Sacred scripture—no matter the tradition—usually counsels its readers to become more self-aware, generous and respectful toward humanity by means of teaching some form of the Golden Rule: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
Yet, the cultural and historical details of certain scriptural narratives often feature nuances which lead to a great deal of discomfort and/or interpretive hurdles in terms of deriving a “modern” lesson for current application.
The other day, the story of Hagar came up in a reading from Genesis, the first book of the Old Testament in The Bible. Hagar is one of Sarah’s handmaids, an Egyptian slave-girl. At Sarah’s suggestion, Hagar is used by Abraham to produce a male heir (this is prior to Sarah’s own unexpectedly late conception and birthing of her only son, Isaac).
For most modern audiences, there are aspects of this story which are highly problematic, especially in cultures where respect for an individual’s life, sense of personal choice and the sanctity of one’s volition with regard to the body are given priority. Still, in rereading the excerpt, what strikes me the most is that Hagar’s relationship with God is equal to that of Abraham’s and Sarah’s.
God does not forsake Hagar eventhough her worth and life, in the society of that time, are of little to no consequence or value. She and her body may be a means to Sarah’s and Abraham’s end, yet her relationship with God is equal–in terms of protection and guidance.
God listens to Hagar. God talks to Hagar. God reveals to Hagar her unique place in the grand plan. And, ultimately, Grace places an umbrella of protection over Hagar and her son, Ishmael, after they are cast out into the desert.
What I have learned is this: Even as the sands of a social circumstance may become like quicksand and threaten to swallow a person up, Grace is the one surety, toward which we may turn and upon which we may rely.
So, remember to get quiet, open your heart and listen, because cultivating a connection with the Light provides protection and support.