Sooo..... who is this Hagar chic?
People often look at us oddly when we tell them the name of our house...most Catholic Worker Houses are named after fairly well known "Saints" or virtuous ideas. But Hagar? Isn't Hagar the Horrible a comic strip? Or some dude with a guitar?... Who is this Hagar chic?....Why name a Catholic Worker House after her or take her as a Spiritual Model, as we have? That is an excellent question!
Hagar, was the Egyptian slave of the Patriarch Abraham and Matriarch Sarah. She is a dynamic faith filled individual who lived out an amazing Faith Journey. But it ain't no Disney story. Her life was layered with both wretched inhumanity and lit with Divine Intervention.
Within Scripture, her story is found in the book of Genesis (chapters 12-21), so she has been with us from virtually the very beginning of our Faith Story...all Abrahamic Faiths, Judaism, Christianity and Islam, look to this Scripture period in some form. ...however except for in Islam , Hagar is a person usually overlooked, theologically stepped over or disregarded, often with prejudice. Yet not once did God treat her in this manner. In fact, in some of the darkest moments of her life, she had some of the most incredible Spiritual life changing experiences recorded in Scripture...if we but take a moment to "see" her. Her life struggles, Spiritual discernments and ultimately her journey from one life understanding to another, mirror the realities many of us can relate to today.
The elderly and childless Abraham and the barren Sarah had been promised a child by God. How impossible this must of seemed...not only was Abraham told he would be the father of many nations and have more descendants than the stars in the sky, God had said that Abraham's post menopausal barren wife was going to bear him a child. But time passed and the only thing pregnant was the pause between God's words and actions. Abraham and Sarah got tired of waiting. Haven't most of us gotten tired of waiting on God at some point in our lives? With only the proverbial seed for a child planted, Sarah and Abraham decided to take matters into their own hands, but at the expense of someone else's body. Here we are introduced to Hagar through the Social Injustice of slavery and the accepted consequences of slavery at that time. As we see in the slavery of today's modern day human trafficking, it often has deep sexual connotations. Sarah "gives" Hagar to Abraham to impregnate, so that Sarah and Abraham can take the child as theirs.
What we also learn though this story, is that though this founding "community" is far from perfect, God loves each individual in the tale and will walk each one into a greater evolving story.
Sarah and Abraham's" plan" worked and Hagar conceived a child. We can only imagine the emotions Hagar was going through as a pregnant slave. Not only was she probably tired from the hormonal changes within her body, and the hard work she was probably still forced to do, but the baby put inside her, without her consent, would be called Sara's child, without her consent. Scripture says that as soon as Hagar realized she conceived she began to despise Sarah . Sarah got angry and went and told Abraham that this was his fault...Abraham said "she" was her slave and to do with her whatever she pleased...Neither called Hagar by name, neither considered what she might be going through. Sara went home and beat the pregnant Hagar. The badly abused Hagar then ran away and fled into the wilderness, probably in one of the two darkest moments of her life, when the incredible happened... Where as no one else bothered to call Hagar by her name, Hagar suddenly heard the God of all Creation calling her. Imagery in the Hagar story is very suggestive and allegorical and worth reading the whole story. God said, "Hagar,maid of Sarai, Where have you come from and where are you going?".
This is a profound moment, God was inviting the young woman whom no one thought to consider into Contemplation! This very question is what we at our Catholic Worker House use for our personal discernment and we invite those who enter the house to reflect on these very words of God- "Where have YOU come from and where are YOU going?".
The moment becomes even more amazing as Hagar pours out her problems, and God re-figures Hagar's value and purpose. He Identifies with her that Sarah is being abusive, yet He does something so bizarre, something we will later see as Christ like...He sends her back into the defective Community but now working for God..not Sarah...He asks her to submit to the abuse for awhile, while He continues to try to bring about change in that community. (How many leaders of Social Justice from Jesus, to Gandhi, to MLK have we seen let themselves be subjected to a society's injustice as they worked in love to break the systemic hold of injustice on a society when they could of fled somewhere else?)
For her act of Trust in Him, God tells her "I will make your descendants so numerous, that they will be too many to count". God makes almost the same Promise to Hagar, a slave woman, as He did the Patriarch Abraham!....But where God would forewarn Abram that his people would experience enslavement and oppression of their own, He tells Hagar to name her child Ishmael, which means "God has heard". God then says that the child "shall be a wild ass of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him; In opposition to all his kin shall he encamp." .
Now to our modern ears this sounds insulting and terrible, but as one theologian has said, you must hear it with slave ears. A wild ass was not "owned" as someone's work mule. For a woman who had been told where to go and what to do, forced to work and beaten, imagine what it must of felt like to hear her son would be able to do what he wanted and some how have a "choice" in his ability to decide where he lived. He would not be a slave or under someone's thumb...Somehow, if Hagar trusted God, her son would know Freedom. In wonder of this Promise, Hagar exclaims, " I have seen The God that Sees me and lived!". With these words Hagar becomes the first person in the Bible to Name God!. And what a beautiful Name for God -"I have seen The God that SEES me!".
