Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred five years; and Terah died in Haran.
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. 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. 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.” So Abram went, as the LORD had told him.
Gen 11:31-12:4a; expansion of lectionary text for Sunday March 8, 2020.
My name is Abram.
You will know me as Abraham Father of many. You will know me as the rock from which you were hewn, your father of old, whose trust was reckoned as righteousness, who did not withhold even his own son. You will know me as one who was called to go and who went.
But I am not Abraham yet. My name is Abram. And here, at the start of it all, I am not stepping surefooted into any future. I am standing stunned in the remainder of what was. I am seeing it as if for the first time clear-sighted. I am realizing that what I’d taken for shelter turns out to be open to the sky. I wonder if the ruin I now realize is something new or if I have only just noticed what always has been. The shelter seemed sufficient; I never felt the rain. But maybe it had not really rained before. The ground around me is strewn with stones, as if the remains of a fallen building. Not a home. Maybe the foundation for one.
We left our homeland years ago, my father Terah and my wife Sarai and my nephew Lot and myself. My brother already had died. Our father determined to go. We left our homeland, and we set out for Canaan, but we settled elsewhere on our way. It was a place. Good enough for its while. It could not be home — always we were come-theres, not from-theres — but it was a place. We spoke our language and we ate our food and we worshipped our gods and we were together. And I was Abram.
Still I am Abram, but I am no longer sure who Abram is. Was I more Abram when I lived in Ur, with my circle of kindred surrounding? What happened, then, when my brother died? When we left the land of my birth? When we journeyed to another land? The words and food and gods were different. How was I Abram then? And now? My brother is died; my father now too. I have only just realized that I am adrift. Not anchored in any place. This no-place is is not in the land of my birth nor the land we had traveled toward. We had settled here, and I had thought we had built here a stable shelter. But now I look up and see broken walls unroofed, open to the sky. Now I look around and see the ground strewn with stones. Maybe events have tumbled the building; or maybe we never had built the edifice we had imagined, the shelter we had thought we lived in.
Gather myself. Clear the rubble into some sort of order. Set the larger stones here; the smaller pieces there. Maybe a new foundation can be laid.
Gather myself. Or feel myself gathered. Comes a voice. A call. The beginning of a new wondering. Maybe the stones are not for building a home with walls and a roof. Maybe the stones are for laying a road.
I am Abram. Called by God to get up and go. I am Abram, responding to God’s promise that through the process of wondering, and of wandering, I will arrive at the place that is called home.
* Genesis recounts Terah’s death immediately before the LORD’s calling of Abram, as if the two events occur in this order. Elsewhere, Genesis lists the ages of Terah and Abram from which information it can be calculated that Terah did not die until well after Abram had left Haran. But the text on its face suggests a chronological narrative: ‘Terah died in Haran. Now the LORD said to Abram ….’ So that is how I read it this week. See ‘Abraham and Sarah: Genesis 11-22,’ in Narrative in the Hebrew Bible (Oxford Bible Series) Oxford University Press; (1993) by David M. Gunn and Danna Nolan Fewell.