The Fragility of Mappability
Jacob charged them, saying, “Bury me with my ancestors – in the cave in the field of Ephron the Hittite, in the cave in the field at Machpelah, near Mamre, in the land of Canaan, in the field that Abraham bought from Ephron the Hittite as a burial site. There Abraham and his wife Sarah were buried; there Isaac and his wife Rebekah were buried; and there I buried Leah.” – Genesis 49:29-31 (NRSV)
One of the more awkward things about our faith is how firmly tied it is to the concrete world. Jacob’s coordinates are very specific. So specific, in fact, we’re pretty sure we know right where these caves are. In theory, we should be able to go there and verify they’re full of ancient biblical figures.
The site of Tomb of the Patriarchs is occupied by the latest in a string of sacred structures, and no one’s been all the way down into the caves in modern times. What if somebody actually went down there one day and found it empty?
This particularity makes religion potentially fragile. Build your religion only on Eternal Abstracts like love or truth, and there’s no concrete way to disprove or undo it. Tie it too closely to particular things, on the other hand, make it mappable – and one spelunker with carbon-dating supplies in her backpack might bring your whole situation down.
But a religion that’s not tied firmly to things that mattered – homelands, histories, bodies – probably doesn’t have much power to affect things that currently matter – homes, histories, bodies – either. I don’t need general love; I need love for me. I don’t need general salvation; I need salvation specific to each of us. I don’t need general blessings; I need the blessing of the God of Jesus Christ, who walked, and loved, a concrete world.
For both the fragility and the strength of your specific blessings, thank you. Amen.
Quinn G. Caldwell is a father, husband, homesteader and preacher living in rural upstate New York. His most recent book is a series of daily reflections for Advent and Christmas called All I Really Want: Readings for a Modern Christmas. Learn more about it and find him on Facebook at Quinn G. Caldwell.