Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. 2 I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. 3 I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.’ Genesis 12:1-3
I have been reflecting on Abram (who became Abraham) in recent weeks, partly because of last Sunday’s sermon but also because his story may offer something for us today in this season of COVID-19.
Abram had already moved once, with his Father’s household from Ur to Harran and now God was inviting him to leave this land, his people to go on a journey to a destination that he does not know, nor has it been told to him. Oh yes, and he is 75 years old when he sets out!
I think there is a useful parallel here with this season of COVID-19 – one of the things we have had to embrace is uncertainty. That is not easy – many of us far rather have plans but how can you plan in this time….so much is uncertain! Can we travel in a few months? Will we have a second wave? We don’t know….. When is it safe to meet friends and when can we start hugging people?! (Apologies to the nonhuggers reading this!)
We have embarked on a journey and we do not know what the destination will look like. It seems to me that Abram in his life teaches us not just about faithfulness but also about trust and putting proper weight on that.
The Franciscan, Brennan Manning, speaks of this:
“The way of trust is a movement into obscurity, into the undefined, into ambiguity, not into some predetermined, clearly delineated plan for the future. The next step discloses itself only out of a discernment of God acting in the desert of the present moment. The reality of naked trust is the life of the pilgrim who leaves what is nailed down, obvious, and secure, and walks into the unknown without any rational explanation to justify the decision or guarantee the future. Why? Because God has signaled the movement and offered it his presence and his promise.”
I think this describes the arc of Abram’s life and perhaps enables us to be ok with embracing uncertainty. However, we do not do so alone – that is the important point here. Jesus regularly promises that God will be with us always and he often greeted the disciples with ‘Peace’ and told them to not be afraid.
This is not to say that life will be easy. Manning’s life was marked with suffering, so when he writes this he does so from an authentic lived out experience:
“Uncompromising trust in the love of God inspires us to thank God for the spiritual darkness that envelops us, for the loss of income, for the nagging arthritis that is so painful, and to pray from the heart, “Abba, into your hands I entrust my body, mind, and spirit and this entire day—morning, afternoon, evening, and night. Whatever you want of me, I want of me, falling into you and trusting in you in the midst of my life. Into your heart I entrust my heart, feeble, distracted, insecure, uncertain. Abba, unto you I abandon myself in Jesus our Lord. Amen.”
Those of you who have been taking part in our pattern of Daily Prayer on weekdays will be familiar with this idea of entrusting..of the letting go of attachments that are not properly ours….and to live in that reality (it leads to a lot less anxiety!).
Finally, I want to retell a common story quoted in Manning’s book (but is quoted extensively elsewhere) about an encounter the ethicist John Kavanaugh had when he went to work for a few months at “the house of the dying” in Calcutta, desiring clarity for the rest of his life.
On the first morning there he met Mother Teresa. She asked, “And what can I do for you?” Kavanaugh asked her to pray for him.
“What do you want me to pray for?” she asked. He voiced the request that he had borne thousands of miles form the United States: “Pray that I have clarity.” She said firmly, “No, I will not do that.”
When he asked her why, she said, “Clarity is the last thing you are clinging to and must let go of.”
When Kavanaugh commented that she always seemed to have the clarity he longed for, she laughed and said, “I have never had clarity; what I have always had is trust. So I will pray that you trust God.”
May we learn how to renew our trust in God in these days….and be ok with uncertainty.  Brennan Manning, Ruthless Trust: The Ragamuffin's Path to God