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From Unseen to Seen

Creator:
Published:
February 14, 2024
January 15, 2024
Read this reflective narrative about feeling seen by God again through connecting with a woman in the Bible.

A reflective narrative by Alli Bobzien.

Discouraged by events and people’s actions within the Church, Alli was nearing a breaking point with her faith. She couldn’t see a God who cared among the pain and frustration — until a trusted source offered her a piece of advice that shifted her perspective.

The feelings that come with being dismissed, overlooked, and forgotten somehow result in both a universal and lonely experience.

For myself, and many others, these feelings can often be associated with the Church and are therein tied to our understanding of God. A few years ago, I struggled mightily with my perception of the Church and God. I felt that the Church was limiting my options for ministry due to my gender. I read the headlines about the horrors of the historical residential schools for Native Americans run by the Church, and thought of my own family members who had attended these schools. I fumbled my way through yet another Catholic cultural tradition which I was unfamiliar with having not been raised Catholic. The weight of these hurts compounded one another creating a shell of bitterness around my heart, and I began conflating how religious institutions had hurt me and my family with God’s treatment of and love for me.  

I took these feelings to my spiritual director, and thankfully, instead of telling me to brush it off or defending the institutions, she gently encouraged me to spend some time walking alongside a woman in scripture. While the Bible offers many examples of women of faith, I found myself instinctively drawn to Hagar in the Old Testament story of Abraham and his wife Sarah. 

Hagar’s story paints a picture of dismissal and pain. As the slave woman who was ordered to bear Abraham’s child when Sarah was thought too old to have children, Hagar should have been given protection and respect. Yet Hagar, which was not her true name but only the Hebrew word for “foreigner,” was abused by a jealous Sarah and forced to flee to the desert. In fact, the word used in scripture for Sarah’s treatment of Hagar is the exact word used later in scripture for the Egyptians’ treatment of the Israelites in Moses’ time.

Having fled to the desert, Hagar came upon a well and saw a man standing beside it. This man is revealed to be God, come down from heaven to speak with Hagar. He encouraged her to return to Abraham and Sarah with assurances that if she does so, she and her son will live. With the desert only offering death, God urged Hagar to return and live for her own sake and that of her child. In this conversation, God granted Hagar the dignity of recognizing her as a person worthy of life, notice, and honor. This exchange, which occurs in Genesis 16, depicted the first instance of a woman directly receiving an annunciation and a prophesy foretold over her child. It also mirrors the previous chapter, in which God created a covenant with Abraham, in that God promises Hagar “descendants that they cannot be numbered for multitude” (Genesis 16:10).

“As I walked with Hagar through her story, I felt God speaking directly to my heart: you are seen, you are loved”

Yet, more than the wonder of God seeing and acknowledging Hagar, I was drawn to Hagar’s marvel at seeing God. In verse 13, Hagar “called the name of the Lord who spoke to her ‘you are a God of seeing,’ for she said, ‘have I really seen God and remained alive after seeing Him?’” God took notice of Hagar, he saw her when all others cast her aside, yet he also allowed her to see him. Hagar is recognized by many scholars as the first female theologian in scripture, as she calls God by name: “El Roi” translated as “God of seeing” or “the one who sees me.” 

As I walked with Hagar through her story, I felt God speaking directly to my heart: you are seen, you are loved; see me through Hagar’s eyes as a God who knows all his children and who cares for each. Even after her return, Hagar’s life was not easy: hardship, prejudice, and strife plagued her. Yet, she knew that God saw her and that she had seen him; dismissed by the world but acknowledged by its Creator. 

Hagar’s story shows us the wonder of both seeing and being seen by God. The experience does not always change our problems or trials, but it does change us. Recognizing God’s love for and notice of me reoriented my heart from the earthly tangle of hurt, to the steady light of love freely given by God. When I feel small or brought low by organized religion or people within a church, the story of Hagar reminds me that God always sees us. Hagar was given the honor of seeing God and the peace of knowing that he saw her. May we each proceed with this peace and security of God’s care, willing to look up and see God — trusting that God sees us too.

Creators:
Alli Bobzien
Published:
February 14, 2024
January 15, 2024
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