This week poet Hannah Main – van der Kamp brings us a poem in response to Ruth 2:6-8 and the theme of “strangers”:
The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.”
So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me.
STRANGE AND STRANGER WITHIN THE GATE
The ease it was to pass through that gate
in spite of my heavy accent and our ragged clothes!
We carried no belongings.
The villagers tried not to stare.
They whispered about us
but they knew who we were.
Barley harvest was just coming in.
There was a good boss man.
I got part-time work.
The other workers shared their food.
It opened my drought-worn heart,
the kindness of these people.
It was as if I had come from
a dung heap but they looked on my lowliness
and filled me with good things.
What made them so I wondered as I watched carefully;
the Israelites have strange customs, all that washing,
all those foods they may not eat!
We thought we would have to start from scratch
but our kinfolk came through for us. Then I met B.
The way he said, “Moabitess and “damsel”
helped put my grief behind me.
If you’ve been to Sunday School,
you know the rest of the story.
Their God took some getting used to though.
When I went out to work as per usual on a Sabbath day,
the Bethlehemites stopped me.
No they said, no one has to work on the seventh day,
not even servants and foreigners,
a God-given rule. A day off!
But here’s what really convinced me to cleave unto this God.
He does not demand the sacrifice of children. I shiver to recall
those smoky hill shrines of Moab, the wailing mothers
in front of the Baal altars. But here? None of that.
When B. and I are blessed with a son, we will not fear
the demands of priests and their wrathful god.
I am blessed and the generations will call me blessed.
May all my children and children’s children
receive this mystery of grace, may they show it to heirs
and to strangers. They will not die but live, our first-born
and his son after him and so on for generations. Heavens!
There will be no sacrifice, not even of an only begotten,
not even if he were a prince.
I ponder on this mercy,
my soul magnifies this God!
From the Artist:
Ostensibly, this prose poem is a monologue by the Biblical Ruth. A number of different verses could be used as markers e.g Ruth 1: 19, 2:10, 4:13. As I worked on it I was struck by the way in which Ephesians 3:6 (I was preparing a homily for Epiphany) resonates with Ruth’s story. I also refer to Exodus 20:8 for the generosity of the Sabbath day command. In addition I hope to evoke the Magnificat Luke 1:46. Ruth’s final words refer, unknowingly, to John 3:15.
A stranger and taking on new customs and beliefs, Ruth cannot know anything about the sacrifice of the Prince of heaven. The irony is both bitter and sweet. Ruth thus restates the un-readiness of God’s people at the time of the Judges to relinquish the notion of sacrifice though they used animals for the rituals. Yet, she is ready to give her heart and in so doing prefigures the Gospel on two counts: the self-giving of Jesus and the self-giving that is required of all of us.
I also hope that at the very opening of this poem the plight of refugees everywhere will instantly spring to readers’ minds.
Poet, editor, homilist and reviewer, Hannah Main – van der Kamp teaches reading and writing as spiritual practice. Her published work has appeared since the late sixties in a variety of places including religious, literary and environmental publications. She wrote the poetry reviews for BCBOOKWORLD for eight years. Her latest titles include ACCORDING TO LOON BAY, SLOW SUNDAY ON THE MALASPINA STRAIT and BRIGHT AT BLACK POINT. Her work was included in FORCE FIELD, a recent anthology of BC writers. She contributes to on-line publication including artwayeu.
Hannah’s interests include permaculture, meditation, birds, contemporary art and poetry. She is active in the Anglican parish of St David and St Paul in Powell River, B.C., Canada.
This poem is copyrighted by the artist and used here by permission.
All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright ©1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide. www.zondervan.com The “NIV” and “New International Version” are trademarks registered in the United States Patent and Trademark Office by Biblica, Inc.™