Psalm for a Troubled People

Deborah Beach Giordano
© August 14, 2017

Psalm 90 ~ interpreted by Deborah

Almighty God,
in You we live and move and have our being.
Before the mountains arose,
before the seas brought forth life,
from everlasting to everlasting, You are.

When we die, You return our bodies to dust,
saying, “Have some perspective, you mortals.”

For You a thousand years pass in the blink of an eye,
or like a night of sleeping.
You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like poppies that bloom in the morning, full of life and color;
in the evening their heads droop and their petals are scattered. 

Laying claim to Your authority,
we have placed ourselves in the Judgment Seat,
disregarding the demands of mercy and compassion. 

Our uncontrolled aggression rises up against us;
its horrifying visage stares us in the face.
Our boundless hatred and unending desire for revenge
overwhelms us;
we are consumed by our anger. 

You have made plain to us all the evils we have done;
no secret can be hidden from Your Light.
We are destroying ourselves with our rage,
filling our lives with sorrow and sighing.

We may live seventy years or so,
perhaps eighty, if our health endures;
even then these are soon over.
How can we be so foolish as to waste them?

Who considers the strength of anger?
Wrath can kill and destroy;
its deathly power contaminating all it touches. 

Teach us that our time here is short,
so we may dedicate ourselves
to loving and serving You. 

Turn our hearts, O Gracious One!
How long must this continue?
Have compassion on Your children! 

Let us find contentment each day in Your faithful love,
so that we may rejoice and be glad all our lives.

May we live in peace
for as many days as we have dwelled in anger;
may our world be alight with compassion
for as many years as it has burned with hate.

Let Your love show forth in our lives,
and its glorious power upon generations to come.
Strengthen us, O Holy Beloved,
that we remain faithful to the task which lies ahead,
and let our work be a success
— O let our work be a success!

Amen.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Reflect on this Scripture passage:

You’ve been told, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to act justly, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God? ~ Micah 6:8

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Deborah Beach Giordano
© August 7, 2017

Genesis 32:23-30: told by Deborah

Preparing for a confrontation with Esau and his troops, Jacob sent his family across the river, along with all of his possessions, but he spent the night by himself — and a man wrestled with him until dawn.

When the man realized that he couldn’t overcome Jacob, he struck him on the hip, spraining it. Then he said, “Let me go; it’s nearly morning.”

But Jacob said, “I won’t let you go, unless you bless me.”

So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.”

“You will no longer be called Jacob,” the man said, “but Israel, for you have strived with God and with people, and have prevailed.”

Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.”

And he said, “Do you need to ask?” And he blessed him.

So Jacob called the place Peni-El (Face-of-God), saying, “Because I have seen God face-to-face, and survived.”

Prevailing

After their lengthy (and inconclusive) wrestling match, the man conferred upon Jacob a new name. He would no longer be Jacob, but Israel: having “contended against both God and human beings and prevailed.” 

Jacob didn’t win the bout, but he wasn’t overcome, either. It is enough, apparently, to wrestle with God and survive. 

I’m reminded of the aeronautical credo: “Any landing you can walk away from is a success.” And so we can say that Jacob succeeded. Even though he limped away.

It was, in truth, an act of supreme courage — born out of supreme terror. There in the darkness, bracing for the arrival of Esau and his 400 troops, Jacob knew he was facing an impending disaster; possibly the wholesale slaughter of his family and his own painful death at the hands of the brother he had cheated those many years ago.

And so he prayed. I imagine he prayed as he had never prayed before: with panic-fueled earnestness and blatant honesty. 

There were no humble supplications, no sugary endearments and whinging pleas, no false proclamations of faith, but a fierce, gritty, sweaty, utterly authentic encounter with That Which Is. 

Jacob confronted God with his anguish, his confusion, his fears, his regrets; he grappled with God over his real-life lived situation, unvarnished, unadorned. “Here is how it is with me. Now, in the midst of all that is, where are You?”

The Question

This is a cry and a challenge — as daring as that of the Israelites who will later demand, on their long journey through the wilderness, “Is God with us, or not?” (Exodus 17:7) It is a scary question, a frightful question, a risky question; one we hardly want to know the answer to. 

Is God for us or against us? The wandering Israelites merely say out loud what we all wonder from time to time: Where is God in this? Is God in this? Is there a God at all?

