painting travellers chatting on a road

Reflecting on Genesis 21 8-20

Considering the challenges of our text for Sunday, January 9, and considering how close we are to the beginning of a new year, maybe the main question this text will raise for us is: how do we want to write our own stories? What do we want our own stories to include, and to exemplify, when it comes to the way we treat “the others” in our lives, and when it comes to the way we deal with the consequences of our pasts? Whatever life stories the “people like us” and the culture around us would support us in creating? Those are awfully big questions, but as we are studying Genesis 21:8-20 for this coming Sunday, we are probably led right to them. [Some notes on the text are here.] Here are a few more questions we might want to think about, or discuss in class:

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How does the way we feel about the characters in this story, and what we think of their behavior, seem to depend on the way we imagine the scene, and the way we imagine their relationships? Why is that, do we think?

How do we imagine the scene, and their relationships? And what are other ways we could imagine it, that are left open by the text we have? How would our thoughts and feelings change if we imagined the story differently? Why is that, do we think?

[More theoretical, but also practical] What are the implications of this exercise for our thinking and feeling more generally? For noticing and working with the assumptions we make about people?

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What does God do, and what does God say, in this story? How would we describe God’s actions? God’s speech? [for instance, kind? observant? caring, compassionate? other?] Why? What do we learn about God in this story?

[More personal] Implications of that for us, and our own relationship with God?

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Where do we see love in this story, and how do we see it being expressed? Love by whom, for what, or for whom?

Where do we ourselves feel love in this story? For what, or for whom? Why is that, do we think?

What do we learn about ourselves in looking at this story this way?

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Overall, we may want to reflect on the profoundly human character of this tale – and on the remarkable fact that the characters, or some of them, encounter God in the midst of this very messy human situation. If that realization seems to us to make even this very messy human situation a place of tremendous hope and promise – we may want to reflect on that, too, especially here at the beginning of a new year.

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travellers stopping for a conversation by a wooded stream

Image: “Der Plausch am Weg” [the chat on the way], Oswald Achenbach, public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

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