Friday, August 6, 2010

Genesis 15:1-6: Disappointed (מאוכזב )

The word of the LORD came to Abram in a vision, "Do not be afraid, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great." But Abram said, "O Lord GOD, what will you give me, for I continue childless, and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?" And Abram said, "You have given me no offspring, and so a slave born in my house is to be my heir." But the word of the LORD came to him, "This man shall not be your heir; no one but your very own issue shall be your heir." He brought him outside and said, "Look toward heaven and count the stars, if you are able to count them." Then he said to him, "So shall your descendants be." And he believed the LORD; and the LORD reckoned it to him as righteousness.

One of my favorite movies is A Fish Called Wanda.  It's completely dated and pointlessly vulgar.  Right up my alley.  And my memory of this movie is mercifully vague.  But as I recall, at one point, Kevin Kline is trying to steal diamonds from a safe.  He painstakingly breaks into the and when he finally opens the safe door, it is entirely empty.  He pants, calmly and then yells, "Disappointed!"

In our portion this week it seems to me that Abram is doing about the same thing.  Not stealing diamonds from a safe, obviously.  Not doing anything illegal or immoral or even funny.  And he certainly doesn't cuss up a storm as is the case in this movie.  But he has worked toward a goal, he is operating on faith that if he does the work, takes his time, is patient and diligent, that God will deliver on the goods.

But in this moment, Abram doesn't see any evidence of the goods.  Abram has done everything God has asked of him so far: dragged himself and his family into the desert; pitched battles; made odd sacrifices and acted generally irrationally in the eyes of the people around him. In exchange, God has promised to make his descendants numerous and blessed. But right in this moment, Abram doesn't see it.  He thinks everything he has worked for is going to someone barely related to him. He seems presciently to know about Ishmael and to despair of leaving him any legacy.  He is, shall we say, in a snit about it, and he is giving God a piece of his mind.

Which is kind of a lovely thing, really.

It says, "the word of the Lord came to Abram."  Abram is so in touch with the Lord that he is open at any given moment to receiving God's words of instruction.  God can speak to Abram and Abram can hear Him.  And Abram can, immediately and with full throated emotion, answer back. Abram and God are so closely entwined with one another that they can have a dialog. Further, God is so present for Abram that they can actually move around together.  God "takes Abram outside" and "shows him" something.  God is present for Abram and so Abram can hear Him and talk to Him and even fell Him.

Here's an adage for you: the path between the houses of neighbors who are friends is more easily trod than the road to a stranger, even a loving one. The conduit of communication is more easily traveled when we are open and frequent in prayer.

Readers of my blog will know that my Grandmother was a very formative person for me. And she was a person in perpetual prayer. When she wasn't singing a hymn, she was conversing with God about the candles she was dipping or the beans she was snapping. I still see her sitting on the stoop of her back door, a big old collie sitting placidly beside her, telling me about how well she and God understood each other: "God gave me curly hair because He knew I'd never get myself a perm.

And she had plenty of reason to toss her hands up into the air and yell "Disappointed!" at God. She was one of millions of barely-getting-by farmers in the middle west in the early parts of the 20th Century.  They were hungry, desperate, they had five kids, severe health problems and they were always only day away from the poor farm.  In his seventies, with advanced Parkinsons Disease, you could give my Dad a year - any year between 1932 and 1945 - and he could tell you how much his family owed the store in town. Her family was bifurcated over the Klan, her children suffered severe burns and epilepsy, her daughter was widowed within weeks of her marriage. Pedro was an icky pig, her real estate classes were a waste of time and the "pond garden" never ever worked out. And she survived her husband. She had plenty to be disappointed about.

Like Abram - like Sara, she walked in faith when there was no hope left. She praised God at gravesides and bedsides, over stacks of dishes and in the face of blazing fire. I know there were times when she appealed to God and He could not offer her the words she wanted to hear.  And I know she threw her hands up at God and yelled at Him. WHAT was He thinking?  HOW was this helping? Sometimes we pray and there is no consolation, but we must continue to keep the conduit open.

And that is what I take from today's portion.  We are aloud, in fact expected, to take our disappointment to God. We are aloud to question Him, to have moments of doubt and anger and fear.  In those moments we have not lost our faith, indeed, our faith is not even tested.  Any more than God's faith in us is tested when we disappoint Him. Because above all things the most important is not always feeling happy with God, it is not always to be blindly accepting.  Above all things the most important is to keep the conduit open.

So that God can hear you.
So that you can hear God.
So that God can be with you.
So that He can show you the stars.