Ruth 1:19 …When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them, “Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. 21 I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty; why call me Naomi when the Lord has dealt harshly with me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
Is it too much of a stretch to think of Naomi as a metaphor for life? Her story-line is tragic enough. Indeed, the way her hopes are dashed against the harshness of her circumstances, in chapter one, she could almost be a poster-child for despair. As such, she advises her two daughters-in-law– Orpah and Ruth –to go their own way:
Ruth 1:8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband. . . .12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.”
Just as Naomi, in her emptiness, encourages her daughters-in-law to go their separate ways– to look for security elsewhere –likewise, there is something about life which continuously suggests to our minds that the grass is somehow greener on the other side of the fence (something which “encourages” us, in a manner of speaking, to continue our prodigal adventures). New occasions for new adventures are constantly being generated so that it seems we will never run out of opportunities to “hope” and “dream” in ways that grow out of and reinforce our temptation to despair. Is there no end to it all?
For as long as we are so inclined, it seems, we are free to rearrange our personal relationships and material circumstances in ways that we can imagine will be finally complete and ultimately fulfilling, once and for all… But our project in this regard is ultimately rooted in despair and will eventually come to light as the felix culpa— the “happy fault” –that it is. It is “happy” inasmuch as it serves to activate our talents and, in general, to increase our capacity for life–a necessary moment in the phenomenology of Spirit (or so it seems). But it is a “fault”, nonetheless, for in the process of pursuing it we do great violence to ourselves and others as we abandon THE REALITY OF LIFE, here and now, in deference to mere wishful thinking. As such, our failure is, in fact, assured and any apparent “success” will always turn out empty in the end.
Sooner or later, however– by the grace of God and the school of hard knocks –we may, in a moment of clarity, come to our senses and begin to recognize and appreciate life for what it really is. Thus it happens (according to our metaphor) that while Orpah– however reluctantly –goes her separate way (continuing her search for material security), Ruth decides to stay with her mother-in-law (i.e. with life). Moreover, we learn that far from being a lost cause, Naomi is, in Ruth’s estimation, exceedingly valuable and that she is determined to continue with her, whatever the turn of events:
Ruth 1:14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law [Naomi], but Ruth clung to her. 15 So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17 Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” 18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
Likewise, when it comes to life, what a wonderful day when we decide– very simply –to be present with that which is present, whatever the turn of events. And when it comes to our dreams, as well–what a wonderful way of separating the wheat from the chaff.
Authentic dreams always retain their currency, here and now. There is no need to escape this moment in order to realize them–and no need to evade the cross! Ruth’s love for Naomi translates into a discipline of sorts–a discipline that asserts itself in the face of suffering and death, and which, at the same time, demonstrates the highest regard for the object of her love. The same principle applies to our love of life and our commitment to be present with that which is present, here and now!
Of course, in the end, the story of Ruth and Naomi appears quite ideal. Ruth marries Boaz and Naomi takes their first child and “lays him in her bosom” as the women of the neighborhood look on and voice their satisfaction (4:13-17). From this point forward, it would seem, they live happily ever after. Moreover, Ruth and Boaz will be remembered in perpetuity as the ancestors of King David and, later, of Jesus. But none of this is really our concern at the moment. Such outcomes can hardly be imaged in advance and the ultimate meaning and purpose of our life is not dependent on the turn of events, in any case. Rather, it is in our commitment to the Way, the Truth, and the Life— here and now –that we find our redemption, however our lives may appear to others, whether currently or in ages hence. “Now is the accepted time . . . now is the day of salvation!” (II Corinthians 6:2).
Some Questions To Consider: Are you aware of awareness? Are you walking in the light? Do you lean into this moment? Do you know the living Christ? Or are you still trying to control the turn of events in order to redeem yourself and find fulfillment at some point in the future?
Reminder: I Am with you always…
“Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labor in vain. Unless the Lord guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain. It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil; for he gives sleep to his beloved” (Psalm 127:1-2; cf Acts 5:38-39).
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not rely on your own insight. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).
Note: While the Way, the Truth, and the Life is One, the particular journey of each individual will be unique. As such– our metaphor notwithstanding –it is perfectly conceivable that Orpah, too, was worshiping God with her substance and committed to being present with the Lord.