I promise, I am with you. There is always work to be done.Jesus, from “Promises.” Sally Hansen sermon, June 21, 2020
First, grieve every fallen sparrow. Notice the bloodstain on the sidewalk.
Hear the silence. To find your life is to feel your neighbor’s death as your own. To find your life is to see the sky inside them. Sing lament. Protest evil. Let my love be your living and your battle cry.
My dear saints, live as if loving were enough.
Reflection by Michele S.
This excerpt from Sally’s beautifully crafted “Hagar Monologues” (full text included below) captures a longing at the heart of her message. In this narrative, we hear the characters—Hagar, Sarah, Abraham—struggle with Hagar’s expulsion from the family. Her wrenching pain of being abandoned and thrown out, like something that has lost its usefulness, becomes a little more real to us. Abandoned and betrayed by both Sarah and Abraham, Hagar has even lost hope in God. But he draws near to her in her distress.
Woven into the monologues is a reflection on acceptance and rejection, dominance and privilege, power and exploitation that mirrors the struggles of our current moment in history. The two little boys, Ishmael and Isaac, are portrayed as playing and laughing together, while Sarah grows angry at the very fact of their indiscriminate affection for each other and the lack of privilege of her own son over the “half Egyptian.” We are reminded that children do not see skin color until they learn this from their parents. How could Abraham—or God—love both boys equally? Isaac, not Ishmael, was the child of the promise. If God, or Abraham, would not defend her son’s privilege, then she would. Ishmael had to go.
Oh, how easy it is to be like Sarah.
But in these monologues, the Jesus figure reminds us that “there is always work to do.” That the work of reconciliation, of healing of relationships, begins with grieving. Lament over the loss of even the smallest piece of life—that of a sparrow—but more so the loss of relationship with my neighbor. The neighbor to whom I deny life when I do not listen to their sorrow and their suffering. Acknowledging the image of God within my neighbor is to tread on holy ground in his presence or her presence.
Let us take that kind of living seriously. Let us live as if loving were enough.
The Hagar Monologues
By Sally Hansen
June 21, 2020
Third Sunday after Pentecost
Prayers of the People: Drew and Mary
Abraham: Jamie Dougherty
[Narrator gives brief introduction]
(grief, anger, shock) I do not understand why he sent me away. I do not understand why he sent us away. Abraham. His own child, how could he refuse to look his own child in the face? He turned from my face and he sent us away. We have nowhere to go, no one to take us in. Is anyone seeing this? God, are you seeing this? Nothing is secret that will not become known.
They took me from Egypt, all those years ago, when Pharaoh signed me off to Sarah. All these years I’ve been wandering with them. They took me from my mother’s house. Mother, where are you now? You would not imagine me here, oh, mama. It’s been—how many hours today? Abraham denied us at dawn, it must be nearly 3 o’clock.
The water is running out. A handful of bread and a skin of water, that’s it. No escort to another city, no offer to live with relatives, not even provisions for the road. Is faith some kind of game to him, leaving our lives to hang?
Where is Ishmael? There, child, don’t watch the horizon. Look, over there, at the birds.
Sarah, why have you hated me? Was it my fault you were barren? It’s not like I asked you to hand me off to Abraham! It’s true, I hoped I might fare better as Abraham’s wife than as Sarah’s slave. She was using me all along, I know. But I still hoped that calling me kin, calling me “wife” might help them see me as a whole person. I’d teach them my songs, if they’d listen.
My songs, my mother’s songs. Sarah, how could you forget? All those nights in Egypt! You were alone, you’d be crying alone, after Pharaoh had left the chamber. All those nights I’d comfort you, tell you stories, sing you the songs of my land. How could you keep me caged, after Pharaoh let you go?
Her eyes went dark the day I told her, that my child would fill the earth like the stars in the sky. She couldn’t hear it: she clutched at the sky, ripped at my body, and Abraham? Useless. He shrugged me off, and her clutch became a chokehold. So much for “wife”! So much for kin.
The promise was only deeper death. Never a moment’s rest—for years she stifled my screams. Some days, her eyes moved past me like I didn’t exist. Bitter, barren woman! She is endlessly thirsty. Nothing, not even our death, will be enough for her.
God, these broken promises. My life tears on them, God, only broken promises are left. I once named you in the desert, years ago—El Roi, do you see this? Is this all you have for me? I cannot walk any more. I am so, so tired.
Yesterday, the sight of them playing—Ishmael, Isaac, together, laughing—it was their laughter, their boundlessness that broke her. Her sky could not hold the two of them. And my son, Ishmael, will die of her thirst.
Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and in misery.
