10 August 2014

Rebekah: Love is a Risk

Genesis 24

"Will you go with this man?"

Joy and fear
flood me all at once.
Somewhere out there
a man is waiting,
waiting to love me.
Somewhere out there
is a new future -
fulfillment of my dreams.
I want to say Yes.

And yet
he is a total stranger;
I've never seen his face,
don't know if he'd be kind to me,
don't know if we'd agree
on all that is important,
or always fight instead.

I am afraid
of this strange new future,
this unknown shadow
who wants me to be his;
I am afraid
of regretting my decision,
of being stuck forever
in a strange land
with a man I might not love.
So much could go wrong.

And yet
I see your fingerprints
on the tangled strings of my story -
signs that say you're leading this,
signs that say you have a plan.

Love is a risk -
so much could go wrong.
What if I don't like him,
or we cannot agree?
Love is a risk
but so is everything,
and if I heed all my fears
I never will live.

I'll turn away from my fears,
and look upon You,
and trust You to guide me
and know what is best.
Take my trembling heart -
take my fears away.
I know what I desire,
I know I must dare -

for love is a risk
always worth taking.

"Will you go with this man?"
- Yes, I will go.           


[November 2012 - commentary August 2014]

"Every time we make the decision to love someone, we open ourselves to great suffering, because those we most love cause us not only great joy but also great pain. [...] Still, if we want to avoid [suffering], we will never experience the joy of loving. [...] We have to trust that the risk of loving is always worth taking." (Henri Nouwen)

Based particularly on Genesis 24:58 which is quoted at the beginning and end of the poem - Rebekah is given the choice whether she wants to go with Abraham's servant to be Isaac's wife. I decided to look at the decision process here.

This story happened in the days of arranged marriage in a culture where family connections were practically the most important consideration. Abraham's servant was sent to find Isaac a wife from among his own relatives (and Rebekah was a cousin or something). Although there's still many places in the world where marriages happen this way, with people hardly knowing each other beforehand and love being something in the future that they will build up, rather than being the precondition to getting married, it's increasingly no longer the case. We don't expect to be matched up with a total stranger, and don't have to make the kind of choice Rebekah did.

Nonetheless, I often get the feeling that even if one has gotten to know someone and grown to care for him, so much about him remains a mystery. Love remains a risk - because who knows how many exasperating things might be hiding inside that person that now we don't see (maybe because love made us blind) but that annoy us years later! Which is why I also believe it's important to realise that even if one already knows and loves the person one marries, love is something that grows. Marriage does not happen at the "high point" of being in love, but is a point from which it has to continue on, because after that point, we're still going to get to know the other person more and more, and maybe things will come out that we don't like, or that simply get on our nerves. I believe love is more than "feelings"; it's a decision we have to keep on making.

We often hear nowadays of divorce rates skyrocketing. I know people who, because of that, see marriage as too great a risk - who knows, you might "fall out of love" at some point or feel like no longer going on - and would rather just live together in a relationship. I think it's good to recognise that marriage is a risky decision. But I believe that is not a reason to give up on the idea altogether. It's a risk that, with God, I believe is worth taking. So many things in life are risky and could end in a mess - but if we risk nothing, we won't live. And I believe that holding on to the fact that God led you together can give the strength to decide, again and again, to keep forgiving and enduring and loving. Which is also why I believe asking about God's will in the matter is an important step before saying yes to anyone.

(Which however does not mean that it will always work out smoothly if you "add God to the equation". I've experienced it not working out like that. We can also misunderstand God's will - or have a partner who does not want to make another effort when we do, when things go wrong. However, I do believe that the Bible teaches us to overcome ourselves and make the extra effort to love, and that the kind of love the Bible speaks of - which is not just boy-girl / husband-wife love but the love we should have towards all people - is something active and something that involves decision and the will. So even if it does not "work" as a "save-your-marriage" method, I believe it is what we should do, because it's right and what true love is.)

And don't ask me how this turned into a treatise on love and marriage and divorce....................-__-;

Picture by Nicolò Grassi

02 August 2014

Lot's Daughters: Desperate

Genesis 19:30-38

Behind me destruction,
before me fear.
What choice do I have?
I'm desperate.

Today looks bleak,
tomorrow darker still -
the days stretch out to hopelessness
and I see myself
defenceless, alone,
at the mercy of strangers,
far away from a home
that no longer exists.
Childless, helpless,
no one to provide,
destitute and lost -
so desperate.

If this is my outlook
what choice do I have,
but to do the unthinkable
though it be unforgivable?
I'll quell my qualms
and kill my conscience -
for what is good
and what is evil
and what can be called sin
in this state of desperation,
this one-way street,
where the only way out
seems giving in?


[19. January 2013]

This is one of the stories they censor from children's Bibles. But I think I first heard it when I was 10 or younger...

Remember Lot? God helped him escape from Sodom and Gomorrah with his family when it was destroyed. What happened afterwards is less well-known. Lot and his daughters lived in a cave - his daughters were afraid that they would not find a husband and not be able to have children - subsequently they made their father drunk and slept with him.

Pretty extreme...

I was wondering how I'd write this one.
There is actually one interpretation of the text that says the text is "covering up" what "really happened", and says it was Lot who raped his daughters but the opposite was recorded. I don't agree with picking apart a text like that, though, and I'd rather not simplify a difficult story. Men are not always to blame, it does happen that women abuse men...

But I'm not interested in passing blame either. I think to understand this story we need to understand that in the culture Lot's daughters were in, having children was deemed very important. In many cultures not long ago (or even today still...) a woman was not really a full woman unless she had children. Plus, protection and provision from a man was important. It's only quite recently that women could start living independently and fend for themselves without drawbacks and stigma.

Lot's daughters were under the pressure of that system, they had just gone through the traumatic experience of losing everything (including their fiancés who refused to escape with them), and they were facing an uncertain future. Their father was afraid of going anywhere near a town, so they felt themselves at a point where they needed to go to desperate measures.

I guess sometimes we can get so desperate and afraid that we no longer care about whether something is right or wrong. We go to desperate measures instead of being patient and trusting. Well, being patient and trusting and waiting for God to help can be very hard!! But maybe that's what Lot's daughters should have done... It's interesting how this comes right after the saving of Lot from Sodom, which was destroyed because of its sin. Lot was saved because he was a righteous man... and yet no one is sinless. Sin still goes on, as long as we try to save ourselves and don't remember it is God alone who can save us, even in the most desperate circumstances.

But it's also important not to judge too quickly people who do rash and wrong things in a desperate situation. They may do wrong things because they think there's no other solution - they might find it wrong themselves, and struggle with themselves afterwards. So harsh words won't help in such a case... rather, being loving to them and gently showing them that although what they did was wrong (and they might come up with that by themselves, one doesn't have to poke it in their face...), there is forgiveness and grace. These are hurt and damaged people who need healing instead of another bashing on an already bashed conscience...

Picture: Bonifacio de Pitati (and I like how it has the burning Sodom in the background...)