Human Trafficking in Scripture? (Part 4 of the RENEGADE Conversations Series)

This is part of an ongoing series: reimagining, retelling and redeeming stories of women in Scripture. Stories that have all-too-often been forgotten if not misinterpreted and misunderstood. Their telling matters. Their voice matters. Pour yourself a cup of coffee and listen to their hearts. You’ll undoubtedly hear your own.

Eve (the original Renegade)
Giants, Women, and Irresistible Attraction
Noah’s Wife

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The RENEGADE Conversations Series

Sarai: Wife of a Patriarch (not all it’s cracked up to be) ~

SOME CONTEXT
Abram (later called Abraham) is understood as the patriarch of the Jewish, Christian, and Muslim religions. The man who heard god’s call to a land unknown. The promise to become “a great nation.” He packed up his wife, his nephew (Lot), all they owned (which was a lot), all their slaves and headed out across the desert. Sarai (later called Sarah) was the wife that went along with his plan.

As they journeyed, they traveled through land plagued by famine. As they got closer to Egypt, Abram said to Sarai, “Indeed, I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.” (Genesis 12:11-13)

Only two verses later, Sarai has been traded to the Pharaoh by her husband (for sheep, oxen, male donkeys, male and female servants, female donkeys, camels, and the certainty that he would not starve). Then verse 16: “[The Pharaoh] treated Abram well for her sake.”

Wow.

The Conversation ~

She was fierce: the woman who sat across from me. Her every word crisp. Her eyes piercing. Thousands of stories pent up within, that given just the slightest nudge, would number more than the stars in the sky. And with each story, vast wells of emotion. I got the sense that she desperately needed me to understand more than what she said; as though she’d been misunderstood or missed somehow. It felt urgent – for her; but also for me. I watched as she took a long, slow sip of her coffee. I heard her draw in a deep breath. And then she began…

I was spellbound.

How had I not known this? Why had I not been told? Had I heard and just not payed attention? I didn’t hide my shock well. She smiled at me knowingly. 

You seem surprised. Well, I’m not. Abram tends to take center stage when our story is told. And what most hear of me comes a bit later: that I’m old and unable to bear the man a son; the man who is supposed to have descendants that comprise a “great nation.” No pressure.

I’ve always wondered if it ever occurred to anyone that my “barrenness” might be less about fertility and more about my rage (and deep pain) at this turn of events; this betrayal. After being traded in by my husband for livestock and becoming the “owned” property of the Pharaoh, intimate, passionate nights were not on the top of my priority list. (More about the whole infertility fiasco later…)

Many have made the argument, with a great degree of validity, that cultural norms were far different then. Nothing was up to me. I was property, for the most part. (Others have made the argument that little has changed…) Even so, to assume that I was a willing participant in this dramatic narrative might just be a mistake. 

I felt sad, angry, and ashamed; the emotions grabbing at my heart with almost palpable reach. She’d carried too much. Unwittingly, I had been part of that. I wanted to tell her I was sorry; that I didn’t know; that if I had, I would never have sat idly by in a church pew and listened to her story told the same way, over and over again. 

And my mind raced; making hundreds of connections as I fast forwarded through more and more stories from the same sacred text. I realized, nearly overwhelmed, that hers was hardly exclusive to interpretation that was/is slanted and biased. These misinterpreted tellings set the trajectory for women’s roles and realities for centuries; they set the trajectory for my roles and my realities. And those of my daughters’…

As the crushing heaviness of this nearly took my breath away, something drew my eyes back to hers. And what I saw reflected there was even more surprising than the story itself. She looked at me with nothing short of pure grace; nothing less than deep compassion.

It’s a lot, isn’t it? My story, sure; but more, the stories of all the women who preceded me and even more who followed. When I see your face and realize all that you are taking in…all the ways you’ve been taken in, I feel as though I’m standing in that hot sand again. But not alone…

We’re not all that different, you and me. Caught up in a story that was out of our control, not what we wanted, but with little-to-no voice to affect even the smallest bit of change.

She paused. We both sipped more coffee, now tepid, and stared out the window.

Maybe this is enough for today?

It was thoughtful of her, this wizened crone, to grant me respite, time to process, and the gift of sitting quietly in her company, lost in thought. I nodded and took one last sip.

Same time next week? There is so much more to tell you. I’ve only gotten started. Believe me, there are stories even harder than this one to disclose. Others that still make me laugh. It matters to me that you hear them – from my perspective and my heart. And I have a hunch that as you do, you will come to better understand your own. 

I already did.

As I drove away I was profoundly aware of two things:

  1. There are too many stories yet untold (or at least, mangled in their telling). They need to be heard. I need to hear them. And I need to tell them; certain others need them as much as I do.
  2. A woman’s capacity to persevere stuns me.

