Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Isaac: A Tale of God's Will

I write from New Orleans, which is today preparing for Hurricane Isaac. We are under a state of emergency, which is a technical term meant to temporarily increase responsiveness by reducing bureaucracy. The state of emergency also encourages schools and businesses to close, which means more people leaving the city and/or physically hunkering down. All this combined with the menacing clouds, heavy rain, and powerful winds give our city a sense of waiting. Like the biblical story of the Binding of Isaac, we are suspiciously glancing up to heaven, asking, "what are you doing with that knife?"

Binding of Isaac
At times of emergency we get a chance to re-evaluate what is most important in our lives. What would you evacuate with? Who would you be checking on?

I am lucky to be in my north-Louisiana Eretz Ha-Avot with my family, who I happened to be visiting. Now, during our state of emergency, I witness my family as a basic tool for preparation, coping, and recovery. In front of me sits the group from whom I learned what community is, the group who continues to be my most essential community.

As we prepare for this emergency together we build communities and strengthen networks.  
Our communities are forged around emergencies. Crisis gives us a reason to lean on each other, share our talents, and forget our differences. How often do temporary, petty squabbles keep us from connecting with our neighbors? Storms can wash those differences away. 

In New Orleans we love loudly and we create these communities easily. We don't have the same hangups about our possessions, since so many of us lost everything. Our things aren't a blockage that prevent us from experiencing healthy human relationships (I like to think).  This is the lesson of the lesson of monastic vows of poverty: if an object that you can buy at a store prevents you from a loving relationship, get rid of it. As Merton writes:
The importance of detachment from things, the importance of poverty, is that we are supposed to be free from things we might prefer to people. You can extend that to any limits you like – wherever things become more important than people we are in trouble.  Thomas Merton in Alaska
Perhaps that is the lesson of the Binding of Isaac story: do not be afraid to give up even what is most valuable to you for the sake of God, who is loving relationships.

(On the other hand, we ask exactly what emergency was present? What about Isaac's relationship with Abraham, or Isaac's own freedom? This story begs for interpretation).

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