We struggle with our belief in a “good God,” in the face of suffering, disasters, disease, illness, poverty and despair. We recite encouraging Scriptures, we think hopeful thoughts, we look toward a bright new day (“maybe tomorrow”), we keep busy. Such acts can lift our spirits and accomplish many good things — but The God Question remains.

Even if we could manage to ignore it, the challenge is repeatedly thrown out at us by those who doubt or deny a Greater Source: “Why didn’t your God prevent this?” “Where is this loving God you talk about?” “Why didn’t He heal that illness?” “Why does your God allow the innocent to suffer?”

Good questions, one and all.

In response we can speak of free will, of the human capacity to choose for good or ill; we can proclaim the mystery of faith: that, in some unfathomable way and unknown place and time, all will be well. The fact is: in many cases — in all cases — we simply do not know why things turn out as they do. And, in our humanness, we grieve, we suffer, we weep, we worry.

And sometimes we scream and cry and curse the day and shriek and rage at God.

And that’s ok. 

Meeting Our Match

God cannot be broken or beaten or chased away. Honest, earthy, ferocious truth-speaking will not surprise or shock or offend the One Who Knows Us. In fact we might say, based on Jacob’s experience, that our most passionate, authentic prayers — spoken from the depths of our being — bring us nearer, as if we are wrestling with God. It is as if the Holy One is struggling with us, intimately, skin to skin, muscle to muscle, as if with one accord.

That’s essential to remember when we enter into prayer: we needn’t be afraid to tell the truth. The Beloved will not turn away, no matter what we say, no matter what we’ve thought or imagined or dreamed or done. Our faith is revealed in our prayers; in our willingness to trust God enough to speak honestly, in our willingness to wrestle with the tough issues.

And God will be right there; holding on to us.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Pray honestly.

 

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Who is There?

Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 31, 2017

Genesis 29:15-28 ~ as told by Deborah

Laban said to Jacob, “Just because we’re relatives doesn’t mean you should work for me for free. So tell me: what will your wages be?”

Now Laban had two daughters; Leah was the elder, and Rachel was the younger.

Leah looked at Jacob longingly, but Rachel was graceful and beautiful.

Jacob loved Rachel; so he said, “I will work for you for seven years for your daughter Rachel.”

Laban said, “Better that she be married to you than to some stranger; it’s a deal.” 

So Jacob served seven years for Rachel, but it seemed like only a few days because he loved her so much.

After the seven years, he went to Laban, “Now give me my wife — I’ve fulfilled my side of the bargain.”

So Laban threw a big party to celebrate the marriage. But that evening he brought his daughter Leah to Jacob.

In the morning Jacob discovered that he had spent the night with Leah. [Wow, that must have been some party!] And he said to Laban, “What did you to do me? I worked for you all these years for Rachel, didn’t I? Why did you trick me?”

Laban said, “That’s not how things are done here: you don’t marry off the younger before the elder. Finish your honeymoon week with this one, and we’ll give you the other one, too — in exchange for serving me for another seven years.”

So Jacob agreed, and spent the rest of the week with Leah; then Laban gave him his daughter Rachel as a wife, too.

A Sad Tale

The story of Jacob’s marriages always makes me sad. Poor Leah! Slipped in under the covers as a substitute for her younger sister — a fact that the bridegroom fails to notice until the morning after — and then Jacob complains that he has been cheated; she lives out her life as the unloved, unappreciated wife. Even her children come in a distant third to the two born to pretty, petulant Rachel — who throws a fit at Jacob when she initially fails to conceive.

Despite presenting Jacob with seven children, including six healthy sons, Leah is always an afterthought, the “other one.” When or where she died remains a mystery, her burial a mere footnote (49:31), while Rachel’s last words are commemorated, and her memory lives on “to this very day” in the pillar that Jacob erected to mark her tomb (35:19-20). 

It is so sad and unfair. To be unloved is surely the great tragedy of life. 

Of course terrible things can happen: abuse, disasters, disease, suffering and loss — but we can find our way, we can endure storm and travail, if love is there.

Even love that has been lost — when death has taken the lifeblood of our heart; love’s lasting glow guides our footsteps, leading us forward. “Strong as death is love,” in Robert Alter’s glorious translation of The Song of Songs.

We are not told directly of Leah’s sorrow, we have no reports of her yearning to be cared for, her longing to be appreciated — to be desired — by the man she has married. In later years she complains of being hated by Jacob… despite the fact that he visits her bed (Gen 29:33). What grievous words! What inexpressible hurt!

