Likeness


Last April I wrote a piece about Michelangelo and a piece of sculpture that I had seen in Florence in a museum behind the Duomo which was said to be a self-portrait in that Joseph of Arimethea-likeness. In lieu of the point of view of Abraham in that Akedah story, I thought of Michelangelo, as Yom Kippur approached. Michelangelo when he was 80-year old artist seemed a lot like Abraham. Both old men with the frailties of human nature, at the end of their life. Michelangelo had wanted to destroy this piece of marble which had worked on for eight years of his life. An artist wanting to destroy his own creation, like Abraham.

Was the actual mystery in the Akedah story about Abraham challenging the meaning of his life, challenging God for all that He had given to him? What was your point of view to this story? From your viewpoint, what was the age of this father who had been 99-years old when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin, with a son born 13 years after his first son, and the youngest son was at least 22 if not over 30 years old. Abraham had to be over 130 years old. And here he was climbing a mountain in a 3 day journey? What 130-year old man did not wake up with stiffness … without climbing Mount Moriah? Yet making the trip with his son, like it was duck hunting season in Minnesota.

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And then there was Isaac. Yeah, the Isaac who was fooled by both his wife Rebecca and his own son, Jacob, when Jacob would reach maybe half this age. Hoodwinked actually. His challenge had been about a theme of recognition. Over birthright and inheritance. Or was Isaac blind in this story too? What was it like to have such an old father? With such old ideas. And was dementia a source of thinking about this Akedah story? Was the story about sacrificing his son, Akedah, any different than the same challenge Isaac would one day face over the issue of inheritance. The same stories, over and over, in the challenge in recognizing God?

When Michelangelo, when Abraham, were old men. Michelangelo had once written this line from Dante’s Divine Comedy on a drawing for a pietà. “One does not think how much blood it costs.” So what had he set out to say in this piece of art, about his life? At the end of life? Or Abraham, in his creation of a family? Either of them, about what they were leaving behind? What was their recognition? Or awareness? And then to contemplate destruction? It was like a Sunday walk in an art museum. What was the viewpoint that a 70-year old had of which a 27-year old could not conceive. Like a son with a old father who must not have witnessed the sweat involved in the accumulation of land and animals. A young son who through no fault of his own missed seeing all the hard work. Isaac thought it always was there? Isaac, born with a silver spoon in his mouth? A lot like the collection in the art gallery? Like all kinds of inheritance, or manna from heaven, it just fell to earth? His circumcised son, whose circumcision took place at an age when an infant had no memory. A lot like an age in the western world with no memory of suffering, of hard times. How did memory tie into the story?

Was Abraham, in his story, just a little more surreptitiously coming to grips with the question of inheritance, little different that the same challenge Isaac faced over the issue of birthright. Abraham, the farmer. The nomadic farmer. How different was his job description from the one that Cain had aspired to? So what was it like to raise food that people little really noticed until it was cooked and eaten. Or sacrifice? The little real notice of sacrifice. By other people. Or the little real notice of fathers, by sons. If Abraham died? Was Isaac, was anyone, worthy of any of this inheritance? What was his real point of view over financial success of an organization, a family, which would determine what the family would do in the future. Who was worthy of all of this? In lieu of the point of view, how about me? Was I worthy? After how hard I had worked?

When there was pain in sacrifice. Long forgotten suffering? The theme of Abraham’s life was all about passing on a way of life. In a failing economy. In lieu of point of view, where was I in the story? In a falling market. In 2009. With a falling dollar. The abyss. People do not want to look into the abyss. People do not want to look into the face of the poor. They did not want to see their own face there. Much less the face of a son. What mother could look? Hadn’t Abraham lived through all the suffering so that future generations did not have to?

Consider how much circumcision had been a lot more painful for Abraham than for Isaac. What could Isaac recall about his pain of circumcision at birth? In circumcision, Abraham was giving God his pain. And now on the surface, he was giving God his blood, somehow by giving God his son. Or was Abraham in this case really trying to fool God over this obsequious sacrifice, which ultimately may have been deferential but was not thought out.

Awareness: Isaac’s whose circumcision was all about passing on a way of life that recognized God in each day. In a way not really spoken about. About being different from other men. With no discussion in polite society, when you truly were marked with a sign of faith. About that circumcision, his wife must one day in the future really wonder about such an artist.

