Free subscriptions to Moondance

Fiction

Not All Who Wander Are Lost

Many times during my life I’ve changed location, moving from one side of the country to the opposite, south to north, most recently back south. Each change of place presents challenges, yet I eventually conclude, “This is where I belong for now.”

In recent years I’ve wondered how different the experiences of patriarchs and heroes of Hebrew Scripture might have been had they been women. As a result I’ve written a collection of stories imagining them as women. The story of a female Abraham fits your forthcoming theme of change, I believe.

“Leave your country,” God told Abraham, “and go to the land I will show you.” Had Abraham been a woman, what might she have experienced as she followed God’s call to venture far from home?

 

Even as a child I was restless, often escaping the light around the

evening fire to venture into the surrounding darkness. Further and

further I wandered, during the day and after dark, until I was familiar

with every knoll and dip in the surrounding landscape. With my eyes

closed I could see what the sun looked like as it rose over the lands to

the east and set beyond the distant hills to the west.

 

What was on the other side of the river, I wondered. Beyond the

distant hills? I also entertained questions about God Most High. Did 

she reside beyond the mountains? In the cities? I dreamed of

exploring distant lands and finding her dwelling places.

 

My father assured me that the land on the other side of the river was

probably the same as it was on our side. It was not appropriate for a

young woman to go there, he insisted. Or to search for God Most

High. It did not matter if God Most High dwelt beyond the mountain

or in the city; what was important was that she was with us.

His simple answers made me even more impatient to journey afar. I

became convinced that my homeland was no place for one like me. A

curious woman.

 

A woman who sought adventure.

 

***

 

For generations the god of my people has been God Most High, the

one who stirs the heavens and earth, who destroys and rescues. Like

others, my husband and I made sacrifices to her out of fear. Yet

questions kept coming to me: If she was to be feared, why had she

created the peaceful stream I took clear water from? Why did my

whole being rejoice when I held a soft fox kit?

 

It is as if it happened in another lifetime, that day long ago when she

first came to me. I had just started to explore a shallow cave when I

heard a voice: “We are alike, you know, both adventuresome.”

Instinctively I knew it was the voice of God Most High. “Who but an

adventuresome god would have created contradiction?” she asked.

“Henna and thistle, for example. The poisonous berry and sweet

date. The booming shout of a man and the gentle song of a mother

with her infant.”

 

“I have often considered the rose and the thorn,” I answered. “The

playful cub that becomes a fierce lion. Why did you create animals so

that they must eat each other to survive? Why did you create a world

with the serene beauty of a meadow, yet also the storm and

earthquake?” I had scores of questions.

 

 After we’d engaged in a lengthy discussion, God Most High told me,

“You do not belong among people who have answers but no

questions. I have a better place for you, a place where you can

flourish, where your intelligence will serve you well.”

 

 My intelligence? No one before had ever said I was intelligent.

 

 “In that place I will make of your offspring a great nation, so that you

 will be a blessing to all.”

 

 A new land, a place where I could flourish, she promised. A place

where I would not be considered a nuisance, a woman with too many

questions. A new role: mother, grandmother, ancestor.

 

 As exciting as her invitation sounded, as much as I wanted to follow

the path she had prepared for me, I could not easily separate myself

from my people. Voices within said I should stay with them, try to be

the woman my parents and husband wanted me to be: committed to

kin, contented with the life I had. To embark on a journey would be

leaving familiar customs and language. Memories, too, many of them

pleasant.

 

Leaving all to follow a god I knew mainly through my kin. What if

after forsaking all security I ended up in a faraway land where I

would not flourish, where I would not be a blessing to all? But if I

stayed, my spirit was sure to die.

 

I decided to go, though I knew that convincing my husband would be

a challenge.

 

Hardly anyone understood. “It will be dangerous,” my mother and

aunts said. “Why do you want to go away,” my husband asked, “when

everything you need is right here?” Cousins tried to convince me that

beyond my familiar homeland there was nothing better than what I

already had. I heard whispers, barely within earshot, predicting that

as soon as hardship came I’d be back. Only my oldest sister remained

quiet.

 

At night everyone’s warnings invaded my dreams. I was lost;

strangers were raising their hands against me. Yet when morning

dawned, though I had no more assurance than I’d had the night

before, I would again trust God Most High’s promise to remain with

me. To bless me.

 

There were of course arguments with my husband, who lectured that

it was a woman’s duty to obey. If the husband said stay, the wife

should stay. I kept insisting that a woman must follow the call of God

Most High, until finally, reluctantly, my husband agreed to

accompany me. My favorite niece too, my middle sister’s oldest

daughter, who had started to dream about her own future.

