Genesis 16 contains the well-known and agonizing story of one woman’s pain and God’s response to that pain. Abraham’s wife Sarah reevaluated her plan to get a child for her elderly husband by letting him sleep with her handmaid Hagar. Sarah’s pain led her to banish Hagar.
That’s when the coolest God/Human encounter happened: Hagar is hiding and running to save her life, and voila, she sees and hears an angel of the Lord. “You are pregnant and will give birth to a son!” (So much for ancient pregnancy tests!) “God has heard your cries of distress. You are to name your son Ishmael.”
The name Ishmael comes from two Hebrew words shama’ (to hear) and ‘el (God). Ishmael means “God hears” or “God has heard.” This baby will grow up to found one of the world’s three great religions, Islam. Hagar was told that God had not abandoned her, that her cries of distress and pain had been heard, and that she was to commemorate that fact by naming her little boy Ishmael. Everyone reading this blog can likely identify with Hagar’s cries of distress to the Lord. Just yesterday, I literally yelled to God, “Please Lord, you are the Great Physician, you can cure my restless legs syndrome condition which drives me crazy.” (I was alone in my office and only God and I heard my wailing!) I suspect that you also, at some point in your life, have “pulled a Hagar,” and cried out to God asking, begging, for God to hear your cries of distress.
Every time I get to the end of The Merton Prayer, I feel like my name should be Ishmael. Thank you Lord for hearing my cries of distress and for this promise: “You are ever with me and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.” No matter where we are or what our circumstances are, My Name is Ishmael, since God indeed hears my cries, every time! Facing a diagnosis of terminal illness? My Name is Ishmael. Just fired from your job because of an awful misunderstanding? My Name is Ishmael. Your spouse just left you after announcing they had been unfaithful on numerous occasions: My Name is Ishmael. Your sibling has lied about you to others which causes a breach in your relationship. My Name is Ishmael.
In the book I share many stories of how God meets us in our deepest need and never abandons us, never, in spite of our severe or catastrophic situations. After being told by my doctor that I had “aggressive prostate cancer,” I walked to my car quietly reciting The Merton Prayer. I just as easily could have repeated over and over My Name is Ishmael since I could never be out of range for God to hear me. And then there is the story of my fear of heights, or more accurately my fear of edges, as I was stuck behind the wheel driving my car up the narrow road to the top of Pike’s Peak in Colorado. My Name is Ishmael.
May God bless you this week as you encounter times of pain and uncertainty. May you gain much strength and blessing and peace as you “pull a Hagar” – because you and I can always claim My Name is Ishmael – and then enjoy the peace which comes from knowing that God had indeed heard our cries.
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2 thoughts on “My Name is Ishmael”
I’ve been meaning to tell you how much I appreciate the Merton Prayer messages. When I read the one for today about Ishmael, I resonated with it because it’s almost the same passage that the Focolare community used last February as it’s Word of Life. If you don’t know about the Word of Life, you can read about it here: https://www.focolare.us/word-of-life/.
I’ll paste below the message I sent out with last month’s Word of Life. . .I send these at the beginning of the month to a number of friends and family members. If you’d like to receive it too, let me know. You’ll see in it a Zoom link that Kathleen and I provide for a chance to share experiences. We meet at 7:00 on the second Monday of each month. You’re more than welcome to join us.
And I’ve not forgotten the idea you had–long ago– that you and Theresa, with Kathleen and me, should go out to dinner sometime. I know that your family has been going through a very rough patch, so this might not be the opportune moment. But I would love to do that sometime, when we’re all ready for it.
Tom Masters Editorial Director Focolare Media/New City Press email: email@example.com cell: (708) 860-3270
Focolare Word of Life
*You are the God who sees me. *
(see Genesis 16:13)
In this monthâs Word of Life, Hagar marvels not that she has seen God, but that God has seen her. In the desert, the angel reassures her that she will live, and will bear a son who will give rise to âa multitude.â The passage continues: âShe named the Lord who spoke to her, âYou are El-roiâ; for she said, âHave I really seen God and remained alive after seeing him?ââ As the commentary notes, Hagar âwas aware of his presence and felt loved by a God who had ‘seen’ her in her painful situation, a God who cares for and surrounds his creatures with love.â
One way to live this monthâs Word of Life is to make ourselves aware of Godâs loving gaze over us, especially in difficult moments. And in turn, we can share that reassurance with our neighbors who are facing similar circumstances. As the commentary suggests, âWe too can be messengers of Godâs . . . called to see the needs of others, to help our neighbors when they feel they are âalone in the desertâ and to share their joys and sorrows.â
Wow, Tom, thank you sir for your kind words. And I loved the Word of Life and introduction to Focolare! I am just back from California but Theresa is still there with her daughter and granddaughter. Hopefully things will calm down and she will be back home here for good this summer. So, when she is back, yes let’s do a long needed dinner with our spouses! Thanks again for following my blogs! -sad