“Finding the Right (Person)”
by Rabbi Marc Gellman, from “Does God Have A Big Toe: Stories about stories in the Bible.”
“Most people do not realize it, but God put in calls to other people before finally putting in a call to Abram.
First God called Eber and said, “Eber, leave your country and your neighbors and your family and go to a land I will show to you, and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great and you will be a blessing; all who bless you will be blessed and all who curse you will be cursed, and through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”
And Eber said, “Who are you?” And God said, “God.” And Eber said, “The god of what?” And God said, “The God of everything.” And Eber said, “Don’t be ridiculous, there is no god of everything. There is a god of the sun and a god of the moon, a god of the night and a god of the day, a god of the mountains and a god of the valleys, a god of the forests and a god of the deserts. If you ask me, you are a little late. Everything already has a god; there is no god of everything. Maybe if you look hard, you can find something that doesn’t already have a god. As a matter of fact, I think there is not a god of frogs at the moment. Why don’t you go check that out and then we can talk, because there just is no god of everything.”
But Eber and God never talked again.
The next person God called was Peleg. God said, “Peleg, leave your country and your neighbors and your family and go to a land that I will show you, and I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great. And you will be a blessing; all who bless you will be blessed and all who curse you will be cursed and through you all the nations of the earth will be blessed.”
And Peleg said, “Who are you?” And God said, “God.” And Peleg said, “Where are you?” And God said, “I am everywhere.” And Peleg said, “If you are everywhere, where do they put your statue so that people can bow down to you?” And God said, “I am invisible and no one can make a statue of me.” Peleg rolled on the ground with laughter. “Now let me get this straight! You are the invisible god of everything with no statue, and you want me to leave my home and follow you to a place you will show me? Do you think I am crazy? Now look, why don’t you go to a good idol maker and have a nice sculpture made of your image, and then we can find a nice place to put it down where people can bow to it, and then we can talk.”
But God and Peleg never talked again.
Then God went to Serug and said, “Serug, leave your country and your neighbors and your family and go to a land I will show you, I will make of you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you will be a blessing. All who bless you will be blessed and all who curse you will be cursed and through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
And Serug said, “Who are you?” And God said, “God.” And Serug said, “What will you give me?” And God said, “I just told you.” And Serug said, “You don’t understand. I am not interested in moving anywhere or doing anything just so that my great-great-great grandchildren will be a great nation. I want to know what is in this deal for me right now. Maybe if you showered me with some of those blessings up front I might be convinced. How about giving me all the money in the world and the kingship of all lands? What do you say?
But God said nothing. Then Serug said, “All right, let’s be reasonable. I will go wherever you want for most of the money in the world and the kingship of the five largest countries. How about that?” But God said nothing.
That was the last Serug ever heard from God.
By that time, God was not sure about finding the right (person). But God went to Abram and said, “Abram, leave your country and your neighbors and your family and go to a land I will show you, and I will make you a great nation and I will bless you and make your name great and you will be a blessing; all who bless you will be blessed and all who curse you will be cursed and through you all the nations of the earth shall be blessed.”
And Abram said, “I will go, but there is just one thing I want.” God asked what that one thing was. And Abram answered, “I want to take my family with me.”
God asked him, “That’s it? You just want your family to come with you? Don’t you want to see me?” And Abram said, “No.” And God asked, “Don’t you want to bow down to a statue of me?” And Abram said, “No.” And God asked, “Abram, don’t you want anything for yourself? And Abram said, “No.”
Right then, God decided not to ask any more questions and God let Abram gather his family and pack their things for the journey to the place that God would show them.
Right then God knew that the right (person) was going to the right place at the right time for the right reasons. God also knew that such things hardly ever happen.”
Just think about that concept of God for a moment.
The Patriarch and Matriarch of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – Abram and Sari – are sent on an endless errand without knowing the destination, or really even the purpose.
