Trusting Strangers

After Abraham and Sarah lied to Abimelech about being married, Abimelech gave Abraham sheep, oxen and slaves and told Abraham he could settle anywhere he liked. Isaac is born. Hagar and Ishmael are sent away and Abraham seems to be prospering on Abimelech’s land. Some time seems to have passed.

In Genesis 21:22-32, Abraham has been in this land for a while Abimelech wants to come to an understanding with Abraham. Because of their previous interaction, Abimelech knows that Abraham is not to be trusted. He wants to make sure that in all their future dealings there is a level of trust. While they are talking about trust, Abraham complains that Abimelech cannot be trusted because his servants seized Abraham’s well. Abimelech claims not to know anything about this. There is mistrust—some of which is grounded in previous experience and some that are based on assumptions.

There is an interaction between Abimelech who is already residing in the land and Abraham—a newcomer. They need to figure out how to live together and share resources. Abraham offers a trade of sheep in exchange for a guarantee that he will have access to water. It reminds me of a bit of Canadian history as settler people arrived in an already populated land. The settlers needed access to water and land, so treaties were signed, and goods exchanged as a sign of these treaties.

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Over time, the treaties have not been honoured and mistrust has developed towards the “other.” New Canadians continue to arrive in Canada from all over the world and are sometimes also met with mistrust.

The stories of Abraham begin a theme which continues throughout the Hebrew scriptures and into the Christian scriptures. How do we respond to others who share the land with us? Do we meet others beginning from a place of mistrust or a place of compassion? Do we share resources or hoard them for ourselves? In this passage we see Abraham and Abimelech negotiate a covenant which benefits both and sets the tone for future interactions.

Scripture, again and again, encourages the welcoming of strangers and caring for those who seem to be outsiders. We have seen this throughout the Abraham stories as Abraham welcomes the strangers who turn out to be messengers from God. We see Lot welcome these same strangers into his home. We see Abraham moving from place to place and feeling insecure as he travels. He uses deception to protect himself and exploit those around him to survive. If Abraham had felt welcomed, he wouldn’t have needed the deception to protect himself and survive.

In the Canadian context, we have created a society where white Canadians live with privilege, wealth and power that goes mostly unnoticed by themselves. There is a divide that ensures Indigenous and new Canadians continue to be outsiders and strangers with less access to land, resources, wealth and power. Like Abraham, many people who are outsiders have learned to do what is necessary to survive.

What would happen if all people were trusted, treated with respect and given access to the necessary resources for life? How would our society change?

Sarah’s New Baby

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In Genesis 21:4-7 Sarah is having a chuckle. The baby which she desperately wanted and doubted she would ever hold has arrived. Here she is with a new baby to mark the promise God has made to Sarah and Abraham. Can you hear her laughter?

I can imagine all the years of whispering behind Sarah’s back. Everyone knows that she wanted a child. Everyone knows that God promised. Everyone knows how she treated Hagar. It looked like God wasn’t going to come through for her. I wonder how often she cried herself to sleep or lashed out in anger at other women who carried children. I wonder if she carried any bitterness or was she able to hold on to the promise and find hope for what was to come.

Sarah’s experience makes me wonder about the experience of families that wait and wait for a child. I wonder about the experience of families that use in vitro and eventually have the child they dreamed about. I wonder about families that, even with in vitro, are unable to have a child. How does Sarah’s experience speak to them? How do these families experience God’s promise fulfilled in their lives—or not?

And now, finally, Sarah can laugh. She can laugh with joy at finally holding Isaac. I wonder if she is tempted to poke at the people who questioned the promise. Was Sarah able to move with grace into this new phase of her life?

It doesn’t say how old Sarah is but Abraham is a hundred. Sarah might be younger but still elderly. While Sarah is laughing, is she thinking of all the sleepless nights of nursing and caring for her baby? Child rearing is tough for many young women. Modern technology offers the possibility of bearing children at older ages. I wonder how Sarah’s experience as an older mother parallels that of modern women beginning families at older ages.  Is Sarah still laughing in her exhaustion? Is she so filled with joy that she is able to manage all the other emotions that come with being a new parent?

Parenting is a calling for many people and continues to be central to many families. Sarah knew that Isaac was a gift from God and a source of joy in her life. May children be a gift in our own lives and source of joy.