God put Abraham to the test. ‘Abraham, Abraham’ he called. ‘Here I am’ he replied. ‘Take your son,’ God said ‘your only child Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah. There you shall offer him as a burnt offering, on a mountain I will point out to you.’ (Genesis 22:1)
Not a nice story we feel. A God we would prefer to throw on the rubbish heap of anthropological waste. Yet the land of Moriah is a reality in the deeper, inner realms of our being. It is where, as the mystics of all traditions, remind us, we have to surrender (‘sacrifice’) everything to which we are attached. And what human being is not attached to what they love?
How can we not be? We know the land of Moriah exists but we don’t know on what mountain – in what circumstances or at what time or in what way – we will be forced to let go of everything. But there is no love without sacrifice because love can only grow through detachment, a continuous letting-go. And if there is no love in our life we still have to let go.
Meditation makes this unpleasant story easier to understand. John Main said that ‘as we enter the silence within us.. we are entering a void in which we are unmade. We cannot remain the person we were, or thought we were. But we are in fact not being destroyed but awakened to eternally fresh source of our being.’ (Word into Silence).
Even so we may not be very keen to face this depth of reality. Probably, at first, we can only make short visits before returning quickly to the surface to breathe the air of familiarity and comfort. The desert is about learning to increase our capacity in the real, to endure the demands it makes.
The point of it all, however, is that we can make sense of today’s gospel reading, which the church brilliantly juxtaposes with the story of Abraham and Isaac. Today we read of the transfiguration of Jesus on the ‘holy mountain’ in the presence of those he loved and shared himself with.
Jesus took with him Peter and James and John and led them up a high mountain where they could be alone by themselves. There in their presence he was transfigured: his clothes became dazzlingly white, whiter than any earthly bleacher could make them.
The transfiguration came from those deep inner realms where he dwelt. It touched and changed even his clothes: beginning from the depth where there is no trivial detail, only particularity, to the surface where the business of daily life is transacted.
Laurence Freeman OSB