So the two of them [Naomi and Ruth] went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, ‘Is this Naomi?’ She said to them,
‘Call me no longer Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty; why call me Naomi when the Lord has dealt harshly with me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?’
So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
As a bedraggled pair of women wander through the streets, the townspeople pause. Someone catches a glimpse of a familiar turn of the head, a phrase that sounds familiar. They wonder, “Could that be Naomi?”
Naomi left home with her husband and her two sons years ago. They left for a better life in Moab. Has Naomi now come back? With this young women? Where are the others? Her husband, her sons, her fortune? “Could that be Naomi?” Whispers run through the town. People stare at the “strangers.”
The whispers reach Naomi. Her response: “Do not call me ‘Naomi.’ Call me ‘Marra.’” “Naomi” means “pleasant,” but Naomi has changed. Having lost her husband, her sons, her home, she is now “Marra”—bitter. Naomi has travelled through the pain of grief to return home, and she carries nothing but bitterness, shame, and pain. Her new name indicates the change within her.
We have all experienced some kind of pain and loss. We, like Naomi, may struggle to name goodness and hope. Maybe grief has broken us. Or is it a recent diagnosis of illness, or a redundancy, or a fear, or a childhood trauma or . . . ? Our pain is so overwhelming that it has changed us. Instead, we carry the burden of it. Eventually we may feel like the burden—grief, illness, joblessness, hatred—is who we are. We have forgotten who we really are—a beloved child of God.
Brother David Stendl-Rast, a Benedictine monk, writes, “Gratitude emerges as an attitude we can freely choose in order to create a better life for ourselves and for others.” Brother David suggests that practice of giving thanks for the simplest of things will begin to transform our pain.
Perhaps, if we can practice gratitude, bitterness will not overwhelm us or rename us.
Loving God, We pause. We listen. We hear our pain. But we also hear the sound of our breathe. We hear the whisper of your love and faithfulness. Help us say, “yes” and “thank you.” Help us let go of “bitterness” and return to a place of gratitude. Amen.
The Rev’d Martha McInnes is Minister of Wellingborough URC