The sky is empty this morning. The tents feel…empty. There is space, now, for the promise to unfold. Everything I never let myself hope for, all those years…
Where is Abraham? (calling) Abraham! I’ve caught the birds you asked for! See? Under the basket there, ready for you! (to herself) They’ll need slaughtering soon if he’s expecting guests. Look at him, still out there, watching…
Isaac, shhhhhhhh, don’t cry, child, I’m here. Shhhhhhhhhh.
This is how it has to be. God said, all those years ago, our descendants would be like the dust of the earth. That was the promise when we left our families and fields in Haran. God promised a homeland, a family larger than everything we left behind. And this child, my Isaac, is the beginning of it all. My laughter, finally, has come alive.
So why do I not feel like laughing? There was nothing else to be done.
Shhhhhhh, Isaac, it’ll be alright. (calling) Zilah, could you take Isaac for a moment? He won’t stop crying.
She was just a slave, that Egyptian. And no slave woman’s son, no half-Egyptian, could possibly inherit with my son. The promise was for us.
For us. Abraham—for so many years I believed him, that the promise was about more than just territory. I knew the promise was about whatever emerges when you just trust, and keep walking. The long days, the sore feet, skirting lands already named and claimed—all of that was fine. We were drawn through the desert every day by the thrill of it all: we needed nothing but God and the shimmer of promise. Go forth from your homeland, take nothing with you!
Abraham said God spoke to him, but when any real danger struck, I was the first thing to go. And “the promise” became a strange mirage. We hit Egypt, and Abraham, he…sold me. “Sister” he called me, and Pharaoh took me as his wife and paid later with apologies, sheep, oxen, silver cups and woven mats. And it wasn’t just Pharaoh, Abimelech took me next. Abraham denied me again and again to protect his own future, and got richer every time. These sheep, this cup, these mats, this very tent I’m sitting in. This house tells me every day what I was worth to Abraham. The promise was more important to him than I was. Finally I stopped hoping that he cared. The promise emptied. His love…his love was barren.
But I kept on walking. We learn to make do with these things. I even gave Abraham my slave girl, gave him the opportunity to fill up his sky with stars, even if none of them were mine. Abraham loved that little boy—and fought much harder to keep him than he ever did to keep me. And what did that slave woman call me—a desert, a worthless, dried up burden, she called me. She never cared.
I learned to laugh it all off. Of course I laughed when those angel-men met us under the oak trees at Mamre. Everyone just sweating and sitting around. They said, oh yes, Sarah, she will have a child by this time next year. It was a bit rich—three more men telling me about my reproductive capacities after I fed them scones. We have to laugh sometimes, to survive.
But something impossible happened. Apart from the lies, apart from the selfishness, apart from sick, vain, empty ambition, the mockery and the shame. I began to feel a strange nausea, and eventually the tiny squirms behind my belly. I’d so long imagined but never dared to hope for it…a child? Every month, life grew larger in me. No one had looked at me for years. But no more “barren, burden Sarah.” Suddenly I could carry the promise. Suddenly the promise was for me.
God saw me, when no one else did. He gave me Isaac, my child, my homeland. Isaac, with his little feet. He is the promise, and I have to fight for him. These tents, these sheep, these cups, these mats—the whole sky is for him. It would make it all worth it. These years, all this suffering, could come back to life in his life. In Isaac, I am alive. The slave-child would stifle him. The slave-child cut me from the promise. He is my emptiness. He had to go. The slaves are gone. So! Now we’re free!
What is that racket? (Calling) Abraham! Come inside, these birds are waiting! (to herself) There he is, out there with the sheep. Abraham! How dare he turn away. Meet my eye, you old fool. Look me in the face.
What, Zilah? He’s still crying? Isaac…shhhhhhhhh, child. Stop crying. Stop crying! I’m here for you. I will watch out for you.
You have to fight for what you love, because too often God doesn’t. What else could I have done?
Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and in misery.
The sun is strong today. The lambs are panting, I’ll send someone to draw water. Let’s see, are they all here? I should have 23…1, 2, 3, 4, 5..
…21, 22….uh oh, am I missing one? Let’s see. 2, 4, 6,…20, 22…I should have 23. I’ll just keep my eyes open for a little while. Don’t stress about it. Don’t start to wonder…
Ishmael. Where have you gone? A sword has split our household—God, were you wielding it? My son is gone. What if the promise meant division all along? A promised land would require war, a chosen people would require…this? But Ishmael—I knew every hair on his head…in the end, I suppose, there’s no reason to speculate about these things. We have to have faith.
Golly, what’s that racket? Oh, just that spotted mother sheep, skittering on the edge there—looks a bit distressed…ehhh, looks fine. Anyway.
