I am not Jewish. Although with a name like Sarah Greenman, it is sometimes assumed. But the Jewish holidays speak to me. Passover was this weekend and yesterday, during a church service I attended, the minister read a poem by Alla Renee Bozarth called "Pack Nothing".
I've been working on some pretty large scale projects this spring, many of which are intricately connected to social justice and equity. I've been working the soil with those on the ground, planting food and planning for the future. But I've also been on the mountaintop talking with the rain gods, encouraging them to rain on all gardens, and not just a chosen few. Alla Renee Bozarth's extraordinary poem spoke to me and I wanted to share some sections of her poem here with you.
Bring only your determination to serve
and your willingness to be free.
Don’t wait for the bread to rise.
Take nourishment for the journey,
but eat standing, be ready
to move at a moment’s notice.
Do not hesitate to leave
your old ways behind—
fear, silence, submission.
Only surrender to the need
of the time— to love
justice and walk humbly
with your God.
Do not take time to explain to the neighbors.
Tell only a few trusted friends and family members.
Then begin quickly,
before you have time to sink back
into the old slavery.
You will learn to eat new food
and find refuge in new places.
I will give you dreams in the desert
to guide you safely home to that place
you have not yet seen.
The stories you tell one another around your fires
in the dark will make you strong and wise.
Outsiders will attack you,
and some who follow you,
and at times you will weary
and turn on each other
from fear and fatigue and
You have been preparing for this for hundreds of years.
I am sending you into the wilderness to make a way
and to learn my ways more deeply.
Those who fight you will teach you.
Those who fear you will strengthen you.
Those who follow you may forget you.
Only be faithful. This alone matters.
Some of you will die in the desert,
for the way is longer than anyone imagined.
Some of you will give birth.
Some will join other tribes along the way,
and some will simply stop and create
new families in a welcoming oasis.
Some of you will be so changed
by weathers and wanderings
that even your closest friends
will have to learn your features
as though for the first time.
Some of you will not change at all.
Some will be abandoned
by your dearest loves
and misunderstood by those
who have known you since birth
and feel abandoned by you.
Some will find new friendship
in unlikely faces, and old friends
as faithful and true as the pillar of God’s flame.
Sing songs as you go,
and hold close together.
You may at times grow
confused and lose your way.
Continue to call each other
by the names I’ve given you,
to help remember who you are.
You will get where you are going
by remembering who you are.
Touch each other
and keep telling the stories
of old bondage and of how
I delivered you.
Tell you children lest they forget
and fall into danger— remind them
even they were not born in freedom
but under a bondage they no longer
remember, which is still with them, if unseen.
Or they were born in the open desert
where no signposts are.
Make maps as you go,
remembering the way back
from before you were born.
So long ago you fell
into slavery, slipped
into it unawares,
out of hunger and need.
You left your famished country
for freedom and food in a new land,
but you fell unconscious and passive,
and slavery overtook you as you fell
asleep in the ease of your life.
You no longer told stories of home
to remember who you were.
Do not let your children sleep
through the journey’s hardship.
Keep them awake and walking
on their own feet so that you both
remain strong and on course.
So you will be only
the first of many waves
of deliverance on these
It is the first of many
beginnings— your Paschaltide.
Remain true to this mystery.
Pass on the whole story.
I spared you all
by calling you forth
from your chains.
Do not go back.
I am with you now
and I am waiting for you.
This poem is from the books, Womanpriest: A Personal Odyssey by
Alla Renée Bozarth, revised edition 1988, distributed by the poet;
Accidental Wisdom by Alla Renée Bozarth, iUniverse 2003 and
the audio cassette Water Women by Alla Renée Bozarth, Wisdom