I love the automated carwash. I don’t go there often, but I love it. Not those places that make you get out of the car, either. It has to be the one where you pull up to the track, put your car in neutral, take your hands off the wheel, and get dragged through a tunnel of spraying foam, slapping spaghetti, whirring brushes, and air blowers. I think it’s exciting – an outside force pulling me closer to a clean car. The an outside force pulled our car into a dark tunnel as spraying foam, slapping spaghetti, and whirring brushes violently beat the car. My soothing ministrations from the front seat did nothing to alleviate their terror. An outside force pulled them forward, and none of us could control it. It’s terrifying when you think about it.
Sound familiar? Have you ever felt that life pulled you along and you were not in control? Most of life feels that way. Life seems to take us for a ride and we don’t do much to resist. Some people are happy with this. They like it when life is predictable: wake up, brush teeth, work, eat, watch TV, read the paper, go to bed.
The problem is that most of us don’t want to admit that we live predictable lives. We try to break out of our ordinary routines. We find it difficult to escape feeling trapped by a life that pulls us into some unknown but monotonous future. Consider the following accounts of couples who think their relationships are pulled along by life:
· A wife named Megan writes, “It depresses me to think that I’ll never have romance again. I’m happily married, but the romance is gone between us and sometimes I think about having an affair. Is this it? Love without romance for the rest of my life?
· Carla describes a similar concern. She says, “I Love my husband and we get along well. But sometimes I think, is this it? Most nights I get home from work first and fix dinner. Then Dan comes home, we eat, he gets the kids ready for bed while I clean up. We watch a little TV together and go to bed. Saturday we take care of chores. Sunday we do something as a family. We make love once a week or so. I know we have a better marriage than a lot of our friends, but it’s all so routine. I keep feeling something’s wrong with me for wanting more. I’m bored. I love Dan, but he’s like an old comfortable shoe. Am I being childish to think there should be more than this?”[i]
Some people feel that same way about their faith. In High School, I felt that the church that I grew up in was full of boring hypocrites. I looked around and asked, “Is this it?” Eventually, I wandered away from that church and worshipped with some fundamental Baptists. Their faith seemed more alive. Their services focused more on relationships than tradition. They did not sing hymns and there was no organ in the church. They had a worship band and sang simple choruses with smiles on their faces. Of course, after a while I felt like I they were in a rut. I asked, “Is this it?” and looked for something new.
Sometimes we are restless wanderers, looking to find a home. We want more out of life. We want adventure and comfort, freshness and familiarity, and we want them all at once.
I wonder if Abraham and Sarah ever felt this way. In a few lines of text from Genesis, I hear our story. When we first meet Abraham, he is living his prescribed life. Like other nomads of the time, he takes a wife, as he migrates from place to place, buying and selling goods. The Bible calls Abraham a Hebrew and an Aramean. These words were common terms for “semi-nomad”, until they were replaced with the catchall term -- Arab. Abraham is not a wanderer and he is not settled. He’s a combination. He is the perpetual stranger in a strange land, the outsider who longs to be the insider, the person of faith who yearns for God to soothe his painful life.[ii]
One day life changes. Maybe it started out like any other day for Abraham. He and his wife are childless, stuck near the city, watching sheep, bartering goods, and pulled along by life. For a story that’s consumed with men, lineage, and power, Abraham looks impotent. He comes from a long line of men who can trace their ancestry back to Noah, but he can’t father children of his own to carry on his lineage. He has lived nearly half his life, and nothing exciting has happened to him.
Abraham is seventy-five years old when life changes. God looks for someone special –someone who will appreciate the blessings God has to offer. God needs someone who needs God – someone who will rise to God’s lofty standards. God needs Abraham and Sarah. God summons them to adventure. Honestly, I’m surprised. They are not righteous or special at this point. They aren’t godly people. Abraham is restless and unsure. His life seems suspended with no child. In a story about creation, Abraham and Sarah cannot create. They exert no control over their own lives. They are so utterly human.[iii]
And maybe that’s the point.
When we read about the call of mythic heroes, they share some common elements. Usually, the hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder. He encounters fabulous forces and wins a battle over them. They hero returns from this adventure and shares his newfound power with his fellow humans. Think about mortal Prometheus ascending to the heavens to steal fire from the gods, or Jason sailing through the Clashing Rocks, stealing the golden fleece, and taking the throne back from a usurper. Sometimes the mythic hero is a reject from society who overcomes a symbolic deficiency to fulfill a task from God. Think about the story of Exodus in which stuttering Moses scales Mount Sinai. As Moses climbs the mountain, flashes of lightening and peals of thunder shake the world. God bends the heavens, and moves the earth. In the midst of this holy storm, God gives Moses the Ten Commandments. Moses, in turn, gives them to the people of Israel.[iv]
Abraham is not that kind of hero. Abraham is not really a hero at all. Abraham, is the restless wanderer who simply hears God and follows. God is the real hero of the story, not Abraham. Out of nowhere, God invites Abraham to relate to the world differently. God says, “Abraham, I choose you to be the Father of Blessing to the entire world.” Now Abraham has a choice. Live the same, mundane existence, or live into a new calling that reframes his ordinary life as a life of faith in God.
The story of Abraham and Sarah leads us to that marvelous question. The question is, what are you going to do with your one wild and precious life? [v] There are going to be times when you are faced with the shear ordinariness of your life. You will want some excitement. You may say, I like my life, but is this it?” You will be tempted to slake your thirst for adventure in poisoned streams. Have an affair . . .Drown your boredom with booze . . . Buy an overpriced sports car and relive the fantasy of your youth . . . Over-focus on your career at the expense of relationships . . . Become withdrawn and self-sufficient and alienate your friends and family. Looking at the wilderness that lies ahead, you may choose to avoid it by consuming earthly pleasures. Abraham reminds us that God seeks people who have the bravery to confront the wilderness in their own souls -- people who find their fulfillment in God, not in fulfilling their lusts.
Sometimes we are restless wanderers, looking to find a home. God invites us to journey on which we learn to see life in a new way. The journey begins with faith.
I read that the African impala can jump to a height of over 10 feet and cover a distance of greater than 30 feet. Yet, these magnificent creatures can be kept in an enclosure in any zoo with a 3-foot wall. The animals will not jump if they can’t see where their feet will fall. Faith is the ability to trust what we cannot see. Faith frees us from the flimsy enclosures of life.[vi] Can we respond to the Voice that invites us to leave our old way of being and enter a life beyond unconvincing and confining convention? God speaks words of promise to us. “I will show you a better way, a better country, a new home.” We begin our search with God as our hero – a hero whose quest leads to ordinary, hearts like ours -- restless wanderers who find a way to listen, trust, and leap to God in faith.
[i] Stories paraphrased from We Love Each Other But . . . by Ellen Wachtel (New York: St. Martine, 1999), 187-188.
[ii] Bruce Feiler, Abraham: A Journey to the Heart of Three Faiths (New York: William Morrow, 2002), 21.
[iii] Ibid, 23-24.
[iv] Joseph Campbell, The Hero With A Thousand Faces (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1968), 30-37.
[v] Marcus Borg, “Faith: A Journey of Trust,” http://www.explorefaith.org/LentenHomily03.15.99.html