Awareness. Over a cup of coffee, an old man bemoaning the youth that hit him, a youth who failed to yield at the intersection of 62nd and Halifax. In my town. Bemoaning the lack of awareness of youth. It was before 1993, before I had been at DeMontreville. This old guy was driving there, at the time of his accident. To his Mount Moriah.

The conflict. Was it about awareness? The missing awareness of youth? Was Isaac worthy of any of this? Isaac and his entire generation? In a world full of pain that failed to recognize God.

At a point when Abraham had to be in the quiet pain of old age. When pain had become a way of life. It was no longer a question for Abraham if he ever died. It was only the question of when. Was Isaac ready to carry on? With the things which were important? Coming to grips with authority over the truth in the world? What was really his? As an old man late in life given finally a child, a son … but asked to kill Isaac. Facing the end of his line? Or the end of the line with progeny of the woman he really loved. The woman who allowed him to find the Truth about life?

Where was Abraham’s awareness of the conflict in the story. Over the pragmatic act of self-sacrifice, of Isaac, which went entirely against the passing on any inheritance. Over authority. When Abraham might have wondered, might have asked his son, “Who in the name of God do you think you are?” With this sacrifice, God seemed to have asked Abraham the same question. Abraham with all of his awareness. At the end. With a loss of vitality. With the suffering in old age? About everything? Was the actual mystery in the Akedah story about Abraham challenging the meaning of his life, challenging God for all that He had given to him? And slowly was taking away? Slowly taking away all of these blessings. Had he really been “chosen?” Was Abraham really asking God in the Akedah if he really had been chosen? By asking him to sacrifice his son?

One definition of “depression” involves the loss of vitality. When you are depressed, the past and the future are absorbed entirely by the present. A lot like the pagan world. Self-absorbed. A lot like living in a world full of profanity, in a pagan world. Absorbed by the pain of the present moment. So who was worthy of this inheritance? Of those living in the present moment? In the harsh godless profane pagan world? Had Abraham in the first place ever been worthy? It was the “Why me?” question. Why did I have all this? And why was I losing it?

When Isaac might have wondered, might have asked his father, “Who in the name of God do you think you are?” If there was not a bit of the spirit of vexation: damage which is suffered in consequence of the tricks of another, like getting him to go on this three day journey. When the sacrifice of his love of a son was being offered and given up to God?

As God seemed to answer the question at the same time. An artist wanting to destroy his own creation. Like Abraham. All that time spent. Reflecting on the meaning of making some kind of an offering to God, when your relationships, based so much in sacrifice, with God, with your kin, involved not only blood but love. And feeling so unworthy of that love?

Was the Akedah story really about Abraham’s feeling of always being unworthy. There seemed to be a reason that the Akedah was used on Rosh Hashanah, leading up to Yom Kippur.

Those official Days of Awe are over. “Who in the name of God do you think you are?” Finally deciding on the who. Kingship. Royal lines. Noble people. Reflecting on the meaning of making some kind of an offering to God, in sacrifice, when your relationships, with God, with your kin, were based only on blood. And love. Those official Days of Awe. Concerning that blood in the Jewish tradition, as in royal lines.

Concerning that blood. Judaism is all about awareness that affect every aspect of life, from morning til night. The awareness in relationships of the human. And the recognition of the divine. Finally deciding on the who. In kinship to the God who cannot die. In kingship. In royal lines, and passing on a way of life.

The misconception in the modern world, with a loss of collective memory about personal suffering, of the hard times. The misconception was that orthodox religions were just a set of beliefs. When Judaism is a comprehensive way of life filled with practices that affect every aspect of life, from morning til night. Personally. When Judaism was not based on any evangelical door to door knocking. When Judaism was based on bloodlines, on sacrifice, on a bond that same from shared suffering.

Religion was not just a recognition of, an awareness, about God, man, woman, and the universe. It was about everything. It was more about action than words. Religion was about bindings. Being moved to sacrifice. And trying to work on becoming more worthy. In sacrifice. In kinship to the God who cannot die. And passing on the bond which came from that kinship.

Copyright © 2009.

Burren 4

Lumang Tipan. kahulugan ng “kay Bera hari sa Sodoma, at laban kay Birsha hari sa Gomorra”
Nordic Visitor, GreenlandTours, Sisimiut.

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Larry Gillick

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