God, you have said from the beginning that you would make a great nation of me, a nation that would be a blessing to the earth. You said it at Haran. You said it once at Mamre, and again under the oaks. But how could I know how complicated it would all become? You waited until Ishmael was born to say, wait a second, Sarah is going to have a child! Plus, it was Sarah who didn’t believe in the first place. She said, “try to have a child with Hagar.” This whole issue started with her, I just went along with it. Then for some reason Sarah got mad, Hagar came crying to me, then she was gone for a few days, I don’t know why—I just tried to stay out of it. When Hagar showed up again she didn’t look so good—almost dead from the heat, still covered with wounds. It was a bit of trouble and actually pretty expensive to get her fixed up again.
But this time they won’t be coming back. They are under your sky, God. It’s up to you.
I didn’t want to make a fuss of it. Early morning, a quick goodbye—nothing that would be too…much. Sarah said that Ishmael had to go. I asked you what to do, God, and you said listen to Sarah, that you would make a great nation out of Ishmael. I believe you. You sent us from Haran with nothing, you can fix this thing with Ishmael as well. God go with him. We can’t always know what to do, but nothing is secret that will not become known—one day.
Now, let’s count those lambs one more time—1, 2, 3,…What, is that Sarah? What is it now…(calling) Isaac is crying? And what do you expect me to do about that?
(to himself) What am I supposed to do, with Ishmael gone…
Bow down your ear, O Lord, and answer me,
for I am poor and in misery.
I promise, I see you. I see your hurt, your mistakes, and your confusion. Nothing is covered up that will not be uncovered, and nothing is secret that will not become known. I see all the parts of you that you’re afraid to look at. I see the pain that is too deep for words. Here’s the thing—you are beautiful to me. Your whole self is precious to me. I’m living here on this earth to fight against everything that is destroying you from the outside in and the inside out.
Matthew, Peter, Mark—you know what it feels like to be excluded, invisible, hated by people who should love you and take care of you. I know what that feels like too. I know what it feels like to be thirsty. I am going to die on a cross, not too long from now. All of the loss, betrayal, abandonment—I feel it with you, and I’m not afraid to pray and grieve it together. Find yourself in me—don’t deny it—I see myself in you. Let me take care of you.
You have to look at yourselves, and stop hurting yourself and the people I love. Matthew—why did you leave that tax collector’s stand, where you cheated people all day? You told me about the widow who wouldn’t pay your bribe. You looked at her and suddenly her eyes unlocked you to what was really important. Her life was worth more than any amount of money. The next day you heard my voice and followed me.
Mark, Abigail, Simon, Andrew, Sophie, Deborah, all of you—I am sending you to see yourselves, and to see your cities. See the towns torn apart by suspicion, envy, boredom, and greed. See the women and men on the sidewalk who are poor or sick or alone. Some people think they are worthless. Know that they are invaluable to me! I am sending you out as healers and holders of the truth.
I promise, I love you. You are my kin. I’ll say it again: you are my kin. I am committed to you. You are never cut out of my cosmic and living communion. In me, you are connected to the fountain of everything that is alive and powerful and resilient. In me you live with the force of waterfalls and the gentleness of leaves brushing one another. In me the vastness of the sky is your nesting place. Through me you know my Father and you enter the love of the Holy Spirit. We welcome you home. Listen to our song—you will recognize it in your deepest memory. Drink our living water.
I promise, I am with you. There is always work to be done.
First, grieve every fallen sparrow. Notice the crumpled feathers, the bloodstain on the sidewalk. Hear the silence. To find your life is to feel your neighbor’s death as your own. To find your life is to see the sky inside them. Sing lament. Protest evil. Let my love be your living and your battle cry.
My dear saints, live as if loving were enough. Take a tunic for the road, and this truth: you are my household, my wounded body. No cross can kill me. I am alive with each of you, I die with each of you, you rise to each other’s freedom in me. I never leave you or forsake you.
What’s that, through the heat? It’s all a mirage, I cannot see through the hatred, everything ripples, I have no homeland…who is Hagar? Is there anything left? Mother, I—Ishmael—
God said a nation, a great nation. God, I called you the God who sees. There is nothing to hide me from you. You said a great nation. I have lost my life and I cannot see any way forward. Do not let me see the death of this child.
Just yesterday playing, Ishmael with Isaac. Ishmael loved Isaac, their laughter….God spare them both, spare us all. Give room for us, God. Tear open the earth.
I see it now, I see a river lined with trees, a city…the river is my tears. And it’s her tears, Sarah’s tears. She knows my song. She is crying, and we are washing together, oh Lord, we are singing, we are weeping together.
We are…laughing, together—
I see it, Lord. May it be.