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The Book of Isaac

Nora Hikari

Nothing in the following text has been verified through research, through responsible exegesis. It is the product of an arrogant folk knowledge native only to the mucosal membranes of a cruel hybrid faith.


“Isaac” is a name. It is said to mean “laughter.” Apocryphally, it is said to mean “it’s a joke!” Textually, Isaac was named by God. Textually, Abraham was told Sarah would bear a child, and he burst into laughter. Apocryphally, as an act of mocking. “To laugh in the face of God.” Textually, this was among the first acts Abraham did as Abraham, rather than Abram. Exegetically, this story has absolutely no value. Exegetically, this story has whatever value can be taken from it by force.


A sermon should start first with a story. Ideally, a joke. Something to get the congregation comfortable, ready to feel intimate with a strange Father of a different son. It could start with a charming anecdote about the pastor's family. It could start with a joke about a kind of folly. It could be both.


One of my best friends says to me “any poem that doesn't rhyme is just a sermon.” She says this in good humor. We both share a specific pattern of creation. This to say: my 11th grade English teacher tells me “You always write from the pulpit.” This to say: forgive me, sometimes I am still my Father’s son.


A sermon should be specific. It should identify biblical figures as characters, it should identify their relationships to each other, and it should seek to make them personable and human. The congregation should come to understand biblical figures as people they might know in their own lives.


The Binding of Isaac is a story. The Binding of Isaac is a story with a title, with characters, with a family, with a deus ex machina, and with named locations. It is said that a deus ex machina makes for poor storytelling. It is said that Isaac was brought to the top of Mount Moriah and [spilled/not spilled] across the [stone/living room/carpet]. It is said that Isaac had a mother who watched her son leave and then [died/acquiesced/did not ask for forgiveness]. “Mother” is a word. Like “God,” it means “something that could save you, but chooses not to.”


A sermon should be precise. It should utilize rhetorical devices to effectively argue as an expression of persuasive speech. The prose of a sermon should be colorful and exciting. It should seek to entertain as much as teach.


Abraham [is named/names himself]. Abraham changes his legal name to “Abraham” after his family immigrates to the States. Isaac is named Isaac as an expression of her circumstances. A comedy! In the traditional sense. Everybody lives! Of consequence. What if not? Deus ex machina spurned at the last moment. In an act of defiance or denial or eroticism. Act of God flicked away before the release. Flick, flick. It is said that there is a universe for every choice. Of course this is a reductive understanding. But a story can contain anything so long as we promise to believe her. As long as we tell it as a thing that has been said. In a universe God chose not to save us. This is that timeline. Isaac dies pointlessly, spotlessly, endlessly. The rest of the big book falls apart.


If at all possible, a sermon should be topical. It should integrate relevant cultural artifacts of a historical and geographic or demographic context.


“Kin memories” manifest through a timeline death. Isaac was a real person. He is me. His first name is my first name. Again, I killed him, made his name a “dead name.” It is said he lived a long and happy life filled with sons and subjugations and several saints springing up from some resultant series of events somehow starting with being saved and seemingly ending with another savior of sorts. This is not that timeline.


A sermon must be relatable. It must access some kind of truth about a universal human experience. Of course, this means that a sermon must, at some point, discuss pain.


It is said that pain, when ignored long enough, will manifest as other psychosomatic symptoms, like sudden blindness, or transformation. “Isaac” is a name. It was my first name. Both in the first meaning of the word and the second. It is said that Isaac lived a long life as another kind of person. It is said that November became December, and Isaac became a being of pure light. Rays bending into soft curves and softer bitternesses.


A sermon should end on a high note. That is to say, a sermon should end with its audience feeling as if they have been saved in some small way by this text. It does not matter if this is true. So long as it is said. 


It is said the Book of Isaac ends with light. It says so right here. At the end. Isaac dies in a kind of way. In that he ceases to exist. And instead what takes his place. Is

Nora Hikari (she/her) is an Asian American transgender poet and artist based in Philadelphia. She was a 2022 Lambda Literary fellow, and her work is published or forthcoming in Ploughshares, Washington Square Review, Palette Poetry, Foglifter, The Journal, and others. Her chapbook, GIRL 2.0 (Seven Kitchens Press, 2022) was a Robin Becker Series winner. She was a reader at the 2022 Dodge Poetry Festival and a finalist for the Red Hen Press Benjamin Saltman Award. Nora Hikari can be found at her website and on twitter at @system_wires.

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