Archive for June, 2005
There’s something very disturbing in that first line of our first reading: ‘It happened that God put Abraham to the test’. Especially when we discover the ‘test’ is: go and slaughter your son. Now although the story has a happy ending—if you discount the bills for Isaac’s lifelong therapy—I’m still left with a niggling doubt—maybe, when it’s my turn for the test, there’ll be no ram in the thicket, no angel voice to still my hand from sacrificing all I love. But then I catch myself in mid-doubt and wonder if I will ever learn.
This story is about learning: Abraham’s and Israel’s. It’s a story with its own layers of history. It celebrates a shrine where children were sacrificed to a hungry God. It celebrates the immense and immensely strange faith of Abraham, Father of Three Religions. It celebrates the tangled and perilous tale of sacred violence. And it celebrates the way we learn the character of the God who has made covenant with us.
The Hebrew people couldn’t resist this story—still can’t—it is the most embellished, the most interpreted, most influential of Hebrew tales. And its history records our history.
How did we learn that God, our God, prefers life to death, offers blessing not curse, desires love not fear? How do we learn? I guess we have learned the hard way: with our hand on the knife in the land of Moriah.
Moriah’s a funny place. You won’t find it on the map. It means the land of seeing. And when the drama is over what is it we see? We see, the text says, that the Lord provides—literally the Lord sees to it.
And that’s not just ‘trust and God will take care of you’—it’s much, much more—wherever we feel the demand for violence sacrifice in our lives—whether we play Abraham and Isaac in our own hearts or act it out on the world stage in hatred, war and famine—wherever we feel the demand for violence, God will see to it—not stop it, not put it right, but bear its force and anger and hatred—to the end. God is the ram in the thicket. God is the man on the cross. Even in our Eucharistic sacrifice God is the bread and God is the wine.
So what have we learned in 5000 years? God is never the one demanding sacrifice; God is always the one paying the price.
June 30th, 2005
“I hear so many disparaging me, ‘Terror from every side!’”—so says Jeremiah. … Fear runs through the heart of today’s readings. Jeremiah sounds a little paranoid—they are all talking about me, plotting against me—but it seems he was right to be afraid. And the charge his enemies bring against him too is one of fear—they call him an alarmist, they denounce him for seeing terror on all sides, they condemn him for being a terrorist, for making the people panic. And we are not talking about some weirdo on a street corner shouting the end of the world is nigh—Jeremiah is meddling in politics, the terror and war he foresees is the end result of political choices being made all around him, short-sighted choices, fear-driven choices that ignore the covenant and closeness of God. And in the interests of national security the people making those choices are getting ready to lock Jeremiah up to keep him quiet, for fear he’ll mess up their plans.
Fear runs through it all. Even Jeremiah prays to see his foes tremble in horror before an avenging God.
But in the gospel we hear a different voice: ‘Do not be afraid’. Jesus says it three times: ‘do not be afraid, do not be afraid’.
I’ve been trying to guess the tone of his voice but it eludes me. He’s definitely not treating his followers like children waking from a nightmare, shsh it’s all right. In fact he seems to say it isn’t all right: there are real things to fear, real terrors. Yet, all the same, don’t be afraid. And he gives three very strange reasons for not being afraid in the face of fear.
Because secrets will be spoken. Because God knows us down to the hairs on our heads. Because Jesus will stand by us and for us before the living God. None of which I find drastically comforting when the fear grips me.
But I look at what has happened worldwide since September 11th 2001 and how that awful terror has been the excuse to wage war, limit freedom, and neglect the poor and the planet and it seems so plain that a nation’s life governed by fear can only run to ruin.
But it’s the same for each of us. The voice in my heart that urges me to fear does so out of all proportion to what faces me. It would have me fear the dark as much as death. And it’s a voice that is unanswerable because, indeed, anything might happen. But when I listen to it my choices are bad ones and my freedom shrinks and my fear grows.
But for every whisper of fear there’s another voice offering me life and love. And the more I listen to it the freer I become. And when I’m free I want to proclaim it from the house-tops, I know how many sparrows I’m worth, and there is nothing I desire more than to have Jesus stand alongside me, to know he knows me, and would give himself for me, and me for him.
June 19th, 2005
I’ve been reading an excellent new book on praying by Ivan Mann who used to be part of our team here and now lives and works on Cumbrae Island.
Ivan uses his own story and experience to make prayer as basic as breathing, freeing it from jargon, technique and theory and, along the way, instilling in the reader a taste and hunger for the real thing.
Purchase from Amazon
June 6th, 2005
Listen to them pray. Listen to Tobit and to Sarah. They are both beyond the protocols of prayer.
Tobit wants to die. His life is a misery. He is blind. He has to rely on charity to keep him, or—worse of all it seems to him—women’s work. And he’s going a little mad with it all. So he lays it on thick to God. You are great and wonderful God and all you do is true and good but we are all worthless maggots who have never done what we should. I deserve to be punished, to live and suffer, but please snuff me out and have done with it. Let it be over.
Sarah too wants to die. She has husband trouble—or maybe demon trouble. Seven she has lost, all on her wedding nights, before they ever got to her marriage bed. But it’s not the lost husbands she is worried about in her prayer—it’s that people are talking! Suicide has its problems so she turns to God to do the deed—she too prays to die. Let it be over.
They both pray lousy prayers full of mixed motives, misunderstandings, and manipulation. They are hardly models for us, yet their prayer is the prayer of all the afflicted, offended, lost souls of this world.
And God hears. Both of them found favour before the glory of God it says. Prayer may be messy, it may be selfish, it may be theologically incorrect—but God hears. And God’s answer is to give them both better than they ask. God’s answer is an angel. They want to die but what they get is an angel to heal them. A rather delightful, incognito angel with a dog for a sidekick.
The answer is immediate though the healing takes quite a while to be revealed. The remedy for Tobit and the remedy for Sarah, though hundreds of miles apart, turn out to be joined by a journey, several outrageous coincidences, and a near miss with a killer fish. Oh and true love. … and treasure—read on!
Tobit and Sarah must have been so very disappointed that night they prayed, let it be over. Come the morning they were still there: Tobit still humiliated and blind; Sarah still a scandal and unwed. God’s care is never over. God’s remedy for them took some brewing, some strange twists, a fishy exorcism, and an angel with a dog. But as we shall see our God is God of the living not the dead.
June 1st, 2005