Wednesday, January 29, 2014 – Week of 3 Epiphany, Year Two
[Go to Mission St Clare for an online version of the Daily Office including today’s scripture readings.]
Today’s Readings for the Daily Office:
Psalms 119:49-72 (morning) // 49,  (evening)
As a Christian feminist, I’ve been trained to search the Scriptures for the voice of a God who frees people from gender-based submission, discrimination, and oppression. I was surprised then when, a number of years ago, I read today’s first reading and felt like God was speaking these words directly to me: “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.”
The Biblical context for these words is distant from my own. In the book of Genesis, the angel of the Lord speaks these words to Hagar, a young Egyptian slave, who was instructed by her mistress Sarai to sleep with Abram and conceive a child, and whom Sarai then treated harshly because of Sarai’s own jealousy and anger. Abram even gave Sarai permission to treat Hagar terribly: “Your slave-girl is in your power; do to her as you please.”
Hagar runs away into the wilderness, but the angel of the Lord finds her. The angel asks where she has come from and where she is going, but Hagar tells him only that she is running away from Sarai. (She doesn’t seem to know where she’s headed after that.) And then, the angel tells her to return and submit to her mistress Sarai again.
When I read the angel’s words for myself, I was in a difficult spot in my professional life. It’s a long story, but someone I was accountable to thought I’d neglected an important responsibility. In fact, someone else had taken on that responsibility, and I was overwhelmed with other seemingly impossible duties, and people in charge had lost track of how tasks had been divided and delegated. Stress led to misunderstanding which led to “venting” (gossip) at my expense, which made it back to me, etc. Perhaps you’ve been in a similar mess.
So, I was a little like Hagar: in a position with little authority and a lot of responsibility, and wronged by people who had more power than I did and who let their anxieties and vulnerabilities get the better of them. And, I believe that God did for me what he did for Hagar: Sent his angel running after me, and told me to get my act together.
I’m generally a compliant and reliable team-player, but there I was, emotionally running away from some uncomfortable power dynamics, and nursing the injustices that I felt had been done to me. Hagar endured levels of oppression that I’ve never had to endure, of course, and I know that urging submission can be destructive and oppressive in many cases. But it did my soul good to stop in its tracks and quit running from an unfair and out-of-control situation.
If God is beckoning you toward freedom, health, and salvation, then, by all means, keep running and don’t look back. But if God might be advising you to return, then stop and listen. Who is your “mistress”? How can you conduct yourself with integrity and dignity in her presence, even when a situation is unfair? Can you recognize the inadequacies and unfairnesses in Sarai’s own life, which she takes out on you? Can you enter the dance of asserting and submitting, negotiating and accepting, fighting and forgiving, instead of simply fleeing to the lonely wilderness? Maybe, just maybe, an angel is whispering, “Return to your mistress, and submit to her.”
Lora Walsh blogs about taking risks and seeking grace at A Daily Scandal. She serves as curate of Grace Episcopal Church in Siloam Springs and as director of the Ark Fellows, an Episcopal Service Corps program sponsored by St. Paul’s in Fayetteville, Arkansas.