If Together is All That We’ve Got
Episode 18 – November 4, 2018
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Updates on the East Gwillimbury-Whitchurch Stouffville election for English Public School Board trustee:
The Sun Harmonic – “Rivers will Rise”
Christa Couture – “Aux Oiseaux”
Reading No. 1
Read by Bri-anne, on the streets of Queensville, East Gwillimbury, Ontario
Reading No. 2
As I’ve mentioned more than a few times before, I am a mama to two, very adorable (if I do say so myself) little boys. Most of the time, I really like their company. But sometimes…sometimes a mama just needs to be by herself, ya know? A few years ago, when I was about 10 months pregnant with my second child, my husband came home from work and I very quickly handed him my then two-year-old so that I could have a moment…just one moment…before we all sat down together for dinner. We lived in a very tiny apartment in Toronto, so the only place one could really be alone was the bathroom. I ran a tub. I got the Epsom salts. I sank into the water and closed my eyes. 10 minutes. Just 10 minutes was all I needed.
But then…the creeeeeeeeeaaakkkkk…. The sound of tiny feet. And that feeling of, “If I don’t see it…if I don’t open my eyes, maybe this isn’t happening…”
But of course, that tiny voice…
“Don’t worry, Mama. It’s okay. I found you.” As if he were doing me a great service. As if I had been lost…
Where you go, I will go…
Our readings from today can kinda be found on the Greatest Hits album of scripture. If you are somebody who has spent much time in church, the story of Ruth and Naomi is likely one that is familiar to you. This particular passage is also frequently used at Christian and Jewish weddings. In fact, the words Ruth speaks to Naomi are the closest thing in the bible to what many modern wedding vows look like. “Through sickness and in health…til death do us part…”
There are a couple of things that are helpful to keep in mind as we wind our way through this story which we will be exploring over the course of two weeks.
The first: It is likely that the intended audience would have immediately understood this story as a parable, and not historical. Each of the names here serves a narrative function, from Elimelech (loosely, My God is King) to Naomi (“pleasing”) and their son Mahlon (“sickness”) and Kilion (“wasting”). All the men die – and we’re not told how. It’s not really important. But what we’re left with is a drama, initially set up as a story framed around men, quickly becoming a story set up around two women. Take notice folks – there are only two books in the Bible named after a woman, and this is one of them.
Over the centuries, this story has come to mean many different things for many different peoples. It is both one of the joys – and one of the frustrations of scripture – there is usually something that speaks to everybody, in many different ways. I have heard this story used to highlight the plight of refugees attempting to find acceptance in Canada. I’ve heard this passage used to espouse the ideals of loyalty, and duty to family still expected of women in some Christian congregations. And this passage is also emphasized within various queer Christian communities. As I mentioned earlier, this passage has been read at weddings – mostly heterosexual weddings – for ages, so I find this perspective and understanding especially delicious. It deserves some time to explore and I promise we will be doing that next week, as we move through the rest of Ruth and Naomi’s story because our reading from today – it is only the tip of the iceberg of a much more complex story.
So, we have all these different angles through which to hear this parable, but the piece that has always jumped out at me is that by the end of this chapter, these two women are completely enmeshed with one another – their destinies are tied.
Where you lodge, I shall lodge, your people shall be my people, where you die, I will die and there I will be buried.
Another translation of what we heard as “lodge” is to complain, or to suffer. Ruth and Naomi are not about to set out on the Yellow Brick Road, skipping along on their way to Bethlehem. There is a reason scripture calls us to look after the Widows and the Orphans – these women’s situation is pretty desperate. And not only are they returning to Bethlehem as widows, but now Naomi’s bringing along a Moabite, a foreigner. And not just a foreigner, but an enemy foreigner. The worst of the worst. Two different books in the Hebrew scriptures speak about the dangers of taking foreign wives. This parable is speaking directly to that fear of the foreigner. It’s very possible that Ruth wasn’t actually doing Naomi any favours in accompanying her back to her homeland. Ruth may be committed to Naomi’s well being, but Naomi is also risking as well. She is silent, says no more, and faithfully brings Ruth with her to her homeland.
And they are…they are enmeshed….
The idea that our lives and our destinies are tied to other…it’s pretty counter-cultural in the current and prevailing North American context. Individualism and self-sufficiency are highly valued. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, right.
And yet we also heard some familiar words from our buddy Jesus, who, being Jewish, would have grown up knowing the story of Ruth and Naomi. In the Gospel reading, Jesus utters the famous words, “love your neighbour as yourself”. Speaking of Greatest Hits, right? But “greatest hits” run the risk of becoming trite, and losing some of their power. I, myself, often run the risk of hearing “Love Your Neighbour as Yourself” as an extension of “The Golden Rule” – Do unto others as you would have them do unto you”. But I wonder if it is more than that…I wonder if it is a call not only about action but about how we conceptualize ourselves in relation to others. Today, at this moment, I don’t hear a call to love my neighbour as much as myself, but rather that my neighbour is me, and I am them, and our destinies are tied to one another. That who I am and my identity is not entirely inseparable from the conditions and circumstances and experiences of those around me. We are all…enmeshed.
Absolutely, it is easier to see ourselves connected and enmeshed with certain other people. For example, my life and my son’s life are enmeshed by virtue of the fact that he depends on me for his physical, emotional and spiritual safety and wellbeing. But as I look out into our community, especially the newly developing communities in Queensville and Sharon, I see the ways in which neighbours are pushing back, embracing this counter-cultural and almost subversive idea of being tied to one another. We use WhatsApp to communicate, and it is nothing for one member to put out a call for help at 11:00pm because of an emergency leak that is seeping into her electrical, and another heading over immediately, without question, to help shut off the breakers. I see it in the way these neighbours have worked together in advocating for public space and safer roads. And I am hopeful…I am hopeful I will see more examples of White Canadians (of which I am one) recognizing that our spirits and, dare I say, our destinies are enmeshed with all our relations, and that when we rant and rave about “burning it all down” – about tearing down systems of injustice – it is not only for “the other”.
We – and I say this “we” delicately – are not whole when there is suffering. It’s pushing back against, “if I don’t see it, if I don’t open my eyes, then maybe it isn’t happening.”
So Ruth and Naomi are on a journey. And it is scary. Terrifying really. They are tied to each other. And as much as I wanted to be alone just for that moment, I am tied to Isaiah. I eventually brought him in the bath with me. Sometimes you just need a mama. And all of us are tied…we are tied in the longing…in the complaining and the suffering. As we will hear in a moment from Christa Couture:
Guess what!? I’m glad that we’re here in this dump.
If together is all that we’ve got, it’s enough for us not to give up.
We will go…we will go where the shadows grow. It is not always a feel-good story. But it is still a story of hope and one that’s worth owning and nurturing.