Today we begin Ordinary Time. We made it through Lent and Eastertide and the spirit-filled days of Pentecost and Trinity Sunday. And now we begin that long stretch of time until Advent. It holds few “high holy” days, with the exception of All Saints Day and, for our church, the Blessing of the Animals. (Maynard is laying right below me on the floor, so I had to say that!) It’s just ordinary, everyday time. And this beginning Sunday is just an ordinary day. Thanks be to God!
I love Ordinary Time. It’s a chance to breathe in all that Spirit that has been swirling around us the last few weeks. It’s a chance to soak in what has happened, a chance to sort of “catch up” with ourselves. There is a story of a nineteenth century explorer who journeyed to Africa and hired some of the villagers to help him navigate the continent. For the first three days, they walked at an incredible pace and took few breaks. He was pleased with how quickly they were moving. On the fourth day, though, they wouldn’t move at all. He was angry, to say the least. After all, he was paying them to do this! When he asked them what in the world they thought they were doing, they told him that it was time to stop, to rest. It was time to let their souls catch up with their bodies.
I love that story. I think I need to hear it about every fourth day (or at least every seventh!). That’s why we need Ordinary Time. All this ascending and Spirit pouring into us can wear a person out. So, rather than filling us until our head explodes, God gives us the gift of time to breathe it all in and change our lives to fit our new way of being.
Today we read what is possibly one of the most difficult passages in the Bible. The story of the Sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-14), taken at face value, is disconcerting, disenchanting, and downright shocking. Read in this way, neither Abraham nor God really comes out looking that good. After all, what kind of parent would kill his own son? (Hmmm…I’ll leave that one for later!) And what kind of God would expect someone to pass some sort of test as proof of faith. I used to hate this story.
But…breathe…let it sit…let it become a part of you. First of all, we need to realize that our English translation is limited by the English language. There are two meanings for the word “test”. One denotes testing to discern whether or not standards are being met, to separate right from wrong. (You went there, didn’t you?) The other is a sort of experiment. Think of a chemical test in which an entity is pushed beyond itself, a test in which something actually becomes something else. If God was “testing” Abraham, perhaps it was so that Abraham would emerge changed, a new being. The point was not whether or not Abraham passed but whether or not Abraham transformed.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow claims that the best contemporary midrash to the Aqedah comes from Esther Ticktin. She says that the “strongest imperatives of Torah are to rear children and to break idols. What happens when we turn our children into idols? We must break our idolization of them—kill the image of of them we have erected…This is what God asked of Abraham: Lift him up to me: But Abraham had so totally made Isaac into his idol that he couldn’t fathom how to do it without killing him. The lifted knife was the breaking of the idol.” That was all God wanted—for Abraham to break the cast of any idols that he might have set between himself and God. God wanted Abraham to realize once and for all his own faith to trust in what God was doing in his life.
Maybe the point of the story is not whether Abraham got it right or wrong. I mean, when it was all said and done, who really cares anyway? God shows us over and over again that there is always another chance to see things in a different way. Ordinary Time is the time that we are given to break idols, to shift our perspective, to finally get it. This story does not include such drama as burning bushes or parting seas or even stones rolled away. There is no dramatic wind or fire pouring down from the heavens. What finally comes to Abraham is “wait”…”listen”…”think about what you’re doing”. Maybe Abraham finally questions all that he knew about God and saw God in a way that he’d never seen God before.
God never spoke to Abraham again. Abraham lived the rest of his days in Ordinary Time, just breathing in all that God had provided.
Have a wonderfully ordinary day!
Grace and Peace,