Category: Blog

Sonja, Bess and Ann will take it in turns on a monthly basis to add their own thoughts here

Jesus – The Good Shepherd

No Comments

   

The image of Jesus as the good shepherd is one that resonates with many people, invoking thoughts of divine care, protection and guidance.

In the last few weeks I spent some time exploring the theme of the good shepherd and I was deeply touched by what I discovered.

What makes Jesus the good shepherd

He protects 
A shepherd tended his flock day and night. He would gather the sheep into a sheepfold at night for their protection. The sheepfold was a pen, a cave, or an area backed by stone walls. Since there were no doors, the shepherd would often sleep or sit in the opening, ready to guard his sheep from harm. 

“I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” John 10:28 When  Iplace myself under the care of Jesus our life may not be perfect but we are safe with him.

He guides
“He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.”       Ps 23:3

Jesus shows us a better way to live.  When we follow him, he is glorified.
His followers (sheep) rely on Jesus (shepherd) to keep them safe and to lead them throughout life.

His closeness with the individual sheep is clear in vs. 3 when it says he calls them by name. Wow – He calls me by name!!  I know His voice. Jesus seeks me out when I am lost. Jesus places me tenderly on His shoulders. Jesus invites me back to the flock when I go astray. Jesus guides me gently to where is best for me. These realities calm my fears, especially in a time of great uncertainty.

He nurtures us and knows us fully
“He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.” Isaiah 40:11

What a beautiful image, full of loving care and gentleness.
in John 10, is SAYS that the good shepherd is personally, if not intimately involved with all his sheep. 

In other words, Jesus knows the deepest, most wicked, and shameful parts of us and loves us deeply enough to still lay down His life for us. Jesus already knows the depths of our soul, our greatest fears, and grandest dreams. 

He lays down his life
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” 
John 10:11

Jesus showed his love for us by leaving heaven, entering humanity, living a perfect life, and paying the price for our sins by dying on the cross.  He rose again, ascended to heaven to be with his Father, and intercedes on our behalf so that we can enter into relationship with God. Jesus rescued us and lay down his life for us, his sheep. 

He gathers the sheep

Jesus not only gathers each of us as individuals, He gathers us together as a flock. He comes to give us life together. He not only relates to each of us personally, He is also in the midst of us, uniting us as one, bringing us together, and leading us forward together. 

Sheep need to be part of a fold within the flock. For sheep, a “herd-mentality” is a good thing because there is nothing more threatening to its welfare than isolation. Sheep are highly vulnerable and defenseless, so isolation makes them easy targets for predators. 

I believe this is a very important truth. As we are waiting to see how Corona influences long-term our society, families and culture, one thing has become obvious. Many Christians are more reluctant to attend a church on a regular basis. The enemy found a way to weaken our faith and pull us away from God, the source of life.

We are called to live in the context of the local church, in community with other believers because independence and self-sufficiency make us highly irrational and extremely vulnerable to attacks from the enemy. God designed us to depend on one another for strength and guidance and wisdom, as we corporately depend on our Good Shepherd. 

Questions to reflect on

  • Who is my shepherd? Does my shepherd care for me like this? 
  • Which qualities of the good shepherd have I experienced most in my life (give examples)?
  • Which qualities would I like to discover in my relationship with the good shepherd? How can I perceive my circumstances in light of these qualities?
  • How would my life be different if I would really believe that He is the good shepherd?

Holidays?

No Comments
black framed Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses on top of book

Holidays are here again! I can tell by the reduced traffic in the street and the summer sales in the shops. (The lateness of this blog may reflect lazy summer days too).  Summer holidays are part of the pattern of the school year and part of the dream tourist and travel businesses try to sell us.

But what do holidays mean to you and me?  It may be you cannot afford to go on holiday, or cannot find the time. If you have just arrived as a refugee you may not want to risk leaving the country in case the authorities don’t let you back. On your own you may not like the idea of travelling as a single in a holiday season that seems aimed at couples and families. Babies and children at home, or adult children and grandchildren coming to visit may make this a tense and exhausting period.

Yet the original ideas: of holy days to remember God, to have a celebration and to change the pattern of life; and of the sabbath to pause on a weekly (or other) basis so as to have a change of rhythm, these are good ideas.