Love at First Sight

From the first we are given hints that Leah will tread the way of Sorrow. We see only her eyes, and they look — well, it depends on who is doing the translating: occasionally they are called “lovely,” but more often described as “soft” or “dull,” “clouded,” or “resembling those of a cow (that is, large and vacant). I interpret it as the look of infatuation. As Jacob is brought into the family circle, Leah stands, dumb-struck and staring, as she beholds the object of her desire. But he only has eyes for Rachel.

Just as Leah fell for him, Jacob fell in love Rachel at the first moment he met her. And he continued to love her, devotedly, almost obsessively, for as long as she lived. As we saw, he built a shrine above Rachel’s grave, and favored her son Joseph outrageously, as well as little Benjamin — far above those he fathered with Leah or the sisters’ two servant women (whose voices we never hear). But, despite it all, Leah seems to have persisted in her deep, passionate desire for the unattainable man of her dreams.

Modern Eyes

What can we say, as we view this ancient version of the eternal triangle with our modern, “enlightened” eyes? The temptation is to tell Leah to cut that guy loose, walk away, move to Albuquerque and leave the heartless schmo to his own devices. But it is never quite that easy. It isn’t now and it certainly wasn’t then. 

It is impossible not to see that tragic, hopeless hope, when Leah (as she must have done) conspired to masquerade as her younger sister on the wedding night. Did she imagine that Jacob would see her, under the shelter of the marriage tent, in a different light? that he would be persuaded by her act self-surrender, convinced by her passionate embrace? 

We look upon it all and shake our heads. Yet who among us hasn’t been in a similar situation; trying to convince someone to care for us; engaging in that horrible, desperate, futile struggle to turn another’s heart. It may be a love interest, it might be a parent, a grandparent, a family member, a friend. We’ll try almost anything, do almost anything: change our hair, our voice, our clothes, our job, our car, our nose; pretend to be something we aren’t — just so they will love us. But it is impossible. We may elicit pity, or a grudging kindness, but, more often, the result is only scorn or outright contempt. 

Leah tried to pass herself off as her sister. She tried to be “the woman Jacob wanted”; but it could never be — she could never be that other person. It was a hopeless, impossible effort that was doomed from the beginning. And it brought grief to all concerned. 

Actually, It is You

The classic break-up line: “It isn’t you; it’s me,” is a lie. It is absolutely and utterly about you, personally and particularly. What matters in every relationship is who we are — in the deepest, truest sense. And that is how it should be. That is the beauty of our lives: the magnificent fact and gracious gift of each of our distinctly different, unique identities.

To live life in disguise, masquerading as something/ someone that we are not, is a sacrilege. It is an act of deceit: lying to others and betraying ourselves — as well as the One who made us. It is also exhausting, and nearly impossible. 

The effort required to recast ourselves into a form that is not our own, and to maintain that false character, every minute of every hour of every day, demands absolute attention and eternal vigilance. At any moment we may slip up, the veil may drop, and our true selves be revealed. And then hated — as cheats and deceivers.

But the one most horribly cheated by this pretense is the deceiver. Weeks, months, years, even decades may pass — perhaps, as in Leah’s case, a whole lifetime — in make-believe: nothing is authentic to the self, but done to a script: “This is how Rachel would play it.” An entire life is lost.

Hidden

For as long as she lived, Leah’s own beauty remained hidden behind Rachel’s veil; her gentleness overshadowed by jealousy, her joys shrouded by disappointment, her heart hardened, her hopes crushed. At the end she may have simply withered away, her passing barely noted.

Perhaps that is why Leah’s eyes may be described as clouded; she couldn’t see what mattered most: the work of being Leah, and of living into the fullness of that person — and no other.

Our culture is rife with temptations to model ourselves on others: to look, and dress, and behave like the chosen “celebrity” of the week. The advertising and entertainment industries pander to our fantasy of suddenly becoming “a whole new person” — always concerned with our appearance on the outside; careless and uncaring of the kind of person we are within. That way madness — and sorrow — lies.

In his farewell address to the people of God, Moses spoke these words of Eternal wisdom: “Choose life in order that you may live, you and your descendants, by loving the Lord your God, by obeying His voice, and remaining faithful to Him” (Dtr 30:19-20). 

