Jacob, Part I

“Truly, the LORD is in this place and I did not know it…How awesome is this place! This in nothing else than the house of God, the gateway to heaven.”

Genesis 28:16-17

The Church offers up a template for transformation that the LORD desires for all his creation in today’s reading from the Old Testament. In Genesis 28: 11-22, we find Jacob in a place that the LORD will use to initiate His transformation. What is behind him is an angry brother and a disappointed father whom he had deceived. What is before him is a path that will includes pitfalls and pratfalls and the formation of a dysfunctional family that eclipses any reality television. The journey will include deception handed back to him many times over, but in the end Jacob will deserve the title “Patriarch of the Faith” that he is remembered for. The first place of his transformation is at Bethel, a sacred place for his grandfather Abraham. Apparently this knowledge had not been passed down to Jacob. This is a clue about his upbringing and it’s a cautionary tale for us. Moses later records the LORD’s instruction to the people of Israel that was woven into the culture of family life.

 “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.  You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.

Deuteronomy 6:4-9

The culture relied on oral tradition and the passing on of the truth depended upon the parents fidelity to this understanding. Perhaps Jacob was forgetful about his family history and the stories that conveyed their faith in God or Isaac had neglected the passing of the baton of faith which included the stories of Abraham’s exemplar trust in the LORD. What we can learn from this is how foundational to a child’s life is the example of faith in the LORD that can be observed in our own lives and in giving examples of the LORD’s faithfulness through the twists and turns of life.

“… And he came to a certain place and stayed there that night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place to sleep.  And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it!  And behold, the Lord stood above it and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac. The land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring. Your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south, and in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed.  Behold, I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land. For I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”  And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.

So early in the morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it.  He called the name of that place Bethel, but the name of the city was Luz at the first. Then Jacob made a vow, saying, “If God will be with me and will keep me in this way that I go, and will give me bread to eat and clothing to wear,  so that I come again to my father’s house in peace, then the Lord shall be my God,  and this stone, which I have set up for a pillar, shall be God’s house. And of all that you give me I will give a full tenth to you.”

Genesis 28:11-22

The encounter that ensues between Jacob and the LORD begins with that “certain place” where decades earlier his grandfather, Abraham encountered the LORD (see Genesis 12) and though Jacob seemed to be unaware of that fact, the LORD chose that place to initiate Jacob into the reality of the LORD’S presence. Jacob was between a rock and a hard place, pun intended, and the sooner he recognized the omnipresent God, the sooner his spirit would be reordered into the man God desired him to be. I believe it is the same for us. The LORD is hounding our tracks as the psalmist puts it, the “greyhound of heaven” who is waiting for us to stop ignoring him and see life as it is, not what we delude our minds into believing.

A stone becomes his pillow and then a memorial. Here is another clue for our own transformation–the needed the rest that we often plow past in our striving as human-doings. The prophet Isaiah puts this truth like this, “In returning and rest you shall be saved; in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.” Jacob was on his way toward the humility required for transformation, and rest is what ushered him into the awareness of God’s presence, a dream follows.

The dream that fills his sleep is a magnificent theophany where the divine touches the temporal; where the veil between earth and heaven is pulled back and Jacob’s eyes are opened to the presence of the tremendous Lover of his soul. His response, “Truly the LORD is in this place and I did not know it!” What the LORD did to remind Jacob of who he was, where he was going, and what he was to be about is exactly what our transformational moments are like when we recognize the presence of the LORD; when we are humbled by the reminder that God is God and we are not! Jacob exclaimed that that place was the house of God (Bethel); “the gateway to heaven“. I wonder how many gateways to heaven are never opened by us because we are too busy running away from something or running to something or because our fear and pride saturate our life with busy-ness or self-delusion.

Jacob’s response upon waking from that dream brings to mind the experience of getting my first pair of glasses when I was about 11 years old. I was having trouble in school because of the nearsightedness we soon found out that I had. The optometrist’s office was on the 5th floor of the tallest building on our town square. When the time came for me to put on my new glasses, the wise optometrist led me to the window and instructed me to look down on a very familiar street. He placed my glasses on my head, and my 11 year-old brain was blown away by what I could now see that I could not see before It was the autumn of the year and the maple trees were displaying their brilliance, I had always enjoyed observing the change of seasons but now my joy had been increased because of the detail I could see. What before were watercolor images to me became pristine in their texture and detail!

Jacob’s eye-opening encounter with God at Bethel blew his mind. Jacob, who had seen his world with the distortion of greed and deception, had been taken to the window of reality where God corrected his sight to the beatific vision that is forever at play before the eyes of those who trust in the LORD and by faith realize that “Surely, the LORD is in this place“.

How’s it with you, friend? Are you running from something you regret or running to something you dread? Perhaps running isn’t even involved and it’s more like sloth; the insipid spiritual laziness that mires us in the rut of self-preservation. Either way, the LORD is purposefully hounding our tracks desiring to lead us into the divine life that is ours when we are completely abandoned to His sovereignty in our lives.

Do you rest in the LORD? Do you allow yourself to receive His peace by simply stopping in a cease-fire from the striving and dis-ease that pervades our culture. I’m a strong advocate for purposeful silence where we refuse the distractions of what is happening around us so that we may be fully present to the LORD.

Father, teach us to trust in you by choosing to rest in you. Help us to close our ears and eyes to the clamor of the culture. Lead us through our pitfalls and pratfalls into the confidence of knowing who we are and what we are about as a child of God.

In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen

“You Act Just Like your Father!”

Saints Philip and James, Martyrs

Have you ever been told that you act just like your father? What’s it like to hear that? I imagine it is a good thing to hear if you value the attributes passed on to you. A grateful child will often strive to reflect their father values as a way to honor their lives. This thought came to me today as I contemplated the Scripture passages in today’s readings (May 3, 2021) as The Church remembers and celebrates the lives of Saints Philip and James (The Lesser). These early Saints not only acted like Jesus, the Incarnate Father, they gave their lives in honor of Him. They stand with the other 12 pillars of the early Church as inspiration and encouragement for us as we, too, endeavor to act just like our Father in heaven.

Saint Paul writes to the believers in Corinth an admonition to remember that they have received the Gospel because there were men and women willing to reflect the image of Christ to the world and proclaim His Good News. He writes a mini-lesson on the Passion and Resurrection of Christ emphasizing that the resurrected Christ appeared to the faithful before his ascension into heaven. The passage ends, “After that he appeared to James, then to all the Apostles. Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me.” I wonder why St. Paul makes a point of mentioning the appearance to the apostle St. James. Perhaps St. James had an impact on St. Paul in his early days as a Christian, who knows!

Saint John records in his gospel an encounter St. Philip had with Jesus, “Master, show us the Father, and that will be enough for us.” Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you for so long a time and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father...” We see here that St. Philip is remembered for his desire to SEE the Father. There’s a theme in these two apostles lives that we can learn from as we live in what we know now as the Apostolic Mission of the Church. The age of Christendom that the apostles gave their lives to establish has eroded under the tide of societal ideologies where the