So how can we draw from them? How can we make the next two months times of growth and renewal?Create whatever you have the energy and time for, here are some thoughts to get you started:

  • How do you build God into your holiday plans? Seek God in nature, use different bible study notes, or don’t use them at all but find a different way of structuring your prayer time. Walk instead of sitting, sing instead of speaking, listen instead of talking.
  • Enjoy celebrating yourself, your friends and your family (even if they are annoying at times!) Practice an ‘attitude of gratitude’ for whatever and whoever turns up.
  • Change your rhythm. London cockneys used to leave their slums and shops to work in the fields at harvest time – not a rest, but a change of pace, of air, of neighbours. What can you change? (If you cannot take your annual break in the next two months, make sure a change of pace is factored in at some point in the year.)
  • Create your own sabbath: it might not be every 7 days (try 1 minute an hour!), but make it a pause that is a holy time.

Prayer – a varied landscape

No Comments

Our lovely Bernese Mountain Dog has something wrong with her paw!  It’s nothing serious but she is limping a little, and daily walks are confined to half-hour jaunts right now.  But even in her present difficulties, we can open our front door and explore surprisingly varied countryside for 30 minutes.  Our circuit covers cobbled pavements (not ideal for sore paws!), peaceful wooded areas with soft undergrowth, a steep tarmac-ed path near a very loud motorway and then open fields. So, we experience a variety of mini- landscapes within a short distance of where we live.

On our walk through the woods today, I started to make connections between these shortened dog-walks and my prayer-life over the past *** years. I realised that prayer could be described as a varied landscape too, in some ways.  So many different ways of praying or being with God.  And times when it is smooth easy-going, and times which feel distinctly bumpy or arid. 

One of the many possible ways of “categorising” prayer is to make a distinction between silence and sound.   Particularly, the sound of the human voice. I am someone who often enjoys silent meditation.  But there are times in life, when I am tempted to use the silence to turn inwards and to dwell on the difficult things around me, I actually need words, specifically other people’s words.  And I have benefited hugely from daily prayer apps such the one produced by the Church of England (“Daily Prayer”).  I’ve been lifted out of myself and oriented towards God by participating in the creative blending of spoken Scripture, corporate prayer and music.

Perhaps you are “the other way around” at the moment.  Life is very busy – there is a lot of noise of different kinds and you don’t want more spoken words or sound, particularly.  You would love the chance to spend extended time with God in silence. 

If this is you, why not join us on our summer retreat this year?

It’s from Thursday 25 August 2022 at 19h00

to Sunday 28 August 2022 at around 16h00

at the Centre Spirituel Ignatien La Pairelle

25, rue Marcel Lecompte

5100 Wepion (Namur)

http://www.lapairelle.be

The retreat, which is open to all Christians in Belgium aged 18+, offers space to spend a long week-end with God using the theme “walking by the river”. It will largely be in silence (with input/suggestions for guided prayer from the leaders – Sonja, Ann and myself).

If you’d like more information, go to the Events page and choose Future Events.

Maybe see you there?

Bess

Holding on to God all day

No Comments
man using phone

‘I give time to God in the morning, then I go out of my bedroom and leave him there!’.

This is a heartfelt cry which I believe is often true for many of us. Sunday worship that only lifts us for Sunday, prayer in the bedroom that stays in the bedroom, even Godspace retreat days may fail to bring God into the rest of our lives!

So what do we do? I see two ways to approach this:

Firstly, consider why our prayer doesn’t have a longer lasting effect. If our prayer is not influencing our day, perhaps it needs overhauling. Consider  the point of your prayer. Is it to persuade God to achieve certain things on our behalf this day? To try and change the odds in a universe which feels stacked against us? Surely not.

I suggest we need to pray in the morning to assert our unity with God, to allow God’s presence to be the reality of our day. We pray to be drawn into relationship with the Trinity, to be open to discovering the holy and sacred in every aspect of our lives this day. We open ourselves to become more holy, a fit temple for the Holy Spirit. (if you don’t like the last paragraph, that is fine but try redrafting it in your own language; why do you think you pray?)  

Do our prayers involve aspects of the day, envisaging situations that will or may arrive and considering God in them? Do we intercede only for those we feel we ought to or also for those we will encounter?  If you are used to doing imaginative contemplation of Scripture, you might try imagining the day that is to come (‘the scripture of your life’), looking out for where God might ‘play a role’ in this day?