Choose life — your own, glorious, amazing, unique and utterly individual life; bring it forth in all of its grandeur and magnificence, all of its simplicity and grace. Do not hide in the shadows of another. And do not be afraid.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Who are you, truly?

What light may you be hiding? (Matthew 5:15)

 

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Jacob’s Discovery

Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 24, 2017

Genesis 28:10-19 ~ as told by Deborah

As he made his way through the desert, fleeing from his brother Esau, Jacob stopped to spend the night along the way. Using a stone for a pillow, he lay down to sleep, and he dreamed….

In his dream he saw a ladder stretching from the earth up into the heavens, and the holy angels were were traveling up and down it. And God stood next to him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham, your father and the God of Isaac. I am going to give you this land where you’re sleeping; I will give it to you and to your children; and your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, spreading across the planet; and all people, everywhere, will be blessed in you and in your offspring.

“Know that I am with you and will keep you safe wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; I will not leave you until my promises are fulfilled.”

When Jacob woke up, he said, “Wow! God is right here — and I didn’t realize it!”

And it freaked him out. He said, “This is terrific and terrifying! This is nothing less than God’s house — and I’ve been sleeping beside the gate of heaven!”

So Jacob got up early that morning and took the stone that he had used as a pillow and set it up as an altar and poured oil on the top of it.

He called that place Beth-el [House of God]; but before that the city had been known as Luz [Light].

Proto-Exodus?

Jacob’s first encounter with the living God occurs when he’s on the run. Fleeing from the wrath of his brother Esau, he stops to rest only because the sun has set and the road ahead is cloaked in darkness. 

His departure was unplanned and unorganized. In his rush to escape he apparently neglected to bring any supplies; Jacob doesn’t set up camp, but flops down by the side of the road, using a rock as a pillow for his head. Sounds like the definition of “roughing it.”

Out in the middle of nowhere, far from the comforts of home, did Jacob yearn for all that he had left behind; for all that was predictable and familiar? Did he hunger for the pots of lentil stew, was he longing for the security of Rachel’s apron strings? Was the threat of death preferable to the fear of the unknown?

It reminds me of the story of the Exodus: when God’s people were escaping from the pains and dangers of life in Egypt and the murderous intent of Pharaoh. As they fled they were beset by panic and doubt: should they follow the Mystery — leading who knew where, or turn back; to seek safety in servitude and the weight of heavy chains?

And here is Jacob (who will later be renamed “Israel”), resting uneasily amid the stones and scrub brush, heading toward an unknown future. Should he face what lies ahead — or return to what he knows?

It’s Easy!

Standing here at this safe and well-informed distance, we may think his decision to be an easy one: “Yes, go on, go for it!” But, when we think of the choices that we are called to make, it becomes clear that no decision is ever simple. There is no such thing as a “sure thing.”

Whatever we choose may lead us to harm, or to happiness. And, almost without exception, every decision leads, in time, to both. That is the fearful terror and the joyful possibility of life: we do not know for certain “what will happen next.” 

We make our choices, based on what we think is best. Sometimes we’re wrong, sometimes we’re right, and sometimes unexpected situations arise, disasters occur and our world is suddenly turned upside down. Sometimes, even if we’ve investigated all of the possibilities, weighed the risks, assessed the advantages, and made all of the arrangements, what we thought would happen, doesn’t. Despite our best laid plans, we don’t always end up where we thought we would: instead we find ourselves out in the cold, like Jacob. 

Only Forward

“You cannot step twice into the same river.” ~ Heraclitus, 5th century BC

As tempting as it can be to want to “go back and start over,” to reset the clock, to return to the way things were before — it cannot be done. The Israelites may have wanted to go back to Egypt, but the way was closed; Jacob might have longed to return to his childhood home, but that place no longer existed: choices — his and those of others — had changed it beyond all recognition. There was no way to go, but forward.

And so it is with all of us. 

There is no going back; what is done is done, we can only go forward. The choice is not whether we shall face what lies ahead, but how we will face it. 

Blessed Assurance

Like Jacob at his rocky rest stop, we do not know “what will happen next” on the path that we are traveling. There may be great dangers, there may be great pleasures; chances are there will be both, and much more, besides. And, despite it all, despite the risks and the uncertainty, we are challenged to go forth with courage and conviction — because there is one thing that we do know; the one certainty that was revealed to Jacob during his dark night of the soul: God is with us.

