Friday, April 29, 2005

Living into the calling

Abraham and Sarah: The effort of calling

The distance between the call and the fruition of the call is measured in great effort. The calling is given freely, but it takes everything we have to live into the calling.

When God called Abram and Sarai, He called them from a life of comfort, away from the urbane center of civilization, its running water, indoor plumbing and social prestige. He called them to cross a barren desert, to live in caravan of animals, frail tents on burning sand, following the stars until He showed them a land.

“What is this Lord, a game of divine hide and seek?” “You call us and then hide the map?”

The call cost them everything of their comfortable life, but in the effort God called them His own. God gave them new covenant names. Not only did God call them from former Ur-bane life, God called them from former selves to new selves, from false selves to true selves: Abram to Abraham, Sarai to Sarah.

Step by step in the calling, faith called from ‘deep to deep.’ The Lord showed up on their doorstep and promised them a son – a whole new level in the call. The first level took everything they had, this level took more than they had…and Sarah just had to laugh.

“Lord, have you lost your mind? Does a woman bear a child when her body is incapable of bearing?”

“How can you promise something that is impossible to accept…and then call us to accept that impossibility?”

Living into the calling took everything they had: body, soul and spirit.

Yet, the great call wasn’t through. After the miracle, after the promised son, God asked for that son. “Now that I’ve given you the son, sacrifice him to Me on the Mountain.”

“But God! His name is Laughter! We called him Laughter because you called us to the impossible! And now you ask him in sacrifice?”

How can God be so cruel, so demanding in the calling?

As one rabbi said, “G-d, you treat your friends this way -- it’s no wonder you have so few of them!”

But by now, Abraham knows God well enough to know that this is a God who calls to the impossible: This is a God, who when He deigns to call a person, calls that person not to the possible, but to the impossible. As Kierkegaard put it, “Abraham believed God by virtue of the absurd.” Only God could call to something like this…

Whatever else could have been said, Abraham saddled the donkey with firewood, sharpened his knife and headed up the Mountain of God. “Abba, where is the sacrifice?” asked Isaac.

“God will provide, my son!” replied Abraham. “God will provide!” “He always does.”

Abraham couldn’t tell Isaac of the years of knowing the God, this God who always called to the impossible and then provided. Abraham couldn’t tell Isaac that the holy calling always took effort that went beyond human ability. But Abraham could show him.

And he did. The rope. The wood. The descended knife…and Yhwh fulfilled the calling.

In that moment Isaac learned more of calling than mountains of books or money could have brought him.

Living into the calling takes everything we call our own. But it makes us children of promise in the process.

Alleluia!

Amen.



5 comments:

winston7000 said...

In Holy Scripture, which is itself the summation and essence of profundity, the passages on Abram (Abraham) can leave one almost speechless in wonder. Chapter 15 of Genesis still gives me chills whenever I read it or heard it read at Mass.

All of us are, in our own way, Abraham and Sarah, for we are all called out of our accustomed routines to follow a road not of our own making, but of God's inscrutable wisdom. Some hear the call in its entirety, others only partially, others are deafened by their own preoccupations and fail to become truly themselves.

In Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's book, "A Passion for Truth," he quotes Rabbi Mendel of Kotzsk, who replied to a man who had claimed to read the Torah many times, "Yes, that's fine, but how many times has the Torah read you?"

Thanks for the opportunity to reply to your fine post.

John Hetman
Niles, IL

Allen Patterson said...

The journey INTO the calling - into a new self - is a wild, adventurous trail, and brings its own special wonder and joy. Sometimes I feel like Frodo on his way to Mordor. God is Laughter indeed!

Loy Mershimer said...

AP, nice analogy: Frodo on the way to Mordor. That is a great metaphor of calling: Called from the Shire, to a road fraught with danger, to a task utterly impossible...a mere, earthly creature weighted down with the One Ring's Quest: The fate of Middle Earth resting on the back of Middle Earth's 'weakest' creature...

And John, awesome post! You can post here anytime and I would be honored. Your thoughts go precisely to the heart of the matter. I wish I could have said it so well:

All of us are, in our own way, Abraham and Sarah, for we are all called out of our accustomed routines to follow a road not of our own making, but of God's inscrutable wisdom. Some hear the call in its entirety, others only partially, others are deafened by their own preoccupations and fail to become truly themselves.

In Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel's book, "A Passion for Truth," he quotes Rabbi Mendel of Kotzsk, who replied to a man who had claimed to read the Torah many times, "Yes, that's fine, but how many times has the Torah read you?"


So many Christians today reason that "God doesn't call us to be an Abraham or Sarah!" Of course, thinking then to somehow get by with less, or to define 'calling' around culture and creature comforts.

But the fact is that the Abraham and Sarah's story reveals not so much that God calls us to be Abraham or Sarah, but rather reveals the character of God in intimate human relation. It reveals the nature of calling in human time. It reveals the price of being called away from lesser self to true self...utter relation to the Holy God.

In this holy relation, what you said is so right on: We'll be called out of comfortable routines, into the great dance of God. We'll be called from the 'wisdom' of self and family and culture, to the divine, infinite wisdom of God [inscrutable, to be sure!].

Every man and woman of high faith in Scripture found the nature of this calling the same: Abraham and Sarah as we have seen, Jochebed called to release her Moses to the Nile, and then Moses called from the feted palace to the lonely desert, and burning bush, Esther called from faithful Jewish home to enter the pagan court of death, Ruth called to leave her home and people, to dance in the lineage of Christ, Joseph called from home and family, to abuse, false sex charges, and prison...to the throne of Egypt, Deborah called from 'normal, respectable home life' to leading Israel in battle, Daniel called from Jerusalem comfort to castration and servanthood in Babylon, to ruling the known world by proxy, ...and the list of faith goes on as far as the golden thread of Scripture speaks.

This calling is at times the most painful -- but always the most beautiful -- thing we could ever experience.

For those who try to make the Abraham and Sarah story not apply to their personal life, the divine question will not go away: Child, what did you think it would look like for Me to call you away from yourself to Myself, away from your false self to your true self?

And here, your Heschel quote echoes eternal truth: Yes, but has Scripture read you?

Your observation that, "Some hear the call in its entirety, others only partially, others are deafened by their own preoccupations and fail to become truly themselves," is the heart of the issue.

God help me! Let me not deafen myself to 'comfort' myself, but let me hear the call in its entirety, and follow truly!

This is the lesson of Abraham and Sarah...and there is great wisdom here, before which the greatest minds of faith have bowed. And there is great wisdom in your reply post! Thank you!

Awesome thoughts...

God bless,

Loy

Tony T. said...

Hey Loy, this is Tony T. (the drink guy) just thought I would let you know that I will be coming to camp this year! you can email me if you would like; CherryNoble@gmail.com

Loy Mershimer said...

T...T...T...Tony T! :-)

Great to hear from you, man, and so glad you are going to be at youth camp. It's going to be a great camp! I'll send you a quick email, though.

Have a great day!

Loy