Secondly: find ways of taking your prayer time into the day.

a) Praying the examen in the midst of the day is a discreet and long-tried way of involving God in the day http://reimaginingexamen.ignatianspirituality.com/ offers various versions of the examen both as a book and as an app.

b) payg (pray as you go) is an app specifically designed for prayer on your commute to work – every-one has their phone on, why not you? https://pray-as-you-go.org/ (there are many other similar apps, find one that suits you)

c) Use prayer triggers (these might seem gimmicky, but if they help you to think about God, what is wrong with gimmicks!) such as getting in the habit of remembering God as you go through a doorway, or on a staircase (liminal spaces that cry out to be occupied by the Holy One). In mainstream Rabbinic Judaism, a prayer scroll is fixed to the doorpost of homes to fulfill the Biblical commandment to “write the words of God on the gates and doorposts of your house” (Deuteronomy 6:9), but also as a sign and reminder of the Covenant, of our love and commitment and our willingness to create a believing household . How could you echo this practice in your daily life?

d) practice what is commonly known as ‘the prayer of the heart’. See elsewhere on this site for the ‘Jesus prayer’. Gradually extend it so that your heart is praying all day long, prayer becomes the background to all you do. It sounds hard but is not, it just needs a lot of time to develop the habit.(The classic resource for this is Brother Lawrence, Practicing the presence of God’).

e) Carry a holding cross, bookmark or prayer beads that has been with you while you prayed; slip it into your pocket and finger it throughout the day, let it take you back to the feeling when you were praying.

f) use your phone wisely, what helps you as a picture, text or jingle; what other reminders can you build into the phone? Use the alarm on your phone to remind you to pray the Lord’s prayer once every two hours (or whatever works!).

g) let your morning prayer give you ideas of where to look for God in the day, eg if you have prayed for those on the street, each time you pass a beggar think ‘could that be Christ?’

h) find Christian friends with the same concern; form a prayer triplet on WhatsApp to pray for each other and to remind each other to pray. Another way to look at this is that perhaps your prayer is touching the day more than you expected, it is influencing what happens and how you respond more than you realise: ponder what your day would have been like if you hadn’t prayed! Giving thanks for God’s presence in your day (even when you haven’t been able to feel it) may be more helpful than living with the self-induced guilt that you have not let him be present.

Finding Rest in difficult times

No Comments
woman sleeping on bed under blankets

Many of us have heard of the spiritual disciplines of prayer, Scripture meditation, and fasting, But what about the discipline of rest and sleep? 

What does the Bible say about rest?

When Moses becomes weary, leading his people through their trials in the desert, God tells him “My presence will go with you, and I will give you rest.” Exodus 33:14 

Jesus tells his disciplines “Come to me all who toil and are heavy laden and I will give you rest.” Matthew 11:28

Peter Scazzero writes in “The emotionally healthy leader”

Jesus slowed down to make sure he was in syn with God –  that he was in the father and the father was in him, powerfully filling every crevice of his body, mind and spirit. In routinely stepping away from his active work, he entrusted the outcome of his circumstances, problems and ministry to the father. 

David talks about a sense of safety that comes from a place of rest. “In peace I will both lie down and sleep, for you alone, a Lord, make me dwell in safety.” Psalm 4:8

Jesus has been speaking to me lately about the importance of rest: physical, emotional, spiritual, mental. These areas are all connected. I realize that when I become still and allow my life to rest, I feel a renewal of energy and gradual clarity of perception. 

God is inviting me to create time and space to rest in Him so that He can give me peace.

I realize that I have the tendency to be a workaholic person who often feels most alive when I am in the midst of my stress. When I focus on my fears and don’t trust God it is difficult to enter into rest.

Anxiety is caused by trying to mentally or emotionally get into things that are not here yet. I also have the tendency to always rush about things, I need to hurry up and put constantly myself under pressure.


When I feel worn down and exhausted, I ask God what kind of rest I need. 

God is the source and center of rest. I need on a regular basis time to slow down, hear God’s voice, take time for self-reflection. I want to learn to be compassionate with myself, to be able to say no so that I can enter God’s rest and be renewed. 

I know that when we do not spend enough time with God we slowly loose our peace and safety. What do I let control my rest – are these things more important than my time with God?

A PRAYER FOR REST

Our loving Father, we know that You desire good things for Your children. Through the difficulties and troubles we face, we know that You are fighting for our good. We can rest securely in Your arms, knowing that Your victory is sure and that You go with us along our way. Thank you for the promise that there is nowhere we can go apart from Your presence and for Your extravagant love. 

You designed us for rest, so we pray for Your Spirit to meet us and sustain us. Rest can be hard to find as we face our daily routine, so we ask that You would multiply every minute of rest that we have. Help us to draw from Your unending resources. We ask You to teach us how to choose rest:

Teach our minds to rest in Your truth.