In places we’d never expect to find any trace of hope or holiness, God is with us. In the middle of a forlorn and rock-strewn desert, God is with us. In the midst of chaos and confusion, in our moments of greatest delights and our hour of deepest despair, God is with us. Wherever we are, whatever we have done or left undone, God is with us.

It is as if we are connected to the Beloved by a ladder stretching between us and heaven, constantly watched over by angels. Nothing can separate us from God’s faithful love and lasting presence. Nothing.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah 

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Take time throughout the day to be truly present and mindful of the reality that God is with you, right now and right here. 

If I ascend to heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, You are there. If I float away into the ether, if I sink into the depths of the sea, even there You will guide me, even there You will hold on to me. ~ Psalm 139:8-10

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Listen!

Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 17, 2017

Matthew 13:2-9

The crowds that had gathered were so vast that Jesus got into a boat and addressed the people as they stood on the beach.

He told them many parables, such as: “A farmer went out to sow, and as he went along, some seeds fell on the path, and birds came and ate them.

“Other seeds fell on rocky ground without much soil; these sprang up right away but, when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away.

“Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 

“Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.

“Let those who can hear, listen!”

A Lost Art

Jesus said,Let those who can hear, listen!”

Well, there’s a unique concept: actually listening to what someone is saying. 

It’s rather a lost art in contemporary society. Oh, plenty of words are spoken and lots of ears hear — but listening is rare. We live in a world of presumptions and prejudices, certain that we are … well, that we’re right. We’ve made our decisions and, by gosh, we’re going to stand by them!

So, what we do, generally, is talk at one another. When someone else is speaking, we’re waiting to state our opinion — vigilant for any hint that their views may diverge with our own and, if they do, mentally compiling that person’s sins and shortcomings, and closing our ears to what is being said.

“Well!” we think to ourselves, “He belongs to that group — I know what those people think. And that is just plain wrong. I won’t listen to rubbish like that.” And so we don’t.

Mistaking Echoes for Answers

On the other hand, if someone’s viewpoint aligns with our own, well, it’s like Old Home Week: we nod and smile and make encouraging noises. But we don’t really pay attention to what that person says, either. If it is what we think, then it must be right, through and through: no flawed reasoning or mistaken information or falsehoods, no room for improvement, no other reasonable possibilities. Why bother to listen?

And so we dwell in our isolated pods: left, right, conservative, liberal, coastal, heartland, Democrat, Republican, Apple, HP, Firefox, Safari… confining ourselves within continually shrinking communities, with narrower and narrower parameters. Like the speakeasies during Prohibition: you have to know the right word in order to gain entrance into our cozy private lairs.

And like the patrons of those old time “gin joints” we can end up in a confused stupor — or poisoned — by a substance that is very different from what we thought it was. Assumptions are dangerous, and may be deadly. Thinking, asking questions, listening — to what is said and to what is unsaid — are essential.

To what — and to whom — are we pledging our (unthinking) loyalty?

Hardness of Heart

Isolated from those “others,” we pay no attention to their concerns nor do we trouble ourselves with their problems; we become deaf to their cries. Comfortably ensconced within our own warm circles, we can become rigid, unyielding, smug, self-satisfied, hard-hearted. Vicious. 

Theologian Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg interprets Pharaoh’s “hardness of heart” toward the Israelites as a failure to listen; he hears what Moses says, but refuses to pay attention. Convinced that he already knows what’s right, Pharaoh remains unmoved and unyielding. He’s made his mind up, and by gosh, nothing will change his thinking..… until his world crumbles — yet even then Pharaoh does not admit to his mistakes, but rigidly (and disastrously) tries to prove that he is “in the right.” 

How much damage do we inflict by an insistence on being “right,” — when we close our ears to alternate viewpoints, to different concerns, to troubles and challenges and experiences of people and communities unlike “our own”? What messages may we be ignoring? 

Worthless Seeds

Jesus said, “Let those who can hear, listen!”

In many churches the reading of the Gospel is preceded by the statement: “Hear the word of the Lord.” How often do we truly hear it? How often do we consider what the words mean, and especially what they mean to us — personally and particularly: right now, where we are and who we are? 

If we do not listen to God speaking to us — through the Scriptures, in prayer and meditation, and in the voices of the souls that fill our world — we are like the seeds in the parable that fall on thin, rocky soil; having no depth, no connection to the living water. We will not learn and change and grow; stiffly self-satisfied, dry and rigid, we will wither and waste away. 

