“When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to Abram, and said to him, “‘I am God Almighty; walk before me, and be blameless.’” Genesis 17:1
It is dusk. Overhead, the dark blue canopy of the night sky envelopes him. From one horizon to another, the sky is awash with stars. Even in his advanced age, it is so quiet that Abram can hear his own labored breathing.
By this time, Abram, later known as Abraham, was “…as good as dead.” (Romans 4:19). Nearing one hundred years old, he and his aged wife, Sarah, were childless. Still, under the massive canopy of the night sky, God reiterates the promise – that Abraham will be the ancestor of a “multitude of nations.” Later in this same chapter of Genesis, scripture records Abraham falling on his face and laughing, saying to himself, “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old? Can Sarah, who is ninety years old, bear a child?”
The author and Franciscan priest, Richard Rohr, writes, “Metaphor is the only possible language available to religion because it alone is honest about Mystery.” Concerning this account of divine promises still unfulfilled – invariably the long-awaited child remains the focus. Yet what if the language of metaphor is also at work in this exchange between Abraham and God? What then?
It is written that when the Lord appeared to Abraham, God said to him, “I am God Almighty; walk before me and be blameless.” Take note that this phrase – I am – emphasizes that not only is a divine exchange underway – but that a pivotal dimension of God’s self-is unfolding in real-time. The I am becomes as much about Abraham’s new identity (and the rest of us) as it is about God.
In Hebrew, God Almighty – El Shaddai – is made up of the root name of God, El, followed by another word designating an aspect of God’s character, Shaddai. Shaddai is associated with nourishment, strength, power and supplying God’s people with all that they need.
“I am your Sustainer; walk before me and be blameless.”
When all seems lost….when the cacophony of strident voices denounce the cries of those who suffer; when the fragility of our common life is pulled asunder by those who profit from it; when futility engulfs us and we wonder how we will go on.
God says to us, we who would dare go on laboring for justice, defending the vulnerable, advocating for the least of these…
“I am your Sustainer, [Dan and Marilyn, Rhonda and Robert, Steve and Elizabeth, Walter and Katherine…]; walk before me and be blameless.”
And from one horizon to another, the sky is awash with stars…