Three generations later, their great-great-great grandson, Joseph, gets traded into slavery for a purpose that wasn’t revealed for decades.
Then, when the world of human history and allegiances had changed unrecognizably, Moses gets sent to Egypt where he is Wanted for the murder of a soldier.
In a later story, with people unrelated to previous generations, a woman named Ruth pulls up stakes and leaves everything she knows to be a stranger in a strange land simply out of devotion.
Still more centuries toward our world, a migrant worker named Amos, gets plucked up and put down in the kings sanctuary with the task of telling the king and all the elites they are about to be crushed for their injustices.
Jesus, that other famous actor on the ancient stage,
was an illiterate peasant turned preacher
pushed out of the nest of his rural lifestyle in Galilee
and sent to the big city in Jerusalem.
He knows that King Herod,
who beheaded John the Baptist, is there;
and he knows the Roman Procurator, Pontus Pilate,
who once lined a twenty-mile stretch of road
from Jerusalem to Jericho with crucified rebels
just to make a point,
waits for him there also.
You see, with a God like that, who needs enemies?
Really, story after story in the Bible
is about some one, or group of someones,
to do something
that is often quite hazardous
and almost always
without knowing the purpose or the outcome.
Apparently, that is the Bible’s idea of a good time;
or at least, its idea of a good deal.
I’m thinking this would be akin Wal-mart or Wegman’s
having a marketing campaign centered around the phrase:
“Come on in, we’ll sell you something.”
if we stand back from these stories like we do a good bonfire,
the hard reality of their truth
is kindled in the light.
You and I walk around pretending
we know where we are going
and just exactly what we are supposed to be doing,
but the fact is we are in the dark.
We have no more idea about tomorrow,
or even this afternoon,
than did Abram and Sari,
Ruth or Jesus.
The question is,
are we walking a path God has invited us down
and is God dropping some breadcrumbs for us along the way?
Once, when I was contemplating
if it was time to leave a congregation
I had been serving for a decade
and in which I was still very happy,
I entered into spiritual direction
with a wonderful Roman Catholic priest, a Paulist Father.
He was a spritely leprechaun of a man
two decades or more older than me
but with a light and energy that nearly burst from his eyes.
I posed my question to him, “What is God calling me to do?”
And to my surprise he retorted,
“Aye, Cam, don’ be play’n cute wit God.”
What he meant,
and what I knew myself
when I wasn’t engaged in wishful thinking,
was that we do not get to know the answers ahead of time.
We never get to know if we’ve been walking the path
God has invited us down
until after the fact
when we look back and decipher it.
The Episcopal Church has become drunk
with the idea and jargon of “discernment,”
in which we are supposed to “discern” God’s will for us.
As a result, the church has become
frozen with indecision on the one hand,
and wraps its own will in inauthentic God-talk
on the other hand.
We do not get to know the mind of God,
which we will hear about next week from the Book of Exodus.
We get to encounter God when the veil between us is thinned,
but we never get to “know” God in any sense.
We can experience the love of God
as well as a sense of God’s absence,
but we don’t get to be led by the nose
down a cattle chute that delivers us along a failsafe path
to where God wants us to go.
As someone else has said,
if we think we can do what that syrupy platitude says
about putting God in the driver’s seat,
God may give us a road map but we still have to read it –
God doesn’t do GPS
The best way into the future
is to read the past –
our own and our corporate history.
Where does it seem that God was present
as we navigated tough decisions
and endured pain?
Whose were the trustworthy voices
that guided us along right pathways
and through the valley of the shadow of death?
Conversely, in what circumstances
and through which decisions
did we seem to venture furthest away from God?
We can track God like a deer
through the past
and it will help us predict which ways to go
in the future,
but we have to get good at reading the ‘sign.’
We have to get good
at reading our experiences, which means studying them
with open eyes
and an open mind
and an open heart.
