Our extended family is spread out far and wide. No one lives closer than a full day’s car ride away. As a result, seeing family always means the visit ends with significant goodbyes. The “good” of this leave-taking has been difficult to recognize, especially for my small children. They feel the sadness of goodbye, even some days after our visits.
The theme of separation weaves throughout today’s readings. Abraham and Sarah celebrate Isaac’s weaning, while Hagar and Ishmael pack up to leave them for good. After Jesus casts out demons and drives them into the swine herd, the Gadarenes beg him to leave their town. In these stories, separation carries various meanings. It is an occasion for celebrating independence and growth, a difficult next step toward a new life, a disposal of evil for the power of God, an acknowledgment of lack of opportunity.
As my little ones know well, separation is not easy. At the same time, in some cases, it is the wise and life-giving thing to do. To leave something or someone behind may mean exercising newfound abilities, like a weaned child who can now eat solid food. It may mean keeping faith in affliction, and of seeking new life and dignity that was not there before, such as in the case of Hagar and Ishmael. It may mean freedom from that which holds us down or captive, like the afflicted demoniac. It can also mean recognizing dead ends and discerning our path in another direction. We are made for relationship. Yet sometimes wisdom calls for walking away, walking another way, so that life in fact can be more abundant. When we walk toward new life, it may lead to the communion for which we long.