When we listen and understand, we will take the Word into our hearts, and allow it to infuse us with compassion and concern for “our neighbors” — all of our neighbors, not just the ones who think like we do. And we, in turn, will thrive and blossom in the Light and bring forth blessings, perhaps a hundredfold.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

Listen!

 

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Abraham’s Sacrifices

Deborah Beach Giordano
© July 3, 2017

Genesis 22:1-14 ~ as told by Deborah

Then God tested Abraham. He called, “Abraham!” And he replied, “Here I am.”

He said, “Take your son, the only son whom you love, Isaac, and go away to Moriah, and offer him there as a sacrifice on one of the mountains — I’ll show you where once you get there.”

So Abraham got up early in the morning, saddled his donkey, and took two of his young servants with him, along with his son Isaac.

He cut the wood to use to immolate the offering, and set out for the place that God had shown him. It was three days later when Abraham got there, and saw a mountaintop some distance away.

He told the servants, “Stay here with the donkey; the boy and I will go over there; we will worship, and then we will come back.”

Abraham made Isaac carry the wood for the sacrifice, while he carried the fire and the knife.

So the two of them walked on together.

Isaac said to his father Abraham, “Father!”

And he said, “Here I am, my son.”

He said, “We’ve got the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a the sacrifice?”

Abraham said, “God will provide the lamb to be offered, my son.”

So the two of them walked on together.

When they got to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar and stacked the wood for the fire. Then he tied up his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.

Then Abraham raised the knife to kill his son.

But the angel of the Lord called out from heaven, “Abraham! Abraham!”

And he said, “Here I am.”

“Don’t touch that child or do anything to hurt him; because now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.”

Then Abraham’s eyes were opened and he saw a ram, snared in some briars. Abraham went over and took the animal and offered it as a sacrifice in place of his son.

So Abraham called that place “God will provide”; as the saying goes: “On God’s mountain it will be provided.”

Inexplicable and Wrong

As the saying goes: “On God’s mountain it will be provided.”

It would be great if we would be provided with an explanation for what happened on that mountaintop. But I don’t think anyone is ever going to be able to adequately explain it. What follows is my interpretation — and inquiry. 

There is no nice way to say it: Abraham’s intention to murder his child — “in the name of God” — is inexcusable, irrational, outrageous, wrong. Wicked.

And he nearly succeeds: Abraham has bound Isaac with rope and thrown him onto the pyre-to-be. Grasping the child’s hair he pulls Isaac’s head back, exposing his throat… the knife glints in the sunlight, poised to slash and destroy, to pour innocent blood upon the earth. 

Then came the divine intervention. And we all breathe a sigh of relief.

Angelic Inspiration

After the whirlwind of violence and the icy, calculating madness of the attack… is it a sudden awakening? Does Abraham pause, blinking, and come to his senses, do his “better angels” call him back from the siren song of death?

Is it an experience akin to Isaiah’s mountaintop realization? Does Abraham discover that God is not to be found in terror or destruction, but in peace and gentleness?

There is so much that we do not know, so much that remains unheard, untold, throughout.

Did Isaac scream? Did he plead for his life? Did he beg his father — or God — for release? Or was he too frightened to speak, shocked and stunned into silence?

A short while earlier a holy angel told Hagar that God “heard the cries of the boy” Ishmael as he was perishing from thirst in the desert (Gen 21:17). Perhaps the angel said those same words to Abraham — in response to Isaac’s tearful (perhaps silent) pleas as he faced death on that barren mountaintop. 

Whatever the reason, however it happened, one thing we know: each time Abraham sought to destroy his children God intervened; giving water and strength to Hagar and Ishmael in the desert, and holding back the hand that held the knife to Isaac’s throat.

God is God of the living, not of the dead.

“Choose life!” Moses later counsels the Israelites; do what is right and good (Deut 30:15). “You shall not murder” (Ex 20:13).

Suspicious Circumstances

There is something suspect about Abraham’s intended sacrifice of his son from its very beginning. The whole event is shrouded in secrecy: he tells no one where he is going or what he plans to do; he gets up early in the morning while the rest of the household is sleeping, and before Sarah can stop him, then travels such a long distance — with several hours’ head start — that no one could rescue the child. Finally, Abraham contrives to avoid the watchful eyes of the accompanying servants, saying it is an act of private worship, and taking Isaac away, far up on the top of a mountain.

