Monday, September 01, 2008
The Year of The Tobit Journey
"Courage daughter. May the Lord of heaven turn your grief to joy! Courage daughter." Tobit 7:16, NJB
A few days ago I discovered the book of Tobit. I missed Tobit in my early years of Christian formation. It wasn't in any of my Protestant Bibles. But I've got all kind of Bibles now, lovies, and three of them had Tobit (or in older Bibles, Tobias) right where it's supposed to be.
I decided to read it because I'm working on the Exorsistah 2, and a priest that I happen to be watching on television said it had an angel and an exorcism. Gotta check that out!
I haven't fallen in such big, juicy literary love in a long time. Tobit is a novel in the Bible, and lemme tell you, I LOVE that. We novelist take more than a few hits for the way we tell the "truth." I've heard fiction described as "the lie that tells the truth." But I believe a good story can touch you on many levels. Jesus knew this, and I bless Him for that.
So, let me tell you about Tobit. It's a story about good people suffering terrible losses. Tobit is a righteous man, much like Job, who does immeasurable good works, though he lives in exile. Exile alone is a dry place of lamentation, all of his riches were taken away, but Tobit is faithful. He has a wife named Anna, and a son, Tobias. They are all people of great faith despite their difficulties.
After doing yet another good deed, Tobit is afflicted, and goes blind shortly thereafter. His wife has to work, and when she's given a young goat as a bonus for her service, Tobit doesn't believe her. He thinks she stole it so they could eat. It's bad when you've had so many hard things happen that you stop seeing even the possibility of some extraordinary goodness. Many of us have been there. Poor Tobit becomes so discouraged he prays for death to take him.
Meanwhile, at the same time, in a far off place, Sarah, too, is suffering. She is young, beautiful, and an only child. Seven times her father has found her a suitable husband. Seven times said husbands died on their wedding night. Now, I don't know about you, but I've got problems. But I'll tell you what, I sure wouldn't want hers. See, a demon wanted her for himself. And Lord, I know more than a few of us have a demon lover in our pasts. Heaven help us. Sarah was accused of murder, ridiculed and cursed. She, too, prayed for death.
But God heard both their prayers, only He didn't send death to take their last breaths. Our good God, Who is still present even when we can't see our way, Who is present when our hopes die again and again, He sent an angel, and I mean one of the big boys, the Archangel Raphael to help. Raphael, who's name means, "God heals."
There is a journey, when Tobit sends his son Tobias to retrieve riches that rightfully belong to them. Oh, my friends, you may have riches that are yours, but they may be far away, and you have to go fetch them. And it's a journey--one that could have it's on perils. Tobias is attacked by a big fish that wants to eat his foot! But he has an archangel on his side, who totally told him what to do. And speaking of what to do, if he did it, he'd have the means to cast out devils and heal the blind, which was so gonna come in handy. And they journeyed on.
There is the promise of love that overcomes even death. Raphael, acting as an undercover brother, calls himself, Azaria, which lovies, means, "God helps." If you are discouraged, read Tobit. Recall that God heals, and God helps. The angel in disguise tells Tobias that he can marry fair Sarah, to which Tobias says something like:
"That chick with the seven dead grooms? Dude! I'm an only child. I don't think so."
Did I mention it has comedy?
This is what Raphael says to Tobias:
"Do not be afraid; she was destined for you from the beginning, and you are the one to save her."
My dear friends in Christ. We really do have a destiny, and it's a good one. I'm so moved that there is love and salvation for all of us. There is hope.
The scriptures say that at Raphaels words "Tobias fell so deeply in love with her that he could no longer call his heart his own." This wasn't love at first sight. He hadn't seen her yet! This was embracing what the journey was about in the first place, getting the riches that belong to you, no matter what kind of riches they are. And love is rich! I believe that.
I won't tell you the whole story. I insist that you read all 14 chapters for yourself. But I will give you the highlights.****spoilers***** Tobias does get to Sarah, and asks her father for her hand. Her father is frank with him. Tells him, "Uh, there's a little problem with my baby girl." But Tobias believes now. He cannot be swayed.
And Sarah, she of many losses, she too, believes.
One of my favorite parts of the story is after the marriage contract has been drawn, how Sarah's mother Edna prepares the room for them. And mama is wiping her tears as she does it. Can you imagine the hope warring with dread within her? She couldn't bear to see her daughter's heart broken again, and yet, she could not deny her the hope that something lovely and amazing is possible. Through her own tears, and her own fears, she says, "Courage daughter. May the Lord of heaven turn your grief to joy! Courage daughter."
That, my friends, is my slogan for the Year of the Tobit Journey.
Sarah's father dug a grave for Tobias. Ha! But he filled it the next morning with dirt, and not Tobias! There was a lot of Blessing God, and each other, and all kinds of folks, and everyone got happy endings, because God did heal. And He did help.
Tobit is not a book for cynics, or people who don't believe that the magical can happen. It's not a book that will appeal to those who have not suffered. But if you are having trouble seeing what God is doing, if you have buried dream after dream, and are ashamed of what your life has become, read Tobit. You can find it online if it isn't in the Bible you have. Let Tobias journey speak to you of your own.
So many times in that book did I read of the need to be courageous. I've taken so many hits that I think I stopped believing that there'd be a day when I will think of these hard times, "I can't remember the last time I thought of those sad days." Today is my birthday. I'm 44 years old. I've lived in exile far too long. I'm going on a journey to recover what is mine but has slipped away from me. This is my Year of the Tobit Journey.
I will walk with angels.
I will cast out demons.
I will experience love that is stronger than death.
I will take courage.
God will heal me.
In His love and mercy He will help me.
May He do the same for you.
Image of Tobit by Rembrandt