This statement is crucial for our Catholic Worker House as well.. We belong to a God of Vision, a God of Life and He lovingly looks upon us all. Some of our most beautiful moments here have been when our sojourners have walked into that Awareness!
Some years go by,Abraham and Ishmael have been bound together to God through Circumcision with all the other males in their clan..God is still trying to teach and evolve the idea of "Community". And then suddenly, according to our Scripture, lo and behold, the 90 year old Sarah becomes pregnant around this time and she and Abraham have the promised child, Isaac ...but their prior choice to take matters into their own hands at Hagar's expense has consequences...One being that Ishmael is now the oldest child, and the oldest child in those days was the rightful heir of Birth Rights (meaning they inherited all the father's stuff). I'm sure Sarah had a moment wishing she had waited on God, but instead of going to God and asking for His help, she unfortunately repeats a faulty pattern and does it again. Now she must get rid of the child she orchestrated into existence to be "her" child...but how?
She waits.Then one day during a community gathering, when Ishmael and Issac were playing together ,Sarah yelled " Drive out that slave and her son! No son of that slave is going to share the inheritance with my son Isaac! "
Abraham was in distress but he heard God say,"Heed the demands of Sarah" and God tells him that Sarah will get her wish; it will be through Isaac that the Covenant Promise to Abraham will come about. (It is easy to be frustrated with God at this point, "but wait for it" as the saying goes).
We then enter into what had to have been Hagar's darkest hour. Early the next morning Abraham gives Hagar a skin of water and some bread and sends her and little Ishmael away, alone, rejected from the community into the dessert...read: into death. We suddenly enter into a story many people today can relate to..Here is our rejected and bullied friend. Here is our first single Mother! As the bread and water run out, here is the family facing food scarcity! As they roam aimlessly in the dessert, Hagar sees her child dying. Here is the desperate parent in need of assistance! She puts Ishmael's limp body in the shade of a bush,and unable to watch her child die, she sits down opposite of him a "bowshot away" . Ishmael began to cry. HERE are the first recorded tears in Scripture.
God's Messenger then spoke from Heaven and said "What is a matter Hagar? Don't be afraid; God has heard the boy's cry in this plight of his. Arise, lift up the boy and hold him by the hand; for I will make of him a great nation." Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. Ishmael and Hagar were free! A slave woman and her child were Alive and Free!
Ishmael grew up to be an expert bowman and went on to be considered the founder of many nations. Though Muslims consider Abraham their "Father", Ishmael is considered their prophet. Understanding the rejection and inequality that created the division in our First Faith Community, a division that is still with us today, is important.
Isaac grew up, got married and his wife had twins...and almost just to prove that nothing is impossible, the youngest son inherited the oldest twin's birth right, but that is another story.
Isaac's descendants of continued to be keepers of "The Covenant Promise" ( one of the things Sarah so wanted "her" child Isaac to inherit), until for Christians it lead to Jesus, the ultimate fulfillment and Covenant, Himself. Ironically, He made Himself the Servant, a slave of all men. I do not think it was by accident at the Institution on the Eucharist, Jesus said "I no longer call you slaves but friends" as He gave Himself to be the place in which the whole world could have a Home, a Community.
I have gone on about this story because for our Catholic Worker house it holds a foundational understanding of a God who "Sees" each one of us, knows our names. Even when it can seem that Justice or Goodness or Sustainability is long in coming, we must remember God is at Work. Jesus's Life was just as much for Hagar, as it is for us. Abraham and Sarah, even with all their faults were not rejected by God, even when they were rejecting another human beings Rights. God's Merciful Vision does not overlook our brokenness, our dysfunction of Unity ...but in Love, He walks into them and to those willing, He ask them to go with Him...Sometimes we are the ones working for Sustainable Environments and Food Sources either physically or Spiritually. Sometimes we are the ones with breaking hearts bleeding out prayers for help. Sometimes we might be someone's shade tree as they cry out with dying Souls to hear God's Life Giving Voice. Sometimes we might be the Messenger of God saying "Don't be afraid" as we help them rise up. Sometimes we are the ones to hold a hand, to hold a Vision . Sometimes we might be the eyes leading someone to the Well of Living Water . Sometimes we might be the one Praising God with a brother or sister who has found their Freedom. Sometimes we are just the ones who Remember that God loves us all and He isn't done, but everyday ask "--------, Where have we come from and where are we going?".
No matter where we have come from, what are past holds we are going- Home. Home is our Answer. We are going to a place where Hagar has a Home and so do we all. Journey with us.
Your Sister Always,