I have had a difficult time posting this entry, partially because I am caught up in the madness that is a pastor's Lent. But it is most because this is a painful part of Sarah's story, and one that takes an emotional toll.
In Genesis 22, Abraham receives an unimaginable command from God to sacrifice this child, Isaac, whose birth and existence has consumed so much of this narrative so far, and whose coming was promised by God as part of the divine covenant with Abraham and Sarah.
Is God as capricious and cruel as this?
Christians have used this story as a precurser narrative, equating it with the theology identifying Jesus as the substituting sacrifice to atone for all humanity's sins.
I don't actually believe that to be true. But it is beyond the scope of what I intend here, which is to ponder the lives and experience of some women in the biblical narrative.
In this week, when the community in which I live is grieving the loss of not one but two children-- one, an 18-year-old college freshman, and the other, a seven year-old-- I can only read this passage as a mother, in the long run, helpless to protect her children from whatever cruel caprice life may have in store.
Below, an imagined monologue of Sarah.
Where can they be? It's been days. What kind of foolish errand have I allowed?
When Abraham told me he wanted to take my son, my only son Isaac, whom I love, off to the God-forsaken land of Moriah, for the purpose of taking part in a sacrifice... the hairs stood up on the back of my neck. I felt a chill. How far is it... perhaps 55 miles? 60?
I know what they say about Moriah: It is a holy place. It is a place where God meets men and speaks to them. It is a place that is fought over by warring tribes, each believing their God wants them to have it.
Well, Abraham has met and spoken with God in any number of places. In Haran. At Shechem. In the hill country, east of Bethel. By the terebinths of Mamre. Here! In this very place? Why Moriah? Why now?
If I am honest, I have seen a change come over my husband. It would be easy to say it is age... but this has been sudden. These last few days. A cloud has descended upon him. I come upon him, and his eyes tell me he is far, far away, in some misty recesses of thought or feeling to which I have no access. Maybe he's with his God. How should I know? But he has a haunted look, the look of a man who wishes he did not know what he knows, or wishes he did not have to do what he must do.
And then... I saw it last night. A cheer had come over him, but when I looked closer, more deeply into those eyes I have been looking into for... how many dozens of years?... I could see, it wasn't a cheer at all. It was resignation. A decision, which always lightens the mood, terrible though it may be.
What is this terrible decision?
And why does it terrify me, that Isaac is somehow involved?
Listen to me... the ramblings of a fond old woman, with but one child to love, and to tend, and to fuss over. If I'd been able to give Abraham a houseful of children I wouldn't give it a second thought, seeing my son helping him to pack their provisions and give is father a leg up onto that old donkey. Watching them grow smaller as they walk away towards... their goal. Seeing them side by side is what did it... Abraham's age blooms in the presence of Isaac's beautiful youth. As Isaac becomes a young man, his father wears his age even more heavily, a burden making his shoulders droop.
Why is it that my heart clenches so within me?
Where is he? My son, my only son Isaac, whom I love?
Where are they?
What is it? What has that God of Abraham's has asked of him now?
My dread grows with every passing hour. I feel sick... my breath comes in short bursts...
Where are they?
Where is he?
At the conclusion of the story of Abraham and Isaac in Moriah (believed by some scholars to be Jerusalem), there is some brief business involving family names. The next chapter opens with the news that Sarah is dead.