I always feel a bit odd when I read about God testing the people. Tonight I read at mass. I hobbled up to the pulpit and took a breath. This first reading from Genesis 22 is one of the most challenging to understand and as a spiritual director, I have seen numerous retreatants struggle with the content in the context of a loving God. God tested Abraham, I began. Thus begins the story of Abraham needing to trust God with everything beloved.
Take your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love…and offer him as a burnt offering….Such a request is inconceivable. Abraham obeys though. He builds an altar, lays the wood, binds his only beloved son, and takes up the knife to kill Isaac. He passes the test and the angel of the Lord stays his hand, provides a ram for the sacrifice, and blesses him on the Lord’s behalf. These are hard images to accept. Which of us would want to kill what we love?
I do not believe for a moment that the cancer that is slowly taking my life is a test from God. I do think that God is using me in so many ways that I do not even know that God is using the disease for a purpose. I think of all the people I have met and been blessed by because of this cancer. Equally, many have been inspired by my tenacity and faith. Abraham and Isaac went up that mountain together. Did they have heavy hearts? Probably. I am going up my mountain with a great cloud of witnesses singing me there. Is my heart sad some days? Of course. I have loved my wild and beautiful life more than I can ever express. I am starting to see with eyes anew–how could I have lived in this place for one and a half years and never noticed until the other night how the moon smiles out my kitchen window? I have watched sunset after sunset standing at my sink but as I turned out the lights and caught the Cheshire moon laughing at me, I was stopped in my tracks. The other night friends and I went out to the symphony–Spanish music–and I was transported back to Barcelona with memories running like a slide show of my time there with my dear friend from Germany. The first bite of spaghetti that a friend had dropped off sent me into ecstasy. Who knew spaghetti could taste so amazing? I have tried to live with a grateful heart for decades but lately I am overwhelmed by all the mysteries here on this side of the veil.
I look forward to what awaits me on the other side and I do trust God with everything I hold dear. This week, after really considering a conversation with my Circle of Support, I am slowly letting go of the worry I have for those who will remain here after me. I see dimly how God is laying ground work that will allow for people to grieve and move beyond missing me. My work is now about climbing my mountain and trusting what awaits me.
What mountain must you climb?
What do you think about God testing you?
You who gave your only Son know what it is like to give up what is most beloved. You know how each story begins and ends. You ask us to trust the plan. I do. Help me to climb the mountain with joy and sorrow in balance, knowing that you await me. Amen.