To Climb the Mountain

Posted on March 14, 2012


He had narrowly escaped execution as a young man and fled the homeland that not only nurtured his fathers but his mentor, until that mentor likely disappeared. He was alone, wandering in a foreign land, whose culture like his own valued patriarchal lineage connections more than anything, with only his God as protector and guide. He yearned to create a new lineage to honor his God, to preserve the treasure of covenants from his fathers, but he remained childless until the time had passed for his possibilities.

Quietly, he yet believed.

When the day was hot, he still rolled up his tent flaps to invite the weary traveler to rest. His faith, a living action of thought and service, was untouched by his disappointments. Then the child of his wife’s maid came, and then the child of his aged bride, but his lineage would unfold differently than the long-nurtured dream led him to expect. One would be cast out, his fate unknown, and now the other was to be given back to God before he bore the rich fruit of a promised posterity, the entitled covenant apparently withdrawn. The mountain lay before him, silent and challenging. Would he climb?

Quietly, he yet believed.

With the faith of one made patient by long waiting, he gathered the provisions of his journey, and his son, and went. With the quietness of one habituated to yielding, he went without all the answers. Knowing that God would stay His hand for 50, or 45, or 40, or 30, or 20, or 10 he went … even somehow feeling that he could not negotiate for his 1. He raised his hand, holding the very tool that would destroy his fondest hopes, unhurried by the wild despair that might have driven him to get it over with quickly and collapse in mindless agony.

Quietly, he yet believed.

And the voice of God came to him in his silent pressing forward, thus he was able to hear, “It is enough.” Proved and purified, he descended from his temple mount, the sacrifice just as saving, offered in silent submission.

We live in a rational world enlivened with a freedom it has seldom known in its jangling, jockeying history. Its people are accustomed to balance and equity and explanations. They decry inequality and injustice, guard carefully against being taken advantage, and that’s probably a very good thing, even with its entitled bias.

There is little room, however, for the quieting, lonely, inner battle that demands surrender. Submission without explanation. Apparent injustice not only unrequited, but required by a supposedly just God. God does still ask our trust, and there is little way to exercise it in a logical environment. He does still try us, and there are still senseless-seeming mountains lying before us, silent and challenging. Will we climb? Can we believe … quietly?

Intellectual arrogance is as deafening as mindless entertainment and empty association. It distracts us from taking the bread or watching the neighbor’s children or noting sad eyes and prevents us from acting in simple ways to alleviate suffering. It promotes a fists-raised social consciousness instead of an individualized cloak of mercy, defining a “movement” of a mass instead of a changed individual, relying on viral motivation and emotional appeal to our entitlement bias. It sounds its trumpet on our moment, challenges us to ensure others are watching.

To the jarring crowds demanding justice and equality, reason and explanation, God is unmoved. His attention is focused on those with the capacity to carry on a conversation, whether that entails a negotiation for others or a sustained, focused, silent listening. He speaks to and with quiet people. The world does not value those who have a well-developed capacity to submit quietly. Even among people of faith, we often view them condescendingly, assuming that they lack the capacity to explore, to question, or to stand firm against unrighteous authority. We are quick to assume that if inequality or injustice exists, it is solely because someone misunderstood God.

This conversation without words that carried Abraham up a mountain – it fascinates me. I keep returning to it, hoping to feel around the edges of it, get a sense for how it flows.

What if God sometimes proves us with a mountain and a seemingly senseless sacrifice? Would he go against his eternal nature in the short term to demand something that doesn’t make sense to us? It’s ironic that we run on treadmills that don’t go anywhere purely to improve our body’s ability to climb real mountains but don’t expect God to set the occasional mountain treadmill in front of us. It seems like an earth experience with all its suspended timetables is the perfect place to explore all sorts of useful things.

This submission, like courage and charity and hope and faith, this grace gift of his power mingled with our submission, is like the dark matter that exists between our historical verities but in the end has more energy than the physical matter we can touch and investigate. I delve into history and sociology and think I know the rules and the facts and that that knowledge will save me, but the weightier matters are what I become by embracing the dark matter in-between. There is something more powerful than the rules I see and can enforce, the playground principles meant to protect us from one another, and that dark matter has everything to do with it, I’m sure of it. He means something important when He says, “Be still and know that I am God.” Climbing the mountain – submissive, listening – is good exercise … for something I don’t quite understand yet but I trust is worthwhile.

I’m old enough now to engage God in a variety of conversations, even when they don’t have words. I’ve climbed the mountain a few times. I can feel his attentiveness, even when he doesn’t share answers. I can almost duplicate the conversation I’ve imagined between Abraham and God. I come closer to touching the dark matter between things than I used to, feeling its pulsing power, invisible but profoundly present, portending something I don’t have the vocabulary to quite define and that I instinctively want more than what is obvious and visible and … in the way.

Perhaps the laws of eternal physics are altered at the mountain, the playground rules superseded. It seems wise to quiet ourselves, focus less on justice and rational explanations and politically correct sensibility, and exercise ourselves to touch the weightier matters.

To believe. To climb. Quietly.

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