Showing posts with label submission. Show all posts
Showing posts with label submission. Show all posts

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Test of Faith

And Abraham put out his hand and took the knife to slaughter his son. And an angel of God called to him from heaven and said, Abraham! Abraham! And he said, I'm here. And he said, Do not put your hand out toward the boy and dont do anything to him, because now I know that you fear God, and you didnt withhold your son, your only one, from me.’”
(Genesis 22:10-13)
If the timeless story of The Binding of Isaac presents a test of Abraham's faith, the moment in which he reaches for the knife and is stopped by God's angel reads like the Proctor of an exam calling, Time: Please put your pencils down and close your test booklet.  Many accept these verses as evidence that Abraham passed God's test, that he demonstrated perfect faith through his willingness to sacrifice his child. Classical rabbinic commentary supports this interpretation, stating that the angel was forced to call his name twice because Abrahamutterly focused in his zeal to slaughter Isaacdid not hear the angel's first call.  While I can accept this story as a parable about faith and sacrifice, I still feel unsettled every time I read it. What if Abraham hadn't heard the angel's second call? Why would God wait until that moment to stop him? Wasnt it enough that Abraham didn't question God, walked three days to the mountain and bound Isaac to the altar? And isnt it possible to go too far in proving our faith?

What interesting questions you raise, Tziporah!  Christians often see the story of Abrahams offering of his only son as paradigmatic of Gods giving his son Jesus to a broken world. In our suffering we need reassurance that God brings resurrection, new life, out of death; whether physical death that is part of the natural order or a spiritual death that occurs in moments of great pain and doubt. For me, the issue is not about proving our faith, but learning to trust Gods faithfulness. The question wasnt/isnt it enough that…” rings throughout all our scriptures, I think, for it is an eternal question. My husband has a humorous, but thought-provoking response: God always comes through, but not one minute early!  I think my own life bears testimony to that notion. Alas, Gods timing is so utterly maddening. And also so perfect.

The trial that Abraham [Peace and blessings be upon him] endured, according to Muslims perspective, represents the epitome of submission (Islam, in Arabic). It reinforces trusting in Gods power and will, which provides anyone facing a trial with a sense of hope, without which a Muslim cannot experience a pure state of submission. In the Islamic tradition, it is Ishmael who is the son accompanying Abraham in this trial, and the moment you mention, Tziporahright before Abraham is asked to hold his actionis specifically described in the Quran as a spiritual state of total submission in the heart, soul, and body of both Abraham and his son Ishmael: So when they had both submitted their wills to God and he had laid him prostrate on his forehead for sacrifice, We called out to him, O Abraham! (al-Saffat 37:103-104)  Every year at Ead Al-Adha[1], I am reminded that our tests of faith are best rewarded when we reach this ultimate state of submission in our hearts and accept of the will of God.

[1] Ead Al-Adha (Holiday of the Sacrifice) is widely celebrated, and falls during the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012


I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God. 
I am the LORD your God.
(Numbers 15:41)
This verse appears at the very end of the Sh’ma, the prayer that observant Jews recite twice a day. One of the central stories of the Jewish people is the Exodus from Egypt—the move from slavery to freedom—and, on one level, the story preserves a collective memory. On another level, though, we can understand it as a metaphor for other kinds of liberating transformations. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, can also be translated as narrow straits. The move from Mitzrayim to liberation mirrors my move into Judaism—from a narrow place in which I had all but given up on finding religious grounding, to the liberating gift of a tradition that offers me deep sustenance and a clearer relationship with God than I had previously thought possible. It is as though I passed through a narrow channel into a vast expanse of possibility. In this verse, God is doing the speaking and acting, in order that God may be known and in relationship with people. On its own, this is such a beautiful statement about the love and deep partnership between people and God. As a metaphor for my personal journey, the idea that God brought me out of narrow places in order to be known and in relationship evokes waves of wonder, joy, gratitude, and amazement—making it difficult, sometimes, to get those last few words of the Sh'ma out of my mouth.

