struggle and reconstruction

We often find our own answers in amongst our struggles in life.  Often what we desire and seek may not give us any lasting satisfaction.  Perhaps that is what Jesus is getting at in The Parable of the Widow and the Unjust Judge.  He asks the troubling question at the end, will the Son of Man find any who are faithful when he comes?  Last February I reflected during a sermon on the parable of the unfruitful fig tree.  I was talking about a couple of trees which stand in my own garden.  The Autumn Olive, Eleagnus Umbellata.  I suggested that this was the year of reckoning, that if I didn’t have enough fruit for jam this year then they might meet the fate promised to the fig tree.  Well, I’m happy to say that I’ve aolivesbeen able to make half a jar of Autumn Olive Jam.  Persistence pays off.  It is just enough jam to leave them where they are.  It was quite a struggle to harvest the little fruits, most far less than 5mm across. The jam making is even more of a fiddly process.  It is necessary to strain it to remove the small seeds before adding sugar.  This seems like a waste with so little fruit, however perseverance has paid off.  The jam is delightful, and the trees remain – until next year.  Perhaps the satisfaction will last for about three slices of bread and jam!  I suppose one of the most oft quoted stories of persistence is that of Robert the Bruce hiding in a cave watching a spider attempt to weave a web between the rock.  I’m sure you’ve all heard that tale.  They say that was what gave him the inspiration to keep fighting and ultimately defeat the English at Bannockburn!  (And we all know what happened after that, I suppose for some the ‘war’ still rages on.)  We could all trade our stories of the old adage ‘try and try again until you succeed.’  Sometimes they are what keep us going.  But none of them comes close to the story in Genesis.  Jacob, we are told wrestles with a man all night and will not let go at the break of day, until he is blessed by this man.  It is an echo of the struggle with his brother.  Jacob reflects that he has spent the night in the presence of God and has come, as the text suggests, ‘face to face’.  We are given the Hebrew name for the place Peniel, then it changes in the text to Penuel.  Peniel, literally: face of God.  And Penuel: turn(s) (to face) God.  Perhaps this story is a reflection of Jacob’s struggle through his life with his brother Esau.  Perhaps here Jacob finally finds peace in this encounter with God and turns to follow the path of God, as the name Penuel could suggest.  The following account in Genesis is of Jacob greeting his brother in recognition of the past between them.  There is a turning of more than one sort.  Jacob received his brother’s inheritance by devious means and was troubled by the experience, however, he seems to have come to his senses at this place he calls Penuel and is humble towards his brother as he approaches.  Many  Welsh Chapels are named after this place.  Perhaps they are a place to struggle with God.  And, actually I don’t find that a bad suggestion at all.  It does however raise an interesting dilemma.  For people to feel comfortable in expressing their own struggles and working through them our churches and chapels need to be places of welcome and to some extent of comfort.  However, if they are too comfortable – greeting, seating, heating, eating etc then there is no edge to sharpen our understanding.  I went off to university with an understanding of God that had never been truly challenged – too much comfort.  And encountered a theology department that was mostly edge.  If we engaged with the process then we would need to de-construct the faith that we arrived with.  Nothing too extreme there, for that is part of the job of the academy – to examine and critique.  As you are probably aware though, taking something apart is often far simpler than putting it back together again.  Fortunately I found a place and a community that had enough edge, didn’t countenance the parts of the faith that I had found to be wanting but had just the right amount of comfort.  Re-construction takes a long time.  It is still in progress.  A reflection of those words in Genesis.  If we are able to see the face of God, and to have an  experience the divine, we then have a choice.  Do we turn towards or away from this?  Jacob turns towards God.  He is humble in the presence of his brother and is blessed on his way, despite his past actions.  He is reconstructing his life following his encounter.  If we choose to engage with that task, and it is something that we either choose to do or to ignore,  then we will find our own answers in the midst of the struggle.  You may think this is unfinished, you’d be right.  In memory of Mal, a friend who died this past week, it’s not over till it’s over.  Keep struggling on!

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