I will remember my covenant that is between me and you and every living creature of all flesh; and the waters shall never again become a flood to destroy all flesh.
From a lectionary reading for Lent 1: Genesis 9.8-17
Reflection for Tuesday, February 21
On a day years ago when I was dealing with a vexatious situation—a tussle with an institutional system, as I recall—I spent some time talking with Gary. Gifted at thinking through things with me, Gary mostly listened and helped me name some possible options for moving forward. Then, as we were finishing the conversation, Gary said to me, “The thing to remember here, Jan, is that I am on your side.”
I am on your side.
For those who don’t know me, let me say this: I was past forty when I married, nearly two years ago now. A fervently focused person from the time I was a child, I have been a Woman With A Plan—even when the plan was changing—nearly all my adult life. I enjoyed being in relationship—when it wasn’t breaking my heart, that is—but prized my independence and understood the importance of finding and making a life that I loved, one in which my sense of wholeness didn’t rely on being involved with someone else.
I will tell you that after Gary showed up, I realized I had vastly underestimated the kind of claim that a relationship could have on me. More than a decade later, I continue to marvel at the strangely wondrous state of being so met by another person. In a relationship that’s grounded in that mutual sense of being met, I have come to see how it’s possible to become intertwined and tangled up with another in ways that do not confine and limit us but instead help us to know ourselves more clearly, open doorways to paths we had not imagined on our own, and draw us deeper into who God has created us to be.
I am on your side.
The narrative of Noah is, among other things, an amazing story of the God who chooses to become tangled up with us, who takes our side, who risks casting God’s lot with us. It is a Big Deal on God’s part to make such a covenant. Yet as I spiral back around this story, it occurs to me that for Noah to accept this is no small thing.
To be sure, God is insistent about binding Godself to Noah, along with his family and his descendants. In this passage, God speaks the word covenant seven times, the repetition becoming something of a litany as God tells Noah—again and again—what God is doing. I am establishing my covenant with you, God says. This is the sign of the covenant that I make between me and you, God emphasizes. I will remember my covenant, God insists. And so forth, until God decides that it has sunk in; that Noah gets it.
But a covenant does not run in one direction, and Noah must choose whether he in fact wants to be a party to this covenant, to receive this marvel that is wondrous but weighty. He must decide whether he wants to be so claimed by God, and whether the God who wants to take his side is offering a relationship that will be a cage that makes him smaller or a home that frees him to be who he is.
Tomorrow, as we cross the threshold into Lent, we will hear the words of the prophet Joel as he tells us, “Rend your hearts.” We, like Noah, can choose to do this, to turn toward God, because God has already opened God’s own heart to us. God keeps letting God’s heart break for us. Keeps choosing to become bound to us. To become entangled with us. To covenant with us and with creation and with those who will come after us. Keeps taking our side even when we have wandered into the far country, bent on a path of our own stubborn choosing. In this season God asks us, invites us, dares us to let ourselves be claimed.
Here on the threshold of Lent, who or what have you allowed to claim you? Do you find yourself becoming more free, more yourself in this claiming, or more confined? Where do you find the presence of God in the connections that hold you? Are there any entanglements that God might be inviting you to look at in this coming season? What do you resist inviting God to claim in your life?
As we enter into Lent, may this season draw you closer to the One who persists in seeking us out. Blessings.
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