They say Avraham is the adoptive spiritual father of all who convert. After our new Hebrew names, we add “ben/bat Avraham Avinu.” I ponder this great and mighty man, the first who looked up at the sky and came to the conclusion that there was one G-d and that he would follow Him.
I, too, first encountered G-d in the night time stars.
A child, laying on my back on a wooden bridge as old as my grandfather, the summer heat broken by nightfall, I laid there, smelling the dark fertile smell of the soil of my childhood home. My hands knew the feel of that soil and my feet had walked the same acres my father, grandfather, and great-grandfather had tilled. I was a farmer’s daughter and I belonged to that soil as much as to my own mother. It nourished me. The land was flat and the crops not yet high and laying back, it felt like I was teetering on the edge of the world, ready to fly off it into space at any moment.
The sky was as dark as the soil until my eyes adjusted to it, then it lost its solemn cloak and burst forth in layer after layer of stars. I had given up ever finding the constellations my schoolbooks neatly and orderly laid out for me. I guessed that those stars must belong to people in cities because out here, far from city lights, there were so many more that I couldn’t find those patterns. The milky way arced across the sky and just when I thought I could see the furthest stars, I would squint and see still more, hiding further and deeper. I hadn’t yet learned that I was looking backwards in time even as I looked out from my small world with small towns and small schools.
Like Avraham, I didn’t fit in with my family. Like him, I already knew I wasn’t going to follow in my father’s footsteps. If my father had an idol, it was the land at least, and he faithfully ministered to it season after season. I hadn’t been born to be a farmer or a farmer’s wife and even as a child, I already knew my destiny was going to be somewhere else, far from the shelter of those fields and my family. I would have to wander among strangers and find a new path and it was likely my own father would be hurt by my rejection of his ways even as he understood that there was no place for someone like me here. The teachers had already set his expectations and let him know that I was different than most of the children. A strange bird found in the wrong nest and meant for college and city life.
But for now, I was rooted in the soil, staring up into the night sky.
I felt suddenly very tiny, so very aware of the vastness of what I stared into. That feeling made my heart flutter a bit under my osh kosh overalls. Like any child, I thrilled a little at that fear, my heart rising to meet it, wrestling with it. I reached up to the stars above me, but my small hands grasped at something else, my mind not having the words or images to contain it, but there was an idea there. The idea was that there was something else there. This something was part of it all, the damp earth, the creek, the limestone bedrock below it all, the stars above, the space between the stars…and yet it was also beyond all of it. There was the idea that there was something there with intention and that it reached for me even as I reached to it. This idea had was so unrelated to what I was taught in catechism class that I didn’t even categorize it as religious. It simply was and whatever this was, it was important and I wanted to hold onto it.
And yet, even as the thought formed and my eyes widened and I struggled to form words to capture and contain it, it slipped through them, escaping into the night sky.
Even if Avraham adopts me, I’ll still only be his daughter, not equal to him. The moment left me confused and soon I heard my mother’s voice calling me back to the house. I didn’t forget that feeling or moment and I often went back to the bridge, laying down there, hoping to feel it again, but it was never certain. I couldn’t summon it and I couldn’t make a drawing or write words that would nail it to the ground where I could examine it closer. It didn’t launch me on a quest to share it with others or cause me to open up my tent to angels. Instead, we played hide and seek through years. At some point, I realized that it was my own heart that flitted back and forth, teasing, testing. It was I that lacked the faithfulness to wait.
Avraham was a man of vision, a truly creative thinker in that he saw what others had forgotten in the night sky, but he didn’t stop there. He was able to take that feeling and those thoughts and transform them into action. He was faithful to the revelation given him, even to the point of sacrificing his own son. My faith was less a candle that never burned out than a spark here and a spark there while I fumbled in the dark. I even had my own periods of rebellion where I completely rejected G-d and ran into the wilderness, childishly failing to realize that the very act of rejecting G-d in itself proves you actually do believe there is G-d to reject. Rebellion, in some ways, is a childish and immature act of faith, a faith you’re running headlong from, trying to avoid.
I made peace with my earthly father, whose face is etched in my own. He made peace with my path being so different from his own. I wonder if Avraham’s father ever forgave him? I wonder if my potential adoptive father will embrace me?