 

We had no trouble deciding what to take, what to leave behind, for

our possessions were few. Nearly everything we planned to carry was

essential for survival: foodstuffs, utensils, medicinal herbs, several

goats and sheep.

 

The evening before we were to leave, my oldest sister drew me aside

and handed me what I recognized as her favorite bracelet. “Take this

with you,” she said, tears in her eyes, “so that a part of me ventures

out too.”

 

It had not occurred to me that she might also want to make the

journey. Her foot had been crushed by a ewe when she’d been but a

baby, and as the oldest daughter she was expected to care for our

parents. I had assumed she was content to stay.

As I put the bracelet on my arm, I knew my journey would be for her

as well.

 

Ah, I remember the day of departure as if it were yesterday. Of

course I cried—from fear or relief or sorrow, I do not know—as our

small caravan set out in the faint light of early morning. I led the way,

on foot, my head held high, my gaze fixed on the distant horizon.

 

***

 

Since God Most High had promised to bless me, I assumed that my

travels would be without hardship and danger. And indeed the

journey was easy at first. I was thrilled by each new vista and took

delight in moving forward.

 

But I discovered that while I sometimes journeyed in the protective

shadow of God Most High, she remained at other times beyond my

reach. Upon her reappearance I would build an altar, partly to honor

and thank her for safely bringing me that far, and partly so that it

could serve as a meeting place for the two of us.

 

***

 

Many nights I would throw a blanket over my shoulders and step out

of the tent. The nights were cold and clear, with stars so brilliant I felt

as if I could reach up and pluck some from the sky. Only my

husband’s snores and the faint sounds of restless animals broke the

stark mantel of silence. Seated upon a large rock or on the ground, I

spoke with God Most High. Rather she spoke to me, reminding me

over and over that I was intelligent, capable and lovely, for I still did

not always believe affirming words.

 

Gradually, as I began to understand that I was worthy of blessing, the

encounters changed. God Most High asked what I had been thinking,

laughed at my jokes, praised my ingenuity. I too listened as she

spoke of loneliness, for many had forsaken my dear friend and turned

to other gods. In those moments of honesty I discovered what a true

companion I had gained. Not only one who accompanied me on the

arduous journey, inspiring me to go forward and not be afraid, but

one who understood me better than I understood myself.

 

There were times too, when for hours the two of us argued, each

defending a position, neither willing to acquiesce. They were

pleasurable too, the disagreements, for I did not have to protect my

friend’s feelings of competence, and my own mind was challenged.

 

 “How can I truly know you?” I asked one night.

 

 “Knowing me,” she said, “will take a lifetime.”

 

I was disappointed, but as our caravan journeyed the following day,

I considered her response. Ah, I finally saw: her nature was not a

mystery to be solved; on the contrary it opened to questions without

answers. Then to more questions. The quest to fathom her nature was

for a mind that relished searching but was content not to find. A mind

like mine, for I had no wish to build a prison of knowledge around

her.

 

***

 

To find the place where she belongs, where she will flourish, a woman

sometimes has to change directions several times. While God Most

High has a destination in mind, she’s often attending to other

business. More than once I found myself in rugged terrain, making

slow and laborious progress.

 

There was a period when many days passed without any sign of God

Most High. One day our caravan would be battered by the harshness

of the sun, the next by the ferocity of the wind.

 

“I should have known better than to follow a woman,” my husband

complained.

 

I had assumed I could handle hardship. After all, I had brought along

sufficient supplies. Besides, God Most High had said I was an

intelligent woman. But now the dry earth I trod became the parched

soil of my soul, and I knew that nothing could grow there. It was

unexpected, this sense of desolation. Scanning the landscape, I saw

nothing that made me hopeful. I questioned the wisdom of having left

security behind and began to doubt God Most High’s lofty promises.

 

When would I find a place where I could flourish? How would a great

nation come of me if I had no children? A blessing to all? Hardly.

 

At those times of hopelessness, I often glanced down and saw my

sister’s bracelet on my wrist. I reminded myself that she would

rejoice if she had legs strong enough to be making this journey. Her

ongoing determination to survive sustained me. She, more than

anyone, would be disappointed if I returned home.

 

It’s part of the journey, I discovered: enduring times of emptiness

and discouragement as well as those of satisfaction.

 

***

 

“But you have brought us back to Bethel,” I complained to God Most

High. We had journeyed in a circle.

 

“This is the in-between place, not the final destination,” she

explained.

 

At Bethel my niece and I prospered, accumulating gold and silver,

numerous flocks and herds, too. As we discussed our achievements

one evening, asserting as we often did that success comes to those

who risk, I noticed that I was sliding my sister’s bracelet up and down

my arm. It occurred to me that she did not have the freedom to risk.