Teach our hearts to rest in Your love.

Teach our bodies to rest in Your peace. 

As we rest in You, we ask that You would fill us with Your joy, life abundant, and peace. We ask that Your perfect wisdom would guide us to the right decisions. We ask that You would help us to show others that we meet the way into Your presence. 

Thank you, Lord, for Your promises and Your strong hand to lead and guide us. Please teach us Your ways and lead us into rest. We love You and the way You care for us. Amen!

Sonja Stark

Twitter/twitter and the art of noticing

No Comments

A prayer taken from the Church of England’s Morning Prayer, Monday 28 February 2022

Blessed are you, creator of all,
to you be praise and glory for ever.
As your dawn renews the face of the earth
bringing light and life to all creation,
may we rejoice in this day you have made;
as we wake refreshed from the depths of sleep,
open our eyes to behold your presence
and strengthen our hands to do your will,
that the world may rejoice and give you praise.
Blessed be God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
All Blessed be God for ever.

after Lancelot Andrewes (1626)*

When time permits, I like to start my morning gazing out of my kitchen window over the neighbouring fields, mug of coffee in hand.  It gives me the chance to welcome the sunrise at different times of year and to notice the changing seasons (or the inter-mingled ones?!) and their effect on the local landscape.  Above all, it’s a moment to admire last year’s bird-nests still visible in the largely barren trees and to enjoy the swooping of various flocks onto the fields beneath.  And, sometimes, I even see a buzzard hovering over potential prey below.

I mention this because I’m so aware of the companionship which birds provide, day in, day out, whatever our human circumstances.  (And also of my rather poor, sporadic attempts to learn more about our feathered friends  – the subject of several NYRs over the last few years!).  I’m writing this as we continue to negotiate “living with Covid” and in the immediacy of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.  Perhaps it seems very trite to mention the birdsong which greets the dawn and continues throughout the day.  But the cheerful-sounding “twitter” which accompanies our lives (and, frankly, seems “out of joint” some of the time depending on what’s happening!) reminds me of our inter-connectedness with the whole creation, and that each new morning will reveal something of God’s love and mercy. Regardless of how dire the current circumstances might seem, either personally or on a world-wide scale (see Lamentations 3: 22-23 written amidst great difficulty). And it all starts with a cup of coffee and taking time to notice…..

****

How can it be Lent again ? Last year, I enjoyed the gift of meditating on a piece of artwork for most of the 40 days – a new experience for me.  But this year caught me napping slightly and searching for a way in which to prepare for the events of Holy Week and Easter.  I found a personal answer in a different kind of Twitter where I noticed a thread on Lent and the various ideas that people had for reflection during this special period.  In recent years, I’ve always valued the concept of taking something on, trying something new, rather than giving up chocolate or alcohol, or whatever, for certain length of time.  And I noticed a suggestion which really appealed.  The idea is simple: set aside 10 minutes a day to sit in silence in your garden, on your balcony, in your local park, on a random bench, or to look out of your office window. And to really notice the birds around you. Their colours, songs, behaviour…..

Appreciate them for themselves, as a way of (re)connecting with God’s wonderful creation, as a way of reflecting on the Creator Godself and on the forthcoming events, as a way of simply being silent and collected before God without “purpose”.

So, I am grateful to the person who posted this on Twitter (whom I’ll leave anonymous for now) and I hope this is a life-giving practice for some of you this Lent.

Finally, a well-loved bird poem for you to enjoy….

The Eagle

Lord Alfred Tennyson

He clasps the crag with crooked hands;
Close to the sun in lonely lands,
Ring’d with the azure world, he stands.

The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls;
He watches from his mountain walls,
And like a thunderbolt he falls.

*https://www.churchofengland.org/prayer-and-worship/join-us-in-daily-prayer/morning-prayer-contemporary-monday-28-february-2022

God is with us

No Comments

As we leave Christmas and move towards Easter, do you wonder what happened between Jesus being an exciting baby and his becoming a fully fledged itinerant preacher, teacher and healer?
The Gospels tend to pass over the roughly 30 years that Jesus spent in Nazareth. This does not mean we should ignore this period (90% of the time God spent as incarnate) what was it for?

What can we find out from the Gospels?
Matthew tells of the decision taken by Joseph, after the return from Egypt, to make Nazareth the Holy Family’s permanent home (cf. Matthew 2:22-23), but then gives no further information except that Joseph was a carpenter (Matthew 13:55).

