The story of Ruth, Orpah, and their mother in law Naomi is often read at weddings and on Mother’s Day, in part because mother love isn’t always biological. There are the mothers who give us birth and the mothers who give us love. Sometimes our mother figures aren’t even female. Ruth and Naomi were what we call “chosen family.” Not only were they devoted, their love protected one another at a time when being widowed could mean being left alone to fend for yourself.
Their story is one of love and loyalty connected by loss, but it is also about life’s greater movements, those times when the spirit calls us into some kind of change or migration. Migration stories are everywhere within the bible. Naomi and her husband felt that spirit when it moved them from Judah to Moab, the place where their sons would take wives until the need for movement necessitated their return to Judah.
Usually when we think of migrations, we think of birds or animals, drawn into seasonal journeys for the purpose of breeding or feeding. It’s not so different with humans. We move for lots of reasons. The deaths of all three husbands are only one reason.
So here we have three widowed women. Naomi takes charge and decides to return to Judah where she has heard God looks kindly on his people and where God will provide food. She tells her daughters in law that they should “migrate” back to their mother’s houses.
Orpah consents, kisses Naomi good bye and returns to her mother. In contrast Ruth “clings” to Naomi while pronouncing the famous words, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die—there will I be buried”.
These two unmarried, widowed women, unaccompanied by men, make their forty mile journey, crossing the Jordan River to Judah, two friends joined by loss and by love.
Have you ever made a connection with someone who wasn’t your biological parent? Have you ever left your home, in search of a better life? Have you ever felt inexplicably drawn to a new destiny, uncertain of the outcome yet following an instinct to move? When the spirit calls you forth, you must answer or die–just as you cannot stop a butterfly from emerging into a new creation.
I don’t recall who said it but “For us humans, the who and what that we are today cannot contain the who and what that we will become.” We are always migrating towards that spirit of becoming, that spirit of “next,” that when answered, draws us into greater harmony with our creator.
Transitions are seldom limited to geography. There are whole body, whole soul transformations. Life is about movement, growth and becoming. The dead sea is dead because there is no movement. It’s even more so in our faith lives. We move from dogmatic certainty and black and white belief systems to the place of having God meet us in the questions of life. God becomes less of a life preserver and more companion and counselor. Movements take place when we join a particular church and begin to feel a new sense of belonging and right place.
When you think about it, we are all beneficiaries of this instinct to move. Nearly all of us come from immigrant families. Salem was founded by people drawn by the spirit. I’d like to believe it was our mothers that took charge, as did Naomi, keeping the family together as they took unlikely routes, dreaming uncommon dreams, and realized Godly outcomes. Mother love keeps us going and brings us home no matter where we are.
And do you know the rest of the story? Beyond our reading mother Naomi takes charge again, introducing Ruth to her kinsmen Boaz. Our sacred text records “So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. The Lord then enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son”.
Mother Naomi answered the voice of destiny and Ruth followed. And the payoff for following their shared destiny—Ruth’s child Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, the father of David. And so with the birth of Obed, Ruth became the great, great, great, great….. great, great grandmother of Jesus. Through love, loyalty and the following of spirit, Ruth and Naomi liberated their situation, becoming survivors; heroines and women of noble character, not to mention becoming the progenitors of Jesus.
I hope knowing the rest of the story amplifies the truth that Ruth’s words were prophetic beyond her circumstances. “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people and your God my God.”
And it all began with a mother’s love. Happy Mother’s Day.