Perspectives | Jacob and the Angel | A talk by Valerie Brown

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Espace spirituel anglophone

dimanche 24 mai à 8h45

Durée émission : 10 min

Espace spirituel anglophone

There is an element of the contrary, even the perverse built into the human psyche and we should be wary of it because it runs deep. We have desires, ambitions, needs we want to fulfil, but something in us won't allow us to have what we want.

We are our own worst enemies. The greatest of those desires is our desire for God. Our hearts reach out to him, we long for him, and yet, when He answers us we shy away. Many years ago, I was blessed with a direct experience of God's almighty love – an experience so powerful it left me shaking, unable to speak. For a week I cowered at street corners afraid God would descend on me again. I did not even dare to pray. And eventually when I did, I felt his disappointment. I explained to him that I had been afraid that another such experience might kill me. And God understood. Ever afterwards He held back. And ever afterwards I have regretted my cowardice. We long for God, as He longs for us, but we resist.
 The wrestling match between Jacob and the angel in Genesis 32 is one of the few accounts in the bible of a direct experience of God. Listen :
 'That same night, Jacob got up and taking his two wives, two slave girls and eleven children crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had taken them across he sent all his possessions over too. And he was left alone. Then someone wrestled with him till daybreak, who, seeing that he could not master him, struck him on the hip socket, and Jacob's hip was dislocated as he wrestled with him. He said, 'Let me go for day is breaking.' Jacob replied, I will not let you go unless you bless me. The other said, 'What is your name ? 'Jacob', he replied. He said, 'No longer are you to be called, Jacob for you have shown your strength against God and men and have prevailed.' Then Jacob asked, 'Please tell me your name.' He replied, 'Why do you ask my name ? With that he blessed him there. Jacob named the place Peni'el, 'Because I have seen God face to face and have survived.' Later to be named, 'Israël', Jacob limps away. Peni'el means 'The Face of God'.
 This text is often interpreted as an image of man's inner tussle with his own conscience. But  such an approach only obscures its significance. By turning a text which is clearly godcentric into a humancentric approach we are once again avoiding the whole point of the episode. Jacob knew what he was doing, carefully preparing himself to meet God, setting himself apart from worldy things, retiring to a rocky place. He was purposely exposing himself to God. The location is important. In the Bible, a wandering in the desert usually results in  a mission – See Moses in Exodus 32 and Jesus in Matthew 4. Then there is the mountain - Moses meets with God on Mount Sinai and brings down the tablets of the law, while Jesus takes to a mountain to pray after the feeding of the 5,000. His transfiguration also takes place on a mountain top. Rocky places too, especially caves are always places of divine encounters. See Elijah in Kings 19. After travelling forty days and nights (ring any bells?) to reach Mount Horeb, he comes to a cave and rests there. The cave represents a retreat into the deepest sub-conscious where we meet God before emerging into the light. So Elijah, in his cave opens himself to God, listening for his voice - not in fire and wind and earthquake, but in the silence of a light breeze. St John too, retreats to a cave on the island of Patmos, and there is inspired to write his Revelations, while the Resurrection of Jesus takes place in a cave carved out of the rock to be a tomb. The encounter with God is a movement from darkness to light, from death to life. We have only to read Plato to see the point.
 In a psalm often read at morning prayer we hear, 'Your love is better than life itself.' We are exhorted to give ourselves 100 percent to God. And we want to,  but … We know that if we do we will be changed forever. And we are afraid. We don't love God enough. We don't trust him enough. We cling to our frail humanity even knowing that it will let us down while God never will. We need to be more honest. We need to love more. We need to be braver. Disappointing him is too hard to bear.

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