Luke twice mentions the Holy Family’s return to Nazareth (cf. Luke 2:39,51) and gives two brief references to the years of Jesus’ childhood: “The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him” (Luke 2:40), and “Jesus increased in wisdom, age and grace before God and men” (Luke 2:52). He also details the episode of the ‘child’ Jesus staying in the Temple in Jerusalem. After the baptism and the Temptation Jesus returns to Nazareth to make a ‘mission statement’ ch4 vv16-30.

Mark and John make no mention of the birth or the childhood, beginning (after John’s prologue) with John the Baptist.

So we know that Christ spent most of his life, including his childhood, teenage years and twenties, in the small provincial town of Nazareth (Luke 4:16). Nazareth was in Galilee, far from the hustle and bustle of Jerusalem. Many thought that the Messiah could not possibly come from somewhere like that (John 1:45-46).

This is why it’s significant that Christ was popularly known as “Jesus of Nazareth”. Despite his miracle-working, he was still thought of as a country boy. After his resurrection, Christ himself owned that identity, telling St Paul: “I am Jesus of Nazareth, who you are persecuting.” (Acts 22:8)

The gospels tells that in Nazareth, Christ was known as “the carpenter” (Mark 6:1-3) or “the carpenter’s son” (Matthew 13:55). This suggests that he learned his trade from Joseph. This detail has inspired a long artistic tradition of picturing the Child Jesus in the workshop of Joseph.

So what was Jesus doing all that time? Was it irrelevant, a background to his growing up until he was ready for his special mission? Was it training, education and practice? Or was the incarnate God being ‘with us’, teaching us something of value as he shared people’s lives? Could it be that we focus so much on Christ’s ministry of doing something (very precious and special) for us, that we also seek to imitate that ‘doing for’ and forget to imitate his ‘being with’?

What was Jesus’ calling and when did it begin? What is our calling and when does it begin? Do we get frustrated by the years God holds us back? Do I assume that my calling will involve a lot of rushing around, saving, teaching, healing people? Or could it be that there is a value to God ‘simply’ being with those same people, the shop assistant, the co-worker, the children, homegroup members?

It can be very hard to stop rushing around doing things for people, identifying them by a list of problems I might be able to solve (the homeless, the lonely) and instead to simply be with them, to value them as individuals who God has made and placed in my life. Yet this is what Heaven will be like, when there are no more problems to solve, just people to be with. So perhaps it is time to start practicing?
(If you would like to pursue the idea of “being with”, it is taken from the sermons, books and talks of rev Sam Wells, vicar of St Martin’s in London, also his colleague rev Richard Carter,’ The City is my Monastery’).

Being aware of God blessings

No Comments
person wearing gold bracelet and gold bracelet

O my soul, bless God. From head to toe, I’ll bless his holy name!

O my soul, bless God, don’t forget a single blessing!

Psalm 103:2   The Message

Counting our blessings requires a shift in perspective. Our Father’s thoughts are not our thoughts, nor are His ways our ways. When we count our blessings…we find that they often  can outweigh our problems! I am blessed because I have a Savior that loves me and goes through my problems with me!

This world is presently submerged in worry and fear. Paying attention to what we are grateful for helps us to see things with a more positive attitude!

Corona unveiled many things. We became aware of the things we had been taking for granted. We can choose to go through another season or maybe even another year focussing mostly on what we are missing. We can nurture the anger we may feel towards our government and the decisions it has taken. OR, we can focus on all the blessings we do have…. that we live in a country with religious freedom and good health care, that we have enough to eat, a shelter …

Every moment is a sacred moment. Every day is a blessing. Everything depends on our attitude. If we want joy in your life, we must focus on the good. Engaging the mind with the awareness that God is the source of all that is good is a means of increasing the joy in your life. When we give thanks for it all, an even deeper level of joy opens up for us, for then we become more aware of how much we are loved!

Imagine a friend inviting you to a sumptuous home-cooked meal, and you enjoy it, but you ignore the love that the meal represents. How much more enjoyable the meawould’ve been if I had noticed the love. And this is true for all the blessings that we take for granted. Take some time today to be aware of the blessings in your life. It really is a joyful experience because then you discover much of the beauty of your life that you otherwise would miss. 

What kind of blessings have you received this past year? At the beginning of a New Year I often take time to write down the things I am grateful for. It strengthens my faith and I am always amazed to see how God used even the difficult times to bless me in unexpected ways. It will not take away the pain we experienced at the time but we feel loved and comforted. Good memories strengthen us!

I also want to become much more aware of how I myself am a blessing in the lives of others by the loving quality of who I am in Christ and what I do.