Yaira’s comment about God ‘delivering’ her through her personal spiritual journey reminded me of my own ongoing journey along the ‘straight path’ of Islam to reclaim my purpose as a created human. In Islam we are taught that the inherent state of all creation is that of a muslim, literally, one who submits to God. The natural world exists in this state; babies are born in this state of submission. However, due to cultural and other profane influences, humans deviate from this state during our lifetimes. The purpose of Islam is to create a path on which we strive to reclaim our innate state of being—our natural state of submission to the Creator. It is not a forced existence with spiritual hoops to leap through, but a way of being fully human. In this verse, I noticed that the delivery of the Israelites from slavery was for a specific purpose. Speaking to the newly delivered Israelites, God says that He “brought you out of Egypt to be your God.” So, their freedom from subjugation to the Egyptians was replaced by freedom to serve God. This is our natural stateour “muslimness.” One final thought: when we pray for deliverance from the things that are oppressing us, we need to consider that true freedom does not mean lack of submission, but rather submission to our true purpose. As Bob Dylan so famously said, “You gotta serve somebody.”

Like Yaira and Amanda, I came to my current faith tradition as an adult. I was raised in an agnostic household and spent my childhood and young adulthood searchingyearningfor something that I could not define. I found a spiritual home in Christianity, and with it, a sense of freedom from doubt and fear. When I hear the words “I am the Lord your God,” I think of God’s enduring love for all people, God’s mercy, and God’s deliverance. I also think of God calling us to be better people as we attempt to live according to the promise of our being made in God’s image. Amanda’s articulation of the inherent state of creation in Islam is a nice parallel to the Christian concept of grace. It is through faith that we access the power of grace to do what God requires of us, which is “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) We respond to “the Lord our God” by seeing ourselves bound in duty, love, and gratitude to keep all of God’s commandments.
Meet Guest Bloggers Yaira, Amanda & LeeAnne on the About Us page!

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Clothed in Righteousness

O children of Adam, We have bestowed upon you clothing to conceal your private parts and as adornment. But the clothing of righteousness - that is best. That is from the signs of God that perhaps they will remember.
(al-Araf 7:26)
According to Islam, appropriate attire is one component of an ideal, righteous society.[1] While some may consider covering the hair and body a burden, a backwards tradition or even a sign of oppression, as a woman who adheres to this tradition I know it is quite the opposite. The hijab (veil) shifts the focus from a woman’s external appearance to her intellect and internal beauty, and thus contributes to the betterment of society by elevating the level of social interactions between people. Women who choose to wear the hijab are highly motivated to obey God and honor His commands; their sense of humility and selflessness is heightened because they live in a state of constant awareness of their Creator and Sustainer. As humans seeking righteousness in our lives, we are often thwarted by our own shortcomings.  The religious teachings regarding appropriate dress are designed to help us reach beyond ourselves toward God.

I am heartbroken by misguided criticism of any religious practice, including the wearing of the veil, whose intent is to direct one’s focus to God. Indeed, images of a veiled Mary, mother of Jesus, influenced the Christian practice of women wearing head coverings, especially at worship, for centuries. Still, head covering as a sign of a woman’s submission to God became equated in early Christian dogma with their submission to human authority. The belief arose that a man’s head was to be kept bare before God, while a woman’s head would remain covered in submission to her husband.  As a Christian woman who sees herself validated by God as a full partner with her husband and others, I (like Yasmina) see submission to God as central to the righteous life, and I applaud any religious practice that, in demonstrating true humility, is liberating rather than oppressive.

Having spent several weeks reflecting on the words of Yasmina and Grace, I remain conflicted about how to respond.  My sense is that in both Islam and Christianity the practice of women covering their heads was adopted from Judaism and adapted to be more appealing. Rabbinic sources prescribe the covering of married women’s hair in public to ensure that anyone other than her husband will not be enticed by her appearance.  This clear mandate of tzniut (modesty) applies only to married women. A parallel custom of men covering their heads—in humble recognition that God is above them—also developed in Judaism, but it never pertained to women.  Today, women who regard themselves as equal to men before God may choose to wear a kippah (also known as a yarmulke or skullcap), and married women may reject the custom of covering their hair as outdated.  However, in both cases, because the women are reinterpreting centuries-old tradition, they may be accused of being arrogant—rather than humble—as they attempt to transform religious norms and infuse old ideas with new meaning.

[1] The actual details of proper dress are addressed in other verses of the Quran and various Hadiths.