Her injured body and loyalty to our parents bound her to one place

so that she would never have my wealth. Neither would she ever be

able to experience the euphoria of standing atop a mountain, gazing

in every direction and seeing the wondrous beauty.

 

Until that moment I had simply accepted God Most High’s

explanations for why I was chosen, her words about my intellect and

adventuresome spirit pleasing to my ear. Yet my equally intelligent

sister yearned for adventure and success too. How, I began to

wonder, can a woman feel blessed if her sister has had no similar

opportunities?

 

Until that moment I had assumed that my wealth was the blessing

God Most High had promised. But there had been another part of the

promise. “So that you will be a blessing to all.” Now I saw that most of

my energy went into guarding my possessions. Instead of being a

blessing to all, I was using my riches to gain stature and power. I had

ceased wondering about her glorious creation.

 

That is when the restlessness returned. What was on the other side of

the river? Beyond the mountains? The prospect of newness again

excited me. New people, new landscapes. New opportunities to

become a blessing for others rather than a woman whose primary

goal was to accumulate.

 

My husband whined that life was good in Bethel; it made no sense to

leave. My niece said she was ready to move on too. We decided to go

in separate directions, though. She chose the plain; my husband and

I headed toward the mountains.

 

*** 

 

I awoke from a deep sleep, seized by terror. I had no idea what the

source of my anxiety was, only a feeling of deep, deep dread.

 

I called out to God Most High.

 

Only an abyss of silence came back to me. Dark, empty silence.

 

 Then I sensed that she had approached. Yet she said nothing.

 “Speak to me,” I shouted. “Tell me, why do I feel this way?”

 I was trembling by now. Though I was awake, I pictured as in a

dream rows and rows of people, their heads lowered as they walked,

walked, into a powerful wind. I could not see their faces, yet I

recognized in the slump of their shoulders, the slow plodding, that

they were despondent.

I began to weep. “What does it mean? What does it mean?” I begged

to know.

 

As she replied, I could hear a sorrow that seemed to pierce the very

being of God Most High. “You are looking into the future with me.

These are your descendents. They will be sojourners in a land that is

not theirs and will be slaves, oppressed for four hundred years.”

 

“Then this journey is in vain,” I cried out. “Why should I struggle to

find a place that offers heartache?”

 

“Because I am always creating. Even when my wishes for harmony

are thwarted I will be their god. I will comfort them. Leave the future

to me.”

 

*** 

 

I have lived my full span of years. I have buried my husband in the

cave where I too will be laid to rest.

 

The journey was long and arduous, but eventually I arrived in this

land. I have truly flourished, where I have been blessed with children

and grandchildren who admire the harmony of God Most High’s

creation and praise her for it. They too are restless and full of

questions. I have taught them that God Most High is a god of mystery

and that while she delights in their efforts to understand her, she

cannot be contained.

 

I am a woman of wealth, but that is not the blessing that was

promised. Being blessed is less tangible than silver and gold; it is the

sense of well-being that comes with trusting God Most High’s

promises, in seeing my heirs come to trust her as well, in having my

neighbors view me as a woman of integrity and wisdom. My talents

and intellect have indeed made me a blessing to all.

 

The journey itself was part of the blessing. I have been allowed to see

what’s beyond the next mountain, on the other side of the river. The

times that have been arid or fraught with dangers—they have been

part of the blessing too, for I have survived them. A woman learns

from such times. She learns that she is strong and capable. Such

knowledge is certainly a blessing.

 

I have had the opportunity to be not just a wanderer over land but a

wanderer in my mind as well. Since I was young I have explored the

mysteries of God Most High. Sometimes I have been allowed to spend

time in her shadow; at other times I have walked and walked but she

has been beyond my reach. The times with her, even those spent

searching for her, have been a blessing.

 

Has my name become great? That is for future generations to decide.

If it is to be, the greatness will be the result of putting myself in new

situations, facing the challenges, taking actions that will provide a

better place for my neighbors and descendents.

 

I often think of my oldest sister. I do not know whether or not she

still breathes. I assume she lived out her days as our mother and her

mother and our grandmother’s mother lived theirs. Several times I

have wondered about God Most High’s intentions. Why should I have

flourished while my sister had no similar opportunities?

 

If I could see her again, what would I tell her? Not that God Most

High chose me. No, that would be wrong. I would hold my sister in

my arms and first thank her for her hard work and the care she gave

our parents. I would tell her that if her life has had few rewards, I am

sorry she did not have the opportunities I had. I would tell her that

all along the journey her bracelet has been a reminder that she is

with me.

 

Yes, I know that the blessing of God Most High was not mine alone. It

was also for the many who were unable to make the journey.

Leave a Reply

  

  

  

You can use these HTML tags

<a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>