I found, in the days (and years) to follow that this conversation opened my heart to two questions I now ask nearly continuously:

  1. What stories am I not telling (my own and others’)?
  2. Am I living up to this lineage from which I descend? Am I honoring her, her predecessors and her successors, through my commitments, my actions, my beliefs, my loves, my very being? She deserves that from me. As do my daughters.

The two of them roll their eyes when I ask them if they want to hear another story. But somewhere, deep within, I know they are listening. And Sarai (along with the  rest of her lineage) smiles.

_______________________

This post is the fourth in a series of RENEGADE Conversations with women who deeply long to be heard, who have stories that have been at worst, lost; at best, poorly told. It is my deepest belief and strongest passion to enable conversation with them and to let their stories speak into ours. When that occurs, we think new thoughts and step into a more powerful life; we hear our own story and become our truest selves; we have permission and hunger to consider our faith and god through a new lens, a different lens, a woman’s lens.

I hope you’ll continue the conversation and (re)tell these stories. They matter.

Those who do not have power over the story that dominates their lives —the power to retell it, rethink it, deconstruct it, joke about it, and change it as times change—truly are powerless, because they cannot think new thoughts.
—Salman Rushdie, Novelist

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    { 12 comments… read them below or add one }

    Lori April 24, 2012 at

    It’s palpable, with this post. That you’ve made a decision, shed the sideline activities, and stepped through the doorway into your purpose. This is what you’re meant to do. I can tell because it radiates power. And that in itself gives me as much inspiration as the stories themselves, which are like quiet earthquakes. Nothing is quite the same once they’ve been told; the world looks different. These stories, when you get to the quaking heart of them like this, could change the lives of untold numbers of women and our daughters. It will break them out of the blindered mythology of the old stories that were created to maintain a patriarchal power structure. It will give them the power to think new thoughts. It will give them–us–a whole new way to understand life and to know–and be–ourselves. Please–don’t stop now.

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick April 25, 2012 at

    I do not have words to express my gratitude of this, Lori. What I can say is that your words completely speak to what I most long to offer/shape/create/compel. Knowing that such is true for you is gift beyond compare. Thank you.

    Reply

    Currie Silver April 24, 2012 at

    I am deeply profoundly NO LONGER THE SAME since reading this. I, too, see the clearing you’ve found, and your determined yet graceful movement bound for soaring. I like to think of this as a conversation, as you have presented it thus. In the same moment that I smile about you two sharing coffee, I am reconsidering so much of what I never doubted or even thought to question.

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick April 25, 2012 at

    Wow, Currie. Thank you!

    Reply

    Heather Plett April 24, 2012 at

    Really beautiful, Ronna. Thank you for having the courage to walk this path and re-tell these stories.
    Heather Plett recently posted..How to create Joy

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick April 25, 2012 at

    Mmmmm, so appreciate these words, Heather – and you. Thank you.

    Reply

    carole April 25, 2012 at

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/search?q=divine+women Hi ronna, here is a link to BBC iplayer and a programme being aired here in the UK at the moment. Divine Women, a great herstory programme about women and religion over the centuries.

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick April 28, 2012 at

    Thank you!

    Reply

    Callahan McDonough April 27, 2012 at

    I have been waiting to read this one, knew it would move me Ronna, and of course I am eyes teared up now. So true how we have often sold our very soul and many times men have promised to be there for us and betrayed in the very next moment their promise. How often the stories of women have been distorted. The telling of our stories was and is the foundation of the women’s movement of having alliances to transcend the distortion. So glad to have your stories/writing in my life, all our lives.
    Peace,
    Callahan

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick April 28, 2012 at

    And my eyes tear up reading your words, your heart, Callahan. Thank you.

    Reply

    Karen Sharp April 29, 2012 at

    This is big, Ronna.

    I also never thought about this part of Sarai’s story. I’ve always focused on the later parts of the story.

    I’m sitting here stunned.

    And now I’m inexorably thinking ahead to the end of her story. In Jewish tradition, it’s said that when Abraham almost sacrificed Isaac, an angel told Sarah what was happening and she cried out in rage and grief and pain, and her grief is what killed her. (By Jewish exigetical traditions, the actions are considered linked because the story of Sarah’s death immediately follows the story of the Binding of Isaac.)

    Stunned.

    There is hatred in this story. She has every right to hate Abraham.
    And perhaps she even does.

    Reply

    Ronna Detrick April 30, 2012 at

    It’s a complex story, to be sure Karen. Which is what I love about it – and so many others. When we turn it a different way, look at it through a different lens, change our perspective even the slightest amount, something new and profound is seen. And for me, when such happens, I am reminded that God does, indeed, exist.

    A few more “conversations” will ensue in my writing before I get to the Abraham/Isaac debacle. ‘Love this midrash on Sarah’s experience of the story. Thank you!

    Reply

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