Session 6: A place of challenge

Memory can provide another pathway to the stillness we seek as a time of prayer begins. Try, today, to remember a place and time where you have felt still, quiet and secure. As you remember, recall as many details as you can. Where was the place? Why were you there? What were you doing? Was anyone else there with you? Let the picture of that place and time build up in your mind’s eye.

When the picture is as clear as it can be, stay with it for a while, and notice your feelings. The way you felt when you were in that place, and the way you feel now as you recall it.

Now, prepare your heart to hear today’s reading from the Book of Genesis…

Genesis 21: 8 – 20

The child grew, and was weaned; and Abraham made a great feast on the day that Isaac was weaned. But Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Abraham, playing with her son Isaac. So she said to Abraham, ‘Cast out this slave woman with her son; for the son of this slave woman shall not inherit along with my son Isaac.’ The matter was very distressing to Abraham on account of his son. But God said to Abraham, ‘Do not be distressed because of the boy and because of your slave woman; whatever Sarah says to you, do as she tells you, for it is through Isaac that offspring shall be named after you. As for the son of the slave woman, I will make a nation of him also, because he is your offspring.’ So Abraham rose early in the morning, and took bread and a skin of water, and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away. And she departed, and wandered about in the wilderness of Beer-sheba.

When the water in the skin was gone, she cast the child under one of the bushes. Then she went and sat down opposite him a good way off, about the distance of a bowshot; for she said, ‘Do not let me look on the death of the child.’ And as she sat opposite him, she lifted up her voice and wept. And God heard the voice of the boy; and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven, and said to her, ‘What troubles you, Hagar? Do not be afraid; for God has heard the voice of the boy where he is. Come, lift up the boy and hold him fast with your hand, for I will make a great nation of him.’ Then God opened her eyes, and she saw a well of water. She went, and filled the skin with water, and gave the boy a drink.

God was with the boy, and he grew up; he lived in the wilderness, and became an expert with the bow.

Hagar and Ishmael start this story secure in Abraham’s house. The evidence suggests that they were loved and cared for by him. But all too soon, Abraham’s wife Sarah grows jealous, and calls for the two to be expelled. Try to imagine Hagar’s feelings, as she is sent away into the wilderness with her son.

It’s not long before Hagar’s food and water are exhausted. At this point of the story, she is despairing, and waiting only for death. Can you sit alongside her at this low-point of her journey?

Suddenly, as it says, with her eyes opened by God, she sees a well, and her fortunes begin to turn around. What’s that like – for her, for Ishmael her son, and for you as someone observing the scene?

Ishmael grows to adulthood in the wilderness, a man adapted to its ways and able to find there all that he needs. What kind of person do you imagine him to be, to be able to survive and thrive in those challenging conditions?

Perhaps, in this part of the prayer that encourages conversation, you might take a little time today to speak with each of the main characters, asking them about why they reacted as they did, and how they felt about it. Why not start with Sarah, Abraham’s wife, who first demands that Hagar and her son are sent away?

You might talk next with Abraham. It looks as if he was forced to choose between these two women and the two sons whom he had fathered. What does he make of this whole situation?

Hagar’s journey in this short passage is something of a roller-coaster. What would you want to say to her, at the different points as this story unfolds?

And what of Ishmael, the young man capable of making his way through the wilderness? What might it be like to approach him, some years after all these events have taken place?

Lastly, we are invited to recognise God working through these events, fulfilling the various promises he has made. Speak, then, to God about all that you have seen in this time of prayer.

Session 6: A place of challenge
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