Of Isaac and Altars

This might be one of those external processing type posts where I write until my thoughts become less murky.

I talked a bit about the fact that I’m moving forward with joining the Catholic church with two members of my family last night.  My baby brother and sister-in-law have known I’ve been exploring this for a while – they’re the only members of my family who know about the depth of this unexpected journey.  The conversations weren’t extensive, and weren’t exactly negative, but I did walk away feeling discouraged.

How do you explain feeling like an outsider when the others don’t see it the same way?  How is it possible for people to be part of the same conversation and yet walk away feeling unheard and misunderstood?

I’m so uninterested in the arguments over theology.  I’ve spent the last year reading the theology – enough to satisfy my own questions, but mostly because I expect there will be conversations (read: debates/arguments) about that theology with my family.

What I am interested in is the story, and the journey.  In the ways that this pulling from God to join the Catholic church seems to be giving expression to parts of who I am that have never quite fit in any of the other wonderful churches that I’ve been a part of. I’m interested in sorting out how to negotiate that the two expressions in which I mostly powerfully meet Christ – in a charismatic worship service and the Mass – are outwardly so entirely opposite of each other. I’m interested in the fact that I have become quietly convinced that this is the right thing, that this is where my life is headed, despite the myriad of ways that this journey is upsetting everything I thought I knew about life and faith.

I had a conversation with someone the other day in which I referenced the fact that I have what is often a very sarcastic relationship with God. The person I was talking with jokingly asked how my hip was – a reference to Isaac wrestling with the Lord, being renamed, and then walking with a limp for the remainder of his life.  Many years ago now the Lord spoke to me deeply through the life stories of Abraham and Isaac.  I spent a great deal of time meditating on Abraham’s sacrifice of Isaac – on how Isaac’s name means laughter, and in this story God commanded laughter to be bound to the altar, and then provided the sacrifice to set it free.  There is something in that image of laughter bound and then released that speaks volumes to me.  It is the over and over again story of my journey with God.

Time and again I have been asked to bind my joys to the altar – to be willing to release my comfort, my safety, my own way of doing things.  And time and again what has been set free has been so much more than what was bound there. Even in the midst of a new energy for this journey, today I feel the need to kneel again in front of that altar, to kneel and pray and wait for the sacrifice that releases and transforms the things I’ve bound there – my family relationships, my comfortable understanding from years of being immersed in the evangelical tradition, my desire to avoid conflict, just to name a few.

It’s an aching, tugging weight this need to sit patiently and trust God’s timing.  I’m not good at sitting and waiting – I’d rather get this show on the road.  My preference would be for all of this to play out in immediate moments – no waiting and praying, no need to trust.  It’s the reason I wrestle with God.  And that wrestling has over the years left me with more than a few metaphoric limps. (I feel every one of those injuries today.)

Today the tug feels weighty, like one that can’t be ignored.  And so today I will carve out time to sit in front of that altar and weight.  To pray for the road ahead of me, to pray for my family, to wait.  And then I’ll go back to doing homework, and I’ll go back to studying theology and reading about tradition with this newfound energy.  Because there is some sort of balance between waiting and wrestling, between sitting and acting, and while I may never get that balance quite right, I’m going to keep trying. Plus I’m waiting to see what is released from this altar – I expect it to be the most beautiful gift yet.

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