I was fifteen years old. It was my last year in the children's bible school. Next year I would be expected to sit upstairs with the adults and listen to the minister drone as he tried to talk over the humming of the air ducts.
"All right everyone," the teacher said as she tried to get everyone's attention, "for your homework next week, I want you to write down, in your own words, any story from the bible which you feel has greatly touched you and made an impact on your life. Have a good week everyone. See you all Sunday."
I pulled out stories from my memory, those I enjoyed rereading. There was the story of Joseph and how he became king of Egypt after his brothers had left him for dead. There was also the one of Daniel, who had survived a hungry den of lions. But I did not feel any relation to them particularly; I just enjoyed their spectacular rises to glory. All week I rummaged through my bible and spoke to my brother and father about possible ideas. Saturday arrived, as expected, and I still had no idea. I sat down to write a story, the first one that would come to my head. I wrote:
She slowly climbed up the rocky mountain leading to the stone alter. Her thoughts focused on the task ahead. The sky carried in its lap a procession of slow and heavy clouds, drifting like pregnant cows in a greyish November pasture. The branches of the many cypresses and maples hung like dead limbs frozen in time while trying vainly to reach for something always so slightly out of their grasp. Her long white robes whipped about her ankles as the wind picked up her dark hair to dance the ballet of the damned. She carried on her hip a ceremonial dagger with an engraved psalm on the blade: May the Lord cut off all flattering/lips/and every boastful tongue/that says, "We will triumph with/ our tongues/ we own our lips; who is our/master?" (Psalm 12, lines 3-4).
Her face held an expression of fixed determination, but. her eyes wavered between pain and fear. One, thin, white hand held to the hood of her cloak, protecting herself against the chilling, insistent wind. The other hand held a torch high above her head to see the treacherous path. Beside her followed a child. She was a little girl, perhaps four years old, perhaps ten years old, but certainly no older than fourteen. She carried a bundle of wood on her small slumped shoulders, dutifully, a foreshadowing of Christ as he carried his own cross to his execution.
"Destiny!" the mother recalled the authoritative Voice, "Take your daughter, your only daughter, Hope, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice her there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about."
Her God had spoken and so it must be. The command was unmistakable. They arrived at the Holy clearing just as the sparse sun was setting. Hope simply looked at her mother and the bleak yet powerful view that surrounded them. Destiny took the child in her arms, enjoying the comfort of her nearness, her warmth, then laid her on the smooth surface of the stone altar. She bound the child's hands and feet with a strong leather cord to prevent her escape. Previous rains had washed off the blood from past sacrifices but the strong presence of death floated like the perfume of nostalgia and heartbreak. She knelt down to pray to her God.
"Creator of all things, life-giving, life-taking, I come to you today doing as you command, offering to you what I hold most precious in my life. Please accept it as proof of my faith and devotion."
Hope understood on an instinctual level what was meant to happen, but, her will to survive was counteracted by the complete trust she had in her mother. The darkness enveloped them and a few cold stars peeked through the thick layer of clouds, like eyes judging and condemning. Destiny arranged the wood around her child's body. She took the dagger from its sling and held it steady with both hands.
"Know that what you are doing pleases me Destiny," her God whispered to her heart. Hope looked straight into her mother's eyes questioningly but quietly.
"I cannot do this." She told herself as she gently, with caring fingers, closed her daughter's eyes. "I am killing more than a part of myself here. I am destroying another human life, my own flesh and blood." Her mind was tormented by the desire to please her God conflicting with the deep, unconditional love she felt for her daughter. She hesitated, poised the dagger ready to strike at her child, but her faith died.
"What bloody monster of a god would demand his followers to commit such atrocities? To spill blood in your name is to spill blood non-the less. I will not partake in your madness."
The resoluteness of her decision surprised her and yet satisfied her. As she was gathering her child to her breast she heard the voice speak to her one last time.
"I will forgive your transgression if you sacrifice the lamb that I have brought for you. It is caught in the nearby brush."
"That you think the sacrifice of my daughter equals that of a lamb only strengthens my newfound convictions. Be gone blood-drinker, the world holds no place for creatures that demand death. To think I would have sacrificed my own flesh and blood for such a vain spirit."
Mother and daughter both walked towards the bushes to free the lamb but as they pushed aside the thorny foliage they saw that the lamb had suffocated, a thick vine wrapped securely around its small newborn throat. Destiny used her dagger to dig a hole. She untangled the lamb from the vines and laid him gently in the soil. She covered him with the loose dirt, Hope watched, nodding in approval. Destiny's hands were bloodless, but she felt the wound of the world tear at her heart, earth was crying for the death of a lamb. The dagger, which now had fulfilled its bloodless purpose, was thrown to the ground, the prayer engraved totally swallowed by the soil, the handle creating a headstone for the makeshift grave. Destiny took Hope by the hand and together, side-by-side, they carefully made their way down the steep mountain."
"But that's not what happened," said the teacher. "There is no Hope or Destiny in the bible. It was a man, Abraham, who was asked to sacrifice his only son. And God is not a bloodthirsty creature. He was simply testing Abraham. And you know that there couldn't have been a psalm on the blade, he existed way before King David even had a chance to write one. I don't know what you were thinking about, but I will have to fail you for that Nancy. Go sit down. Next, Simon, what have you written about?"
I walked back to my seat, happy. The other children around me looked at me with superiority and disdain. The teacher's attention was turned away, ignoring the problem child.
"Once upon a time" started Simon, as he told the familiar story of how David defeated Goliath with his trusty slingshot.
"There is no Hope or Destiny in the bible."
I repeated to myself and smiled at the little pun I had made
my teacher say. I reread the psalm I had chosen to write on
the fictitious blade, "We own our lips, who is our
master? I write what I want to write." I whispered forcibly
to myself. And the thought both surprised me and satisfied
© 2001 Nancy Mainville, all rights reserved
appears here by permission