Was it madness, or vengeance, or torment, or testing? Was Abraham punishing Sarah for forcing him to sacrifice his eldest son, Ishmael, on the altar of her selfishness? Did he want her to suffer the same sorrow and despair that Hagar had endured? Had he himself gone mad: was the trauma of sending his eldest child off to die in the wilderness too much for him to bear? Was it a type of self-punishment: destroying his own future, preventing his name from being carried forth into the next generation?

Or was Abraham testing God?

If God was really who God claimed — able to save, restore, redeem, and create — then the time to prove it was now. Here, up on this mountain, as close to heaven as it was possible to get, God would have to show God’s stuff.

If Isaac was truly God’s chosen child, if God was capable of making his descendants a vast multitude, it was up to God to act. 

Or else.

And so Abraham stands on the mountaintop, issuing his deadly challenge to God.

Don’t Do It

Moses warned the newborn Hebrew people, “Don’t test the Lord your God” (Deut 6:16). It isn’t that God will avenge Godself against you; it is simply good advice. If you do otherwise, things just won’t turn out well.

In the case of Abraham (and Isaac), the Divine voice intercedes; a substitute sacrifice is provided, Isaac’s life is redeemed, and Abraham is saved from committing a most heinous crime. But they do not “live happily ever after.”

Every action has a consequence.

It is impossible to know what happened in the days and years that ensued; there is, as has been said, so much of the story that remains unheard, untold, unsaid. 

Sarah never speaks again. Perhaps her pain, her confusion, her anger are too great. Perhaps the stress was beyond enduring. The next time we hear her name is at the announcement of her death — and of Abraham’s extravagant efforts to arrange for a burial site. 

Isaac, too, is silent throughout much of what follows. Like a PTSD sufferer, he apparently spends his days sheltering in his mother’s tent and wandering through the desert where his brother was sent to die (Gen 24:62).

He never again speaks to his father.

Hope, Despite it All

For the rest of his life Abraham remains estranged from both of the children he chose to sacrifice, and apart from the women who gave them life. But he does, in time, gain another wife and father other children. In time, just as God had promised, Abraham’s descendants become as numerous as the stars in the sky (Gen 15:5). 

Yet it is worth remembering that it is through the two survivors, through Ishmael and Isaac, that the family tree grows great and strong. Perhaps it is God’s compassion and healing grace upon them rather than upon their poor disordered father that brings about this glorious multitude. 

And perhaps, in the years that followed, they made peace with one another, perhaps they renewed the friendship they had enjoyed as children. We do not know for certain, but we can hope. We do know that these two sons of Abraham came together to bury their father when his earthly life was ended (Gen 25:9). Perhaps it was then that both saw the light; realizing, in their shared sorrow, their common humanity. 

We do not know for certain, but we can hope.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise:  Choose life!

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A Burning Desire

Deborah Beach Giordano
© June 26, 2017

Jeremiah 20:7-13 ~ as interpreted by Deborah

O Lord, you enticed me, and I was seduced; you ravished me, and I succumbed.

And now I am a scandal, a source of mockery — for the moment I open my mouth, I cry out. Your words shoot forth in a violent stream, like lava from an erupting volcano; I cannot keep quiet. All I can talk about is You.

If I tell myself, “I won’t say anything about Him, I won’t even mention His name,” it is as if an inferno rages within me; my throat is in flames… It is impossible to contain.

God’s word reproaches me and mocks my silence day and night; a thousand whispers breathing fire, violence, and destruction.

Terrible danger lurks all around me! Even my close friends are waiting for me to stumble: “Perhaps he can be lured away, and we can convince him, and restore him to what he was.”

But God is with me like a dreadful warrior.

My persecutors will trip up and fail, and end in disgrace, ashamed of what they’ve done.

Almighty God, You challenge the righteous to live accordingly, You know the content and quality of every heart and mind. Please let me see You punish my enemies.

Praise God, the Holy, the Everlasting, who saves those in need from the power of evildoers.

Fully Involved

The prophet Jeremiah, never one to mince words, describes his experience of God as a seduction: a passionate, visceral, intimate encounter. It was overwhelming, all-encompassing, transforming. It touched the very core of his being, setting his soul on fire.

