Monday, September 17, 2012

Complete Presence: Here I Am

It is the tradition in most Jewish synagogues to read the story from Genesis 22, the binding of Isaac and the very close call of human sacrifice.  In the text, God is supposedly putting Abraham to the test by telling him to go to Moriah and offer his son, his most loved one, Isaac, as a burnt offering to God.  For three days, Abraham and Isaac trudge on toward this show down on a moutain top.

When they came to the place that God had shown him, Abraham built an altar there and laid the wood in order. He bound his son Isaac, and laid him on the altar, on top of the wood.Then Abraham reached out his hand and took the knife to kill- his son. But the angel of the Lord called to him from heaven, and said, ‘Abraham, Abraham!’ And he said, ‘Here I am.’ He said, ‘Do not lay your hand on the boy or do anything to him; for now I know that you fear God, since you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.’And Abraham looked up and saw a ram, caught in a thicket by its horns. Abraham went and took the ram and offered it up as a burnt-offering instead of his son.So Abraham called that place ‘The Lord will provide’; as it is said to this day, ‘On the mount of the Lord it shall be provided.’ The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven,and said, ‘By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son,I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies,and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.’So Abraham returned to his young men, and they arose and went together to Beer-sheba; and Abraham lived at Beer-sheba. --Genesis 22:9-19

This passage from Genesis is among the most studied and debated texts from the Torah.  It raises questions about God and the man, Abraham.   What kind of God would put someone to the test and require such an extreme sacrifice? 

Did Abraham argue with God?  Why didn’t he put up a protest in the same way he did when making a plea on behalf of the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah?

And what about Isaac—a 37-year-old man at the time?  Did he not panic when he found himself tied to the altar with his father holding a knife over his chest?

 The recurring phrase in the story, called the Akedah (‘the binding’) is the response, “Here I am”, an answer of complete presence.  As Abraham and Isaac journey for three days to Mount Moriah where this ultimate test of Abraham’s faith is to happen, one wonders what all that must have been weighing on the mind of the man asked to sacrifice the son whom he loves. From the way the story reads, Isaac was oblivious to what was about to occur, asking very simple questions about the lack of a lamb.  He had no clue that he was to be sacrificial lamb. 

 From a Christian perspective, the parallels to the Jesus story are unmistakable. A God who so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son so that all may not perish but have everlasting life, brought his son into the world not to condemn people or level a harsh judgment, but to bind us closer to the source of our being and the creator and sustainer of all things.   Even in his moment of trial, Jesus comes to realize that he can not let the cup pass him by, but must drink of it.  Unlike Isaac, he knew all-too-well that he was to be the sacrifice.  But his complete trust in God led him to that place of complete presence, a statement to God and to us of, “Here I am.” 

 In the end, Abraham does not need to sacrifice his son, Isaac, because the real sacrifice was his will.  Having shown that he would lay down his own will to do what he believed was God’s will the covenant with Abraham was made complete.  And Isaac, though the heir of Abraham's line, never speaks to his father again.

 Our own lives are full of choices, sometimes seemingly difficult choices between two poles that appear to pull us in two very different directions.  It is in that place, that middle point of tension, where it is sometimes best to stay still.  In this still place, God meets us amidst our struggle and waits with us as we weigh our decisions.   All that is asked of us in those moments is complete presence of “Here I am” and not to shrink away.

This was the lead in to the presentation of my spiritual autobiography this evening at EfM.  Up until now, I have not really shared out loud with anyone, especially this group, that I am discerning a call to ordained ministry.  And it really is just discernment.  Very slow, patient, toe-dipping-in-the-water discernment.  I find myself constantly standing between those two poles of action or inaction.  I admitted that my mentor, as she was leaving St. John's, told me that I needed to find a spiritual director which was advice that I ignored.  About nine months later, I flew to New Hampshire and met with Bishop Gene Robinson, who also told me to get a spiritual director.  And I ignored him, too.  And it wasn't until one Friday, almost a year later, that Fr. Lee Graham was reading from the Gospel of John:

Very truly, I tell you, when you were younger, you used to fasten your own belt and to go wherever you wished. But when you grow old, you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will fasten a belt around you and take you where you do not wish to go.’(He said this to indicate the kind of death by which he would glorify God.) After this he said to him, ‘Follow me.’--John 21:18-19 

I felt my whole being shaking as these words drove themselves deeply into my heart.  I checked my calendar and cleared an afternoon the next week to go down to my massage school in Gainesville where I could walk the labyrinth.  I needed that meditative space to grapple with what had happened in hearing Christ's words to Peter out on the beach and what did those words mean to me. 

I remember that my walk through the labyrinth that time was marked with the discomfort of having the ants biting my bare feet when I reached the altar in the center.  It was as if I wasn't going to be allowed to hang out in that safe place for very long at all.  And as I emerged from the labyrinth, the message I was receiving was clear and unmistakable: I needed to follow the advice I'd been given and get a spiritual director.

That is where I'm at today.  I am working with a priest north of the border in Southwest Georgia.  At this time, the destination isn't as important as paying attention and being in a place of complete presence as I journey with God.  I am already aware that my path isn't an easy one (that whole partnered lesbian thing just seems to trip up so many people).  But if the command and my desire are to follow Christ, then I have made a choice.

Here I am.


Anonymous said...

I am so glad that you shared this with more than one person. Keep up the discernment, Susan


Kay & Sarah said...

Susan, as I was reading your thoughts, it occurred to me that by your explanation of scripture texts; your should be clergy. Your have been massaging physical wounds and bodies, but your faith and ability to find the bones and connective tissues of Scripture is wonderful.
The Church doors have been opened for you.

SCG said...

Thanks, Kay and Sarah. I believe those doors are open for me... somewhere other than Florida. And that is the place of tension where I now stand. My job, as I see it, is to soften my heart and allow time and space with God to help see me to wherever and whatever I must do next.