20 October 2013
we pray for the departed, we ask that they may “Rest in peace”. I have to
say that the older I am, the more the idea of peaceful rest becomes attractive. Most
of us find life full of one problem after another. Most of the difficulties we
face are irritating and could have been avoided but occasionally we face a
struggle which is different. It signifies something special which we recognise
as important, both for now and for our future.
some of us there is some kind of struggle with the Church. If it involves our
thoughts about the future, we could still struggle to understand and be
understood. As we may find the parish a mixture of encouragement and
disinterest, or we struggle to speak to the DDO or the Bishop. It is no surprise
that College is not a struggle free zone. Always we seek to understand and be
course, I dare to say, monastic life or marriage are states of life full of lots
of struggles, like everyone else.
all of these big struggles lies a fundamental contest with God. “Who are
you?” we ask and the reply comes back “And what do you want from me?”. All
of this is basically a struggle to discover the truth Since God IS truth,
our own struggle with him involves the surrender of all that is unreal and
untrue. For the most part we live with a partial or even skewed understanding of
life. God challenges us to embrace the real world and the truth about
kind of struggle is one that transforms and turns us round – it is melanoia
(change of heart). We learn, too, that if struggle is a kind of prayer, then
prayer is not always cosy and comfy; at can be costly and demand change in us.
wonder that we feel, in these kinds of struggles, rather like Jonah, sinking
into the depth we have not visited before. We can feel deathly – yet,
paradoxically, it is the offer of new life.
today’s Old Testament lesson we hear of Jacob experiencing just such a
life-changing struggle. He is alone and it is night, when he is confronted by
the mysterious other. Is it a man, an angel or is it God himself? Despite
all the speculation, the Jewish and Christian interpretation of this stranger in
the night is that it is indeed God. God is truth and Jacob has to spend the
entire night wrestling with the truth about himself and his future.
far, Jacob’s journey has not been heroic. His name means “trickster” and,
so far, he has deceived his Father, stolen his Brother’s birthright and pulled
a fast one over his Father-in-law. He posed as a successful and prosperous
person but his heart is filled with guilt and fear of his Brother. Yet Jacob
does not run away – he faces the mysterious stranger and begins to wrestle
with the truth.
for us, when we face one of these big struggles, we must neither pretend it will
go away not go away ourselves. We must plunge into the contest, despite our
fears. God will not dispense of this struggle but he will be with us at every
twist and turn and if we endure we shall be blessed; given a new name and
something to remember for the rest of our life. In Jacob’s case it was a limb!
might have occurred to you that Jesus knew a lot about big struggles. He
contends with misunderstanding in his family and amongst his friends, the Jewish
church and, at the end, alone in the dark like Jacob, he wrestled with truth
coming from his Father. Despite the terror and the tears, he surrendered to his
Father’s truth, which became his own truth. This truth of God is centred on
the fact that God is love and so all our struggles are learning how to receive
and give love, like our Father. On the cross, the victory finally goes to love,
Charles Wesley’s moving hymn “”Wrestling Jacob” the last verse reads
Love! ’tis Love! Thou diedst for me! I hear Thy whisper in my heart;
To me, to all, Thy mercies move; Thy nature and Thy Name is Love.
Simon Holden CR