Bob Dylan for Lent 2nd Sunday of Lent

Michele Somerville
3 min readMar 5, 2023

(Something’s Happening Here But You Don’t Know What It Is)

From 2021

The Sacrifice of Isaac, Caravaggio

1.

I landed on two songs this week while listening to Dylan. “Highway 61 Revisited” is an obvious go-to for the first reading, with its commentary on the account of the binding of Isaac:

Oh God said to Abraham, “Kill me a son”
Abe said, “Man, you must be puttin’ me on”
God said, “No.” Abe say, “What?”
God say, “You can do what you want Abe, but
The next time you see me comin’ you better run”
Well Abe said, “Where do you want this killin’ done?”
God said, “Out on Highway 61.”

We do not get the save in Dylan’s song. God does not step in. Dylan’s account leaves off with the instructions for the sacrifice, and from there — out of that silence, a litany of troubles flows: dreamlike, speeding characterizations of human failure to hit the mark. God, in Dylan’s song, wants that sacrifice made on the move, on the run, maybe, somewhere on that thoroughfare that goes north to south or south to north, from Minnesota — from whence the composer of “Highway 61 Revisited” comes — to the south, the birthplace of most authentic United States American culture and art and — more specific to Dylan — the origin of American Blues that so shaped his sensibility and music.

“Highway 61 Revisited” isn’t “the Blues” per se, but Dylan’s a blues man and “Are not Lent and the Blues connected?” is not a bad question to ask.

Don’t we make something out of the sorrows of Lent? Don’t we who observe Lent prize the potential to turn it into what it is not? Isn’t Lent the ready bulb frozen in the petrified earth waiting to combust? Doesn’t Lent shine a light on our troubles? Upon our fear that God does not hear, listen, exist or care? Isn’t the possibility that God is a dream, a mirage, a fairy tale something with which believers live?

When I was young — an adolescent and young adult — I just saw the story of Abraham carrying his child up the mountain, when I heard it at Catholic Mass, as a form of torture designed to bring about fear and compliance. Better do what God says. Or else. But listening to conversations and sermons through the years, reading about ancient history and studying the Torah in Divinity school have inflected my thinking about the Akedah. I see the complexity in it. There’s something useful in the puzzling over it, but, for me, the horror eclipses all else. If I am to be honest, I must say it feels like God and man at their worst.

This week’s Dylan meditation got me thinking about the way the binding the the son of Ibrahim is characterized in the Qu’ran. In the Qu’ran Ibrahim has a dream in which Allah commands him to sacrifice of his son. (It seems that there is disagreement about whether that son was Sarah’s Isaac or Hagar’s Ishmael.) In Genesis 22, God calls out “Here I am.” Is Abraham awake? Is this distinction important? Where do visions and dreams fit it understanding the sacrifice Abraham almost makes, and our understanding of the Divine, broadly speaking?

Read this reflection in its entirety here on Indie Theology.

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Michele Somerville

She/her. Poet, writer, teacher, hermeneut punk. Author: Glamourous Life, Rain Mountain Press, http://rainmountainpress.com/books-glamourous-life.html