As firefighters say about a conflagration so intense that they have to stand back, he’s “fully involved.” Jeremiah can never return to what he was before; he is inflamed with the sense of God: it’s all he can talk about, all he can think about. And he wants — no, he needs — to tell everybody he meets.

It is a compulsion. To remain silent would cause a meltdown; the power of the Divine word burns within him: as he describes it, “it is impossible to contain.”

In a word: he’s become a darned nuisance. A religious fanatic who insists on bringing God into every conversation.

Be Reasonable

Jeremiah’s buddies try to reason with him and bring him to his senses. They want their old friend back again; this obsession with the Divine has made him nearly unrecognizable, and not much fun to be with. “Come on now, Jerry, dial it back a bit. There are other things in life besides God.”

You can guess how well that went over.

The prophet erupts in blazing anger. God is All in All, the Author of Creation, the Beginning, the End, the Eternal, the Source, the Power, the Glory!!!! These people are not friends but persecutors, demanding that he cut himself off from the Beloved, that he sever his Life line. He would not — and could not — do so: the power of the Divine boils up inside him, relentlessly. For Jeremiah to keep silent was as impossible as holding back the flow of a volcano.

Yet it was tempting.

The lure of simpler times, when his soul and spirit were placid and peaceful, when he wasn’t compelled to constantly think about God and talk about God and yearn for God must have been great. So great, in fact, that Jeremiah prayed for relief, casting those who tried to restore him to his former condition as evildoers, and denouncing them in the most emphatic (fiery, of course) terms.

Just Chill!

Is it any wonder that people avoided Jeremiah? Would you want to spend your time with some guy who talked about God incessantly — and never, ever anything else? After a while that gets pretty old.

Besides, there’s so much else to talk about! Politics, health care, housing prices, food, fashion, films and television… you know: interesting stuff.

But no, there’s old Jeremiah the wet blanket (well, maybe an electric blanket) with his constant harping on “God’s will”; calling for peace and justice, mercy and compassion, concern for those in need, love for our neighbors, blah, blah, blah. Endlessly. Ceaselessly. That’s all he thinks about.

And anything will set him off. He brings God into every discussion, makes God the centerpiece of all that we say and do and hope for and believe. Everything. For Jeremiah, God’s will must be our Ultimate Concern, and all else pales into insignificance.

What kind of life is that?

Yikes

Well….

As a matter of fact, it’s the kind of life we’re supposed to be leading: one that makes God’s will our first priority. We’re supposed to be “a holy people”; mindful of the grace-infused nature of all creation, honoring the sacrament of our lives and the lives of others. We are to work for justice, love kindness, and remember that we aren’t God (c.f., Micah 6:8).

As a faithful people, we are to behave as if what God wants matters. Seriously. All of the time. Not just on Sundays or when we’re saying our prayers. In all we say and do and hope for and dream of.

It turns out that it is Jeremiah who is the infinitely practical one, not those “reasonable” friends who want him to quiet down and conform. They are the voices of temptation, enticing us to go along to get along, and put all of that God business on the back burner.

But we are called to follow the Way of the Lord all of the time. Even when it isn’t convenient. To do less is to allow hatred and injustice to flourish; to surrender our vocation, to sever our Life line.

Who is Speaking?

The voices of temptation (which are often inside our own heads) want us to relax and not worry about what is “right” for a while. After all, it can be downright exhausting to be mindful all of the time. It is easier, you know, to just chill.

But the word of God is to be proclaimed at all times and in all places: in face-to-face meetings and text messages, in check-out lines and waiting rooms, in bike lanes and bars and coffee shops, on city sidewalks and in parking lots, in classroom discussions, phone conversations, government legislation, and Facebook postings, and even while driving in traffic. Everywhere. To everyone. Always.

This doesn’t require any overt proselytizing: we needn’t go tagging our emails with bible verses, erecting billboards, or inviting people to church. If our lives are fueled by God’s gracious compassion, if our hearts are on fire with holy love, if we act kindness, seek justice, and embody mercy, we won’t have to do any preaching; the Divine Word will say all that needs to be said.

Virtual hugs and real-time blessings,

Deborah  ♰

Suggested Spiritual Exercise

If your heart is aflame with God’s love, people will be drawn to the warmth.

“Preach the Gospel at all times. When necessary, use words.”
~ St. Francis of Assisi

 

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