Joyce Rupp in her book “The cup of our life” writes

“Calling forth a blessing is a naming of the goodness that is already there. A blessing is perceived to be something that communicates divine life. 

To bless is to bring the touch of God the touch of love and goodness to another by our presence as well as by our actions.”

“To bless is to put a bit of yourself into something. It is to make holy, to change something or someone because of your presence” Macrina Wiederkehr 

Someone said “Wherever you place your foot, a blessing remains!”

We are starting a New Year with this new awareness “Wherever we go, wherever we are, we can be a blessing.”

Jesus became a blessing to us! His presence engenders life, strength, healing, courage!

Here are some suggestions 

  • Think of the people who blessed you!  How did they do this?
  • Think about how you have blessed others
  • Think about the blessings in 2021 you have received –  which one means the most to you?
  • What helps you to be aware of and alert to your daily blessings?

Desmond Tutu who passed away this week said: 

The Most Reverend Desmond Tutu

Imaginative meditation: Jacob waits for God’s blessing (Genesis 32:22-31)

No Comments
two men doing karate

Allow 30 minutes

For those of you who missed our retreat afternoon, here is a version of the meditation on Jacob wrestling with God:

The run up to Christmas should be about learning to wait until the incarnation. As a change from looking at nativity stories we are looking at an Old Testament story, which is about waiting, a very active waiting that doesn’t involve babies, but does involve God. It may be a story that you know well but have not thought off in terms of waiting, be open to that possibility.

(Please read the passage thoughtfully)

Let us recall the story of Jacob. He and his elder brother Esau were the children of Isaac. Esau as the eldest should have had his father’s blessing, but Jacob got it by trickery.(To receive the right blessing is a key concept in Jacob’s story, look out for the idea of a blessing).  Esau, not surprisingly hated Jacob for this. Isaac sent Jacob away, ostensibly to get a wife from another part of their tribe, from his relation Laban, yet probably also to get him away from the wrath of his brother. On the way Jacob had the dream of a ladder reaching to heaven and dedicated himself and that place to God. Once with Laban he waited for 7 years to get Rachel as his wife, only to find he had ‘married’ Leah by trickery, so he also married Rachel and served another 7 years for her. Finally Jacob fell out with Laban, and God called Jacob to return. Jacob is returning to the land controlled by his brother Esau so of course he is full of fear. Jacob sends gifts to his brother to sweeten him and also to show that he (Jacob) has wealth. So we come in time to our story.

But before looking at Jacob’s encounter at the ford it is also worth looking at what happened afterwards. Jacob and his brother meet, and are very polite, but they never use each other’s names and they settle apart from each other. Further on of course there will be the story of the strife between Joseph and his brothers, all children of Jacob. So Jacob’s life, both before and after this encounter,  is always filled with strife. The encounter with God at the ford, all that waiting, has not changed the circumstances. Getting a name from God does not free Jacob to use his name, nor his brother’s name.

So back to our story.  Whilst fleeing Esau on his way to Laban, Jacob had encountered God in a dream, at night. Now as he flees Laban and waits in fear to try to make peace with Esau, he again encounters God (at night, the third reference to night in this chapter. Look out for references in the story that refer to the ending of night). Not on a mountain top, but alone and in the dark, Jacob wrestles with a being described variously as a man or an angel, yet ultimately recognised by Jacob as God. But to reach that point, Jacob has had to wrestle ( to wait whilst he wrestled) all night long. I do not know what word is used for wrestle here, or what it might imply, but to me it speaks of getting close, gripping, interacting with. Painters such as Chagall show Jacob pulling with one hand and pushing with the other, a for and against relationship with God we might identify with. Jacob does not emerge refreshed and at peace as we might expect after a period of waiting on God, but marked by a permanent limp. His encounter with God has scarred him. He is given a new name, a new identity with God.

Does anything from what I have said resonate with the way you wait? Have you asked God for a blessing and now you wrestle with him as you wait for him to give it? Do you feel the idea of wrestling sits uncomfortably with your ‘churchmanship’, that you feel you ‘ought’ to be more patient, more well-behaved? Do you think Jacob recognised the new name as the blessing he had been waiting all the night for or did he keep hoping for something else? Before Jacob could receive a blessing he needed to know who he had been and to accept his future calling as Israel. What do we need to work though, or to find out, before we can be ready for God to bless us? Have you waited in the past and resented the ‘limp’ that you were left with?

Now read the passage again and let God speak to you.