Saturday, July 31, 2010

The Gods of our Fathers

Sometimes it is hard to be married to a man with a big idea, especially when the name of his big idea is God. It has a way of disturbing the comfort of the whole household. Life had its moments while we still lived in Ur, because Abram didn’t worship in the temples or do some of the other things that all our friends and acquaintances did, but generally, because we were wealthy family of high rank, and because Abram was unfailing pleasant, polite and generous, it was regarded as an endearing eccentricity, and left at that.

It was different living in the same house. I had grown up believing in the deities of Ur, as any well-bred girl should, especially devoted to the moon god Nanna, whose principal temple was right in our city. I had been taught all my life that we humans existed in order to delight the gods – they needed our worship and sacrifices in order to be happy, and, conversely, they would be angry with anyone who failed to give them honour. Imagine how I felt on my wedding night when my glorious young husband told me that he wasn’t sure he believed in that! Had I married a blasphemer? Would we lie under the curse of the gods because of Abram’s unbelief?

The trouble was, I liked Abram’s God. We had always had a vague idea in our family that there was another God, vague and nameless, far beyond and above the civic deities, a sense that there was something more to the universe than what we had generally been told. But it was not a belief that had ever disrupted our lives in any way. How could it? An unknown God, with no temples or images or name or stated character – He was a rumour from a far country of the spirit, not part of our daily lives. But as the years passed, and Abram shared with me his vision of the one true God, I had to admit I found him far more attractive than the gods of our fathers. But one fear haunted me and held me back from complete surrender to his faith: I was barren. How could that not be the curse of the gods upon my husband’s unbelief? If this God of Abram’s was really all-powerful, wouldn’t he reward his one faithful servant with a son – with many sons?

Then one day, when life had settled down into comfortable patterns, and I had long-since put away my broken dreams of motherhood, Abram announced that his god had told him to leave Ur, to take all his household out into the desert, and follow the guidance of this unknown god to a land we did not know. Of course I cried, of course I screamed, of course I asked him, not once but many times, if he had gone completely mad – and all the while he just kept quietly insisting that we must all be obedient to God.

Of course, in the end I went with him. Truth be told, by that stage, I was rather looking forward to it. I knew I would not be in need or discomfort, and who would have expected to be starting on such a great adventure at our age? Besides, I loved this man, and through the years of our marriage the substance of ourselves had been woven together so deeply .. I needed to understand this God of his, and it seemed it would be easier far away from Ur, away from the temples and the processions and the whole social fabric that sang to me about the gods of our fathers. The desert roads are clear and bright, perhaps in those uncrowded lands it would be easier to only have one god?

And so we set out on a journey that was the beginning of something I had never imagined. The years flow together in my memory, the moments of shame and glory, the ordinary days and the strangeness and the wonder breaking through. And round about me the clear, almost unwavering faith of my husband. Oh yes, there were times when it wavered, he is a man still, even though he has walked with God, the times when ... But no, none of that matters now. All those mistakes are hidden under the mercy of the one I have learned to call my God as well. But only now, in these last weeks have the last of my fears and doubts disappeared. For only now, in my extreme old age, the god of my husband Abram has given me a son. And now I know, fully and completely, that the gods of our fathers have no power, they were, all along, just the tragic, broken myths of men.

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