We have to come to our past
without assuming we know what we are looking for;
to listen to our nocturnal dreams
as much as to our extended conversations;
to sift through our wounds
as much as play in our joys.
That takes brave friendships
with people who know how to be authentic with us.
It takes wise and humble guides
who know when he or she has reached their limit
and are not afraid to say so;
and who will hold our hand or reassure us
in the scary spots.
It takes a community where honesty is not only tolerated
but expected and supported.
But mostly, it requires trust.
We simply must know that God is trustworthy
even if the path leads us through a darkness,
or to a place that is not in our personal self-interest
on its way to a greater purpose.
Here is another story about spiritual direction.
It is the first time I entered into it,
also with a Roman Catholic priest – a Marist Father,
and my Clinical Pastoral supervisor.
I was in my early twenties
and had been plagued for nearly a decade
by what I know now were panic attacks.
I had no idea what they were then,
but they were night horrors to be sure.
They would always arrive at night
tearing me out of sleep into panic.
I would wake suddenly with the sensation of falling –
fast, free-falling, in the dark,
downward toward death.
Sweat poured off my head
and if I remained still in bed,
my whole body would rattle and shake.
Nothing would do but to get up and walk around.
These episodes were gorilla attacks in the night.
They didn’t happen every night,
and in fact there would be long stretches between them
as if to lull me into complacency.
Then, seemingly apropos of nothing,
boom – it would happen
and I would be ripped from sleep in terror.
It was my secret.
I told no one, ever.
I was ashamed of being afraid.
Men are not allowed to be afraid,
especially big men.
The secrecy made it all the worse, of course.
So finally, in spiritual direction
when I was taking all kinds of risks any way,
I disclosed this horrific secret.
After describing my little chamber of psychological horror,
my spiritual director suggested that the next time it happened,
I allow myself to keep falling.
What a stupid idea, was my internal dialogue.
I have no idea what actually came out of my mouth.
We worked on this for a few weeks,
and I finally agreed to try it the next time it happened.
It was impossible.
I tried to stay prone,
to allow myself to remain in free-fall
but finally I had to jump up and walk around in the dark.
It took me a couple of times before I could do it.
Finally, I allowed myself to keep falling.
And it was falling for all intents and purposes
because, like virtual reality,
our bodies respond to what is happening in our minds.
The anxiety got more and more intense
the closer to the bottom I felt I was getting.
Then finally it happened,
and I experienced the sensation of being caught –
in the dark,
at the bottom of the bottomless pit.
I was caught in the arms of…God.
I share that with you,
not to prove anything about God
because my weird little experience doesn’t prove anything
to you or anyone else – nor does yours –
but rather, to tell you what I learned from it.
I never had another panic attack
and it taught me something about trust in God.
The only way I could allow myself to fall
was to tell myself
that no matter what happened –
no matter what happened –
even if death, it would be okay because God loves me.
Because of God, no matter what happened,
even if it was something I didn’t want to have happen,
it would be okay…because of God.
Now that was just a panic attack.
I wasn’t really falling, you might point out.
But I have since discovered,
that all the bottoms I have been afraid to land in
and all the pain I have been afraid to feel
and all the memories I have not wanted to touch,
and all the places I have feared to go,
were okay…because of God.
You see our fear has a loud voice
and it tells us things that seem reasonable when we are afraid.
Our fear tells us, for example,
that we don’t know what is going to happen.
But the fact is, we never know what’s going happen.
Our fear warns us
that we may not like what happens.
But the truth is, our ability to imagine the possibilities
is so much less than the actual possibilities
and we simply do not know what we do not know.
Our idea of the possibilities is so much diminished
from the actual possibilities
that we may be missing out on spectacular opportunities.
Our fear would keep us flat-footed on the dock of the present
when God’s best dream for us is drifting away
in the boat of the future.
The only antidote to such fear that I know of,
because the future is always unrevealed ahead of time,
Well, that’s pretty much all I’ve got;
but you get my point.