Song of Hagar: a Lenten Lament

Hagar

Jean-Charles Cazin (1840-1901)

Some background notes for those who may be unfamiliar with the story found in Genesis 16:1-16 and Genesis 21:1-21:

  • Hagar was an Egyptian maid to Sarah, wife of Abraham, who had been promised a son through whom God would bless his descendants and the whole world.
  • When it seemed Sarah could not bear the child promised by God, Abraham took Hagar as his concubine, and she bore a son, whom she named Ishmael.
  • After Sarah finally did bear a son, whom she named Isaac, she insisted that Abraham dismiss Hagar and her son Ishmael, so there would be no competition for the prized inheritance.
  • Hagar then found herself abandoned with her son in the scorching deserts of the Middle East.

***

I wail a song of sorrow, of a grief that

stretches far beyond the stillness of these

haunted, bitter sands; my tears, the only

water in this endless barrenness—not

enough to keep me and my son alive.

*

I moan a song of fear, alone,

abandoned in this emptiness;

terrors harsh beneath a bruising sun that

wilts my dream of a tomorrow for my boy

whose eyes stare out his question,

“why, my mother, why?”

*

I howl a song of anger—did I not do

everything just right? or almost right,

at least? obey the master? bow to my

lady’s pride? cook the meals and

clean the tents? only to be cast

aside like offal from a sacrifice?

where are you, God? your promises

right now mere dust I soon will spread

across the body of my son.

*

I chant a mantra of my empty faith, of

questions many as the stars I see in desert

night; the gods of Egypt youth eclipsed by

God of Sarah—a God I can no longer trust;

once spoke with me—I thought—to promise

greatness for my son; his only greatness now his

anguished moans of thirst and fear of

death which ghostly hovers in his breath.

*

A voice? another desert song nearby? my ears

now playing tricks of angel promise shushing fear?

my eyes deceiving me? mirage of water

whisper-calling me to taste its sheer reality?

Dare I dip my soul again in faith?

Dare I taste the flowing Presence yet again?

*

I hum a quiet, timid hope, as water spills onto

my son to quench the thirst stretched

tight across his chest; as tiny drops of trust

distil in me to quell some of my

anger, fear—not all, but just enough to take one

desert step and then another one to help me

learn this desert way; to take my son into

tomorrow all unknown; believe that he, that

we, will never be alone.

 

3 thoughts on “Song of Hagar: a Lenten Lament

  1. Two of every five Psalms are cries of lament. Sometimes, but not always, they rise to this level of angry, frightened desperation. But while the nearness of death is often mentioned, details are always scarce. So this cry of anguish, set in its specific story, is a beautiful intro and guide to many of the Psalms. Thanks for helping to give them the grime and grit they presuppose but tend to leave implicit.

  2. I first read this draft yesterday and needed to sit with it for a bit. On my writing desk, serving as a “place mat,” if you will, underneath my journal, is an earlier draft that you sent to me when I was singing — more like moaning — my own song of sorrow. (We all have our songs of sorrow, don’t we?) What I loved about the prior draft is the “grime and grit” that Merold saw. This draft has even more grime and grit because this latest draft is leaner, more compressed. My current writing instructor advises that second drafts (or third or fourth) should be “10% less than the previous one”. It’s tough to sculpt away words that are already working so other words can work harder. But enough about the technicalities. I love this poem. It sang for me when I could not sing and it continues to sing now, with more potency. Maybe it’s true — we will never be alone. Let’s keep humming.

  3. Sharonimo, I love that line “it’s tough to sculpt away words that are already working so other words can work harder.” So true! Thanks, and yes, I do hope, and yes, I do believe, that we are never alone, even in our bleakest desert times. So yes, let’s hum on, courage on, remind each other of that Other who hums with us so silently we often find it hard to hear.

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