“Sarah’s Choice” by Eleanor Wilner – a poem for our stalled political process

“Sarah’s Choice” is a long poem written by Eleanor Wilner. I link to it below for our politicians contemplating a future that till now has been utterly determined by our past. It is a poem based on the bible story of Abraham sacrificing Isaac, though the poet imagines that God first approached Sarah and gave her the choice of sacrificing her son. It’s a form of midrash I guess that forces us to think afresh about the biblical text. Thing is we know the choice Isaac took, and the one Abraham took, and all the alienation that followed. Maybe things could have been different if they had followed the wisdom and courage of the woman.

In the poem, Sarah is instinctively appalled that God would even imagine such a thing of her, thrusting a knife into the still beating heart of her son. “What fear could be more holy than the fear of that?” she thinks.

So when the booming voice of God resounds again, “Go!”, she steps outside the tent, gathers her courage and says “No.” to the Voice. She determines that she will not be chosen by someone or something outside of herself. She will retain her agency. It will not be pre-ordained for her to do this dreadful thing.

“What use have I
for History—an arrow already bent
when it is fired from the bow?”

So she goes back into the tent and speaks to Isaac,

“Tomorrow, then, I must tell you
the little that I know. You can be chosen
or you can choose. Not both.”

So what will it be for our elected representatives? To choose for themselves, or to have a story chosen for them, a story chosen by events outside of them. Events that we know only too well here and which are violent and sectarian and ugly.

Sarah says,

“The voice of the prophet grows shrill.
He will read even defeat as a sign
of distinction, until pain itself
becomes holy. In that day, how shall we tell
the victims from the saints,
the torturers form the agents of God?”

She sets her intention on leaving with Isaac and joining again with Hagar whom she so callously cast out once before. Isaac is scared of meeting his half brother and wants to know if he chooses to leave with her, how will he greet him,

“As you greet yourself,” she said, “when you bend
over the well to draw water and see your image,
not knowing it reversed. You must know your brother
now, or you will see your own face looking back
the day you’re at each other’s throats.”

God forbid that once again we will fail to greet those we think are so different to us, thinking they are our enemy, when they are our mirrored image. God forbid that we would only realise that when we are once again at each other’s throats.

So choose.

Or be chosen.

“It’s time,” she said. “Choose now.”
But what will happen if we go?” the boy
Isaac asked. “I don’t know,” Sarah said
“But it is written        what will happen      if you stay.”

See the full poem HERE if you scroll down a little.

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