Tuesday, February 26, 2013

My Journey: Empty Arms

There is a story in the old testament of a woman named Ruth. You are probably familiar with the lines from the story that are often read of sung at weddings: whither thou goest… Many people don’t know that these words in the context of the story had nothing to do with the romantic love assigned to them at weddings. Rather they are the cry of a grieving wife who does not want to lose what family she has left.

The story begins with Ruth’s mother-in-law, Naomi, her husband, and two sons who were Israelites. There was famine in their homeland, so they moved to Moab. Naomi’s husband dies, her sons marry foreign women, then both sons die. Naomi, left with nothing but two foreign daughters-in-law, decides to go home. The girls think to go with her, but Naomi discourages them. Ruth refuses to leave. Here is the verse in a more modern translation, in context: But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.”

So the two women return to Israel—Naomi, a bitter old woman, and Ruth, a foreigner. Ruth goes out to glean grain in the fields, or pick up leftovers from the harvest, so they can eat. She happens to land in the field of Boaz, an older man and a kinsman. Naomi walks her through the traditions of claiming her right to be redeemed by her husband’s family. Boaz agrees and marries Ruth. When their first child is born, Ruth lays the baby boy on Naomi’s lap, inviting the older woman to be the child’s nurse.

In the story, Boaz was Ruth’s redeemer, but he was also Naomi’s, until she had what she needed, until the child was laid on her lap. Once she had the child to care for, she didn’t need Boaz to care for her any longer.

Boaz, in Christian theology, represents a type of Christ as redeemer, something I very much needed in my state of mind. Much of the anger that welled up in me was a result of having nothing to do with my hands, nothing that I should normally be attending to after nine months of pregnancy.

My sweet husband was wise enough to see my frustration and understand the root of that anger. He reminded me of Naomi’s story. Christ, he said, was the only one who could redeem the emptiness of my arms. My husband and my children could comfort me, but they could not replace what I had lost. Only God could do that. Could I somehow allow Christ to be something to me that he had not been before, to be a redeemer in a way I had never known? He understood the emptiness. Remember his cry on the cross, My God, why have you forsaken me?

What did all this mean? How did it work? Would it work? I didn’t have an answer for those questions, but I pondered it for a long time. When I was angry or frustrated or lonely, I tried to imagine myself like Naomi, sitting in Boaz’s house, waiting for the child to be laid on my lap. I have a pretty good imagination and I have no problems using it to place myself into the stories of the Bible, or into my picture of who and what God is to me. If God is supernatural and he created us, then he had to give us some way to intuit that supernatural presence in our natural world. I believe the imagination is His gift, a tool we can use for that purpose.

Boaz’s house was a good place for me to be.

[Lest you think I've totally lost my mind about using the imagination in this way, see these references:
Ignatian Contemplation
Oswald Chambers, My Utmost for His Highest, Feb 10, Feb 11.
Interview with musician, Michael Card.
Leanne Payne writes extensively about the "true imagination" in her book, The Healing Presence.
Google "holy imagination." You'll get some crackpot stuff, but also some valuable information.]

1 comment:

  1. Your husband is also wise, Dori. What a loving thing, to offer a story that did help.