Sunday, November 1, 2009

EfM Year 1 Chapter 9: Abraham Saga (Part II) in Genesis 15-18:15, 21-25:18

For EfM purposes, Part II of the Abraham Saga consists of these elements.

  • Two covenant accounts: the first by the Yahwist writer where God binds Godself to the covenant by passing through the animal carcasses as a smoking fire pot and a flaming torch but requires nothing of Abraham; the second by the Priestly writer where God requires circumcision of Abraham
  • Name change: Abram to Abraham and Sarai to Sarah, inserting the Hebrew letter Hay, which represents the insertion of God's name into the names Abraham and Sarah
  • Circumcising all Abraham's males
  • Visitation of Yahweh to Abraham and Sarah and birth of Isaac
  • Dismissal of Hagar and Ishmael
  • Abraham's near-sacrifice of Isaac
  • Sarah's death and Abraham's purchase of the Cave at Machpelah
  • Abraham's old age and death

These are some of my thoughts upon working with this part of the Abraham Saga.

MYSTERIUM TREMENDUM ET FASCINANS (RUDOLF OTTO). The course materials say that Rudolf Otto describes the holy as "the mystery which both attracts with its fascination and terrifies with its overwhelming power." (Page 124) The course materials also say that, according to Otto, both elements are necessary: "An experience which simply overwhelms in a purely negative way could not be an experience of the divine but only of the demonic; one which attracts without striking fear would be merely sentimental." (Page 124)

I cannot imagine where Otto got this idea that any encounter with God has to both attract and terrify. I know that Catherine Marshall describes a time of great difficulty in her life during which she experienced the presence of God as a deep calming loving utterly peaceful presence--no terror at all. I think, too, of people who, during prayer, experience ecstasy and deep joy--no terror. I think of myself and how I have heard God simply as a quiet thought in my mind--no terror.

CIRCUMCISION. One wonders where this off-the-wall idea came from. The course materials suggest that circumcision may have originally been part of a marriage rite. The only thing I can think of is that perhaps it helped in keeping the penis clean in a desert, where water was scarce. Certainly it isn't necessary today.

It's also pretty clear that only the males rated having a sign in their flesh of their covenant with God. But then would we really want God to prescribe female circumcision as well, which I understand is quite awful.

I think that the penis is best left alone in its natural state.

It's interesting to consider what the mark of a Christian is. It's a life of love. People are to know who is a Christian by the love demonstrated in the Christian's life. I guess, though, that you could say this of any valid religion: a practitioner's life would be characterized by love.

HOSPITALITY. This was essential in the nomadic life of the desert. It was crucial to keep hospitality alive. Everyone's life depended upon hospitality at one time or another, and by offering hospitality, everyone ensured that hospitality remained active.

This leads me to think about hospitality today. Hospitality is essential today for spiritual sustenance. Opening our homes to each other for nourishment, refreshment, and soul enrichment keeps human connections alive.

ABRAHAM'S NEAR-SACRIFICE OF ISAAC. The course materials suggest that radical obedience to God may include obedience even when God commands something that is wrong according to usual moral sensibility. I say no. I will not obey if "God" commands something that I believe is wrong. My responsibility is to listen to my own inner knowing, not to some outer "God."

I can only imagine what this incident did to destroy Isaac's trust in his father and in God.

CHESED. Chesed, according to the course materials, includes the meaning of being true to one's nature. I think of God being true to God's nature of compassion. This helps me, somehow, in relating to very painful times in my childhood--times of terror and shame. I may at some point say more about this in my blog, but for now, further thoughts on this are best kept in my journal.

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