"Grampa, when I put my three sheep
Down in the fold tonight to sleep,
Can you stay here, and tell me more
About great gramma Ruth before
I go to bed? Naomi said,
Because Elimelech was dead,
And both her sons, that when
She came to Bethlehem again,
There would be bitter memories
And nothing more. Are these
The only things, Grampa, that she
Could see? Just grief? It seems to me
That God was doing more." "Indeed
He was. But, David, sometimes creed
Can't keep up with the speed of pain,
And has to make the meaning plain
When suffering slows down. Do you
Know what I mean?" "I think it's too
Complex, Grampa." "I mean that what
Naomi knew of God was not
Rejected when she wept her way
Back home to Bethlehem. The day
Would come when tortoise faith would catch
The bounding hare of pain and match
His power, not his pace, and win.
Judge not from how the two begin.
Does that make sense?" "I think it does.
But, Grampa, tell me what it was
That turned it all around, and made
Naomi glad again."
And, David, when she prayed, God did
A hundred miracles, and bid
A barley field become a place
Of quiet power; and there the race
Of faith was won. My dad, your great
Grandfather, Boaz, conquered hate,
And loved a Moabite beneath
The wings of God, and did bequeath
Naomi, thus, more faith than she
Had ever known or thought could be."
"O, Grampa, that's the part that most
Of all I'd like to hear. I'll post
The gate and put the sheep away
And you can eat with us, okay?"
"I have a better plan. You get
Permission from your dad to let
You spend the night with me, and we
Will go down to my house and see
The very place, the barley field,
Where, seven decades past, God sealed
A kind of love that's known by few:
Between a Moabite and Jew.
And, David, did you know that your
Great grampa Boaz has a pure
And faithful memory of what
It cost him then? And there's a lot
Of love still left, though he turns ninety-nine
This year, and cannot see or walk. But line
On line, he knows the story of
His Ruth, and how they came to love
Each other when the barley yield
Was ripe and they met in the field.
I think you're old enough to go
And visit him. But he won't know
Your name, or who you are. So bring
Your harp, and maybe we can sing
Our way into his mind, and set
Some memory on wing, and get
The treasure of his heart up to
dusk the east wind blew,
And as the sun was going down,
The two approached the little town
Of Bethlehem, and made their way
Around the soft and splashing bay
Of blowing barley waves. The house
Was small, for neither had a spouse.
"A servant in the loft and two old men,
Can manage with a fox's den,"
Old Obed used to say, when folks
Would pester him and try to coax
The two of them to live at home
With Jesse's family. "I roam
The local hills at my own pace,"
He said, "and come back to my place."
Tonight Boaz was by the fire,
And wrapped in blankets for attire.
Young David stood in awe that here
Was his own flesh, who, in a year,
Would have a century of life
On earth, and one whose wife
Was his great gramma Ruth. He took
His harp and cradled in the crook
Of his small arm the music of
A fam'ly's century of love.
When Boaz heard the song that he
And Ruth had sung for sixty three
Unbroken years, he blinked his blind
And glassy eyes. And in his face a kind
Of deep and strong and gentle joy
Began to shine. "Come hear, my boy,"
He whispered. David stopped and sat
Down at the old man's feet. "Is that
A story you would like to know?"
He asked. "How Boaz, long ago,
Became the husband of a maid
From Moab, even though he swayed
A city with his wealth?" "Yes, sir,
I would. Why did you marry her?"
"It wasn't easy, child, at least,
For some. A woman from the east,
And not a Jew, was barely good
Enough to be a slave, and would
Not enter any mind to be
A wife. My father couldn't see
What I could see. I still recall
His speech: ‘Boaz, the gall,
To bring this on our family!
The girl's a Moabite, and she
Has got no name. She was a slave,
And Chilion a rebel knave
To buy her as a virgin just
To pique his mother and his lust.
And don't you know, Boaz, the way
Her people got their start? Don't say
It was a noble thing that Lot
Was drunk and lay down on his cot
With his own daughter. She deceived
Her grieving father and conceived
A child by incest. And his name?
Moab! A people born in shame.
And, Boaz, will you sacrifice
Your name and, by that price,
Raise up a seed to Chilion
So there is nothing when I'm gone?
And while I live will you disgrace
My silver head and go abase
Yourself to marry such a thing?
And even use your mother's ring?'"
He paused, as if the sting were yet
Alive. "I never will forget
Those words." "Great grampa, how did you
Reply?" "I said to him, ‘It's true
That she's a Moabite and that
Her husband was apostate at
The core, and that she was a slave
And has no high-born name to save
From stigma and contempt. And should
The sin of Lot destroy the good
For every generation, then
There is no good in any men.
I bid you, father, think with care,
Lest you forget the evil pair,
Five generations past, that bore
Our father Perez at the door
Of harlotry. Incest is not
Unique to Moabites. We got
Our life from Tamar's little trick
To get the seed of Judah. Pick
Your people, tongue, or tribe, for none
Is pure from disrepute, not one.
But, father, have you thought about
What Ruth is like inside? I doubt
That in a thousand Israelites
One has embraced our God with heights
Of faith one-half as free and great
As she. Do you desire a mate
For me with Jewish nose and skin,
Or sacred Jewish faith within?
And is there not more fruit in her
Than can be hidden with a slur?
For those who care about the truth
There is none fairer than my Ruth.
They all can see her love for God,
How she has borne the biting rod,
And loved Naomi without pay,
And worked throughout the blist'ring day,
And gathered only where the poor
May glean. And kept her garments pure
Among the men. This woman lives
Beneath the wings of God. It gives
Me more delight to share the shame
Of faith and love, than save my name.
I love you, father, and I pray,
Please look at her another way.'"
"Grampa, I mean, Great grampa, sir."
"Yes, son?" I'm glad you married her."
"Me too. I think I better sleep
Now, son. I'm sure the rest will keep
Until tomorrow. So despite
How much more I could say, good night."
And meanwhile in the darkness here,
Where tribes and races hate and fear,
O Lord, let Bethlehem ignite
A flame of truth, and let us fight
With love and joy to make it plain
That fam'ly links are not a chain,
And origins do not control,
Half images are not the whole,
Nor true, and take a rending toll,
Beneath the skin there is a soul.
And may we lift this light and truth
For Boaz and for every Ruth.