There is, I believe, in the adventure of prayer, in our intimate relation with God, a point of breakthrough that takes us straight into the heart of the akedah story, the heart of the cross. It can only be called a moment of authentic spiritual terror. It comes when one allows God to invade one’s vulnerability in such a way that one sees that one’s polite, manageable image of that God has all along been an idol – a very big “something” that can be relied upon to protect one’s good undertakings and worthy religious projects, and above all one’s acceptable image of oneself.

The smashing of this idol, whether through patient prayer or personal disaster – or both – is a crisis of huge spiritual significance: I can walk into the dread, in which, seemingly, God has become nightmarish threat, or I can retreat. But at the heart of this nightmare is the same irresolvable conundrum of the “binding of Isaac” or of the cross: for this new God who magnetizes me and allures me and demands of me nothing less than everything, and whom I desire above everything, is the same God who also seems to turn on me and slay me, even as he “binds” and hands me over, with Christ in the Passion, into a new posture of pure, passive love. The contradiction is, in human terms, seemingly unbearable.