We just re-read the story known as “The Binding of Isaac” for today’s class on the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament). For those of you who care look it up, it’s Genesis 22:1-19. The jist of the story is that God commanded Abraham to make a sacrifice to God of his miraculously conceived son Isaac, his blessing from God. Abraham goes to perform the deed out of radical obedience (as Kierkegaard would say) and at the last minute, God sends a messenger to stop Abraham from sacrificing his son, and presents a ram which should be sacrificed instead.
Not one of the more pleasant Abraham stories.
There are many interpretations to this story, all of which have their own validity and none of which I’ll go into right now. What was so significant about this reading is that a few people from class gave a class presentation today on this Abraham story. And because of their presentation, I stopped wondering about how to interpret this story so that it makes sense to me and began to understand what this story means to me. I moved from my head and into my heart.
I suddenly saw myself as Abraham… holding the knife over someone I love.
Then I saw how I do this… all the time.
I don’t actually kill people of course, not in the physical sense. But I do “sacrifice” them to make myself feel better about who I am… which is what my perceived relationship with God is all about… feeling better about who I am. I’m so quickly willing to judge people in comparison to myself and create reasons why I’m ok and they are not… why I’m in right relationship with God and they are not.
Yes… that’s right. They are not in right relationship with God. I have to admit that that is a part of my actual thought process sometimes. In order to feel better about myself, I judge people for not being willing to do the work so that they too can be in right relationship with God… like me, right? Who knew that I was self-righteous?
Admitted. Are we done now? Not hardly.
Given what I’ve just confessed, I also get to deal with my claims to enlightenment. My stated belief is that we are all God’s children and we are all resting in Love all the time. Do I really believe that?Sometimes I do actually. But most of the time my inner struggle proves otherwise, I’m afraid. Because my inner struggle is about me and how I have to compare myself to others in order to feel better about myself. As it turns out, I don’t really believe my own propaganda after all. There is a significant distance between belief and truth.
If I believed it, then I would be living a life of integrity. I would be in harmony with God and with my brothers and sisters and all of the created order and with myself.
… I would cease to overeat and treat myself with the care that I deserve.
… I would cease to think that people are a puzzle to figure out or a hurdle to get around or a pedastooled entity from whom to seek approval… and just love them.
… I would cease to buy things out of convenience and buy only ethically-produced, sustainable goods.
But I don’t. I don’t really do any of those things. I take a stab at them once in a while… and that feels good for a few minutes.But then I forget again and the ball rolls and rolls and rolls out of control. And there I am, holding the knife of sacrifice over those blessings which God has given me… again.
Why am I not holding the knife of sacrifice over the things which I hold “most dear” instead, the things that tell me I’m ok? Why am I not willing to sacrifice my need to be seen as smart or right? Why am I not willing to sacrifice my need to comfort myself with food? Why am I not willing to sacrifice my need to be autonomous? Why am I not willing to sacrifice my rage, my intolerant tolerance, my Polyanna world-view, my need for ease and convenience? Why am I not willing to sacrifice my incessant need to apologize for being here?
As I write this, I’m sure I’ve posted something like this on here before. And that makes the whole thing even more maddening. I haven’t learned a thing. I haven’t shifted, I haven’t grown, I haven’t changed. I can’t stop. I’m addicted. I’m addicted to… to what? My own struggle? My own smallness? My own “stuff”? There really should be a 12-step program for me out there somewhere… Self-Absorbed Anonymous. I’m joking… not really.
So it appears that I’m an Augustinian* after all, and after I’ve tried so hard to deny his validity in my post-Freudian world of enlightened spiritual awareness and psycho-spirituality. “Doing the work” seems to be work that’s done in vain because nothing really changes except that I can articulate my process really well. Just ask me, I know all about what it is to be me.
But what I don’t have… I don’t have it within me to stop sacrificing Love.
God’s grace is all I have.
And praying is all I can do.
Then I’ll be in right relationship with God, right? And there goes the ball…
I’m going to go get ice cream.
*St Augustine of Hippo was a Christian theologian from the early 5th century CE.He has gotten a bad rap as of late because he’s seen as the architect behind the Christian concept of original sin. As I became acquainted with him through reading his works, I realized that what he was also saying is that we are powerless before God and it is God’s love, which is ever-present, that is our salvation. Ultimately, we have no say in the matter… God loves us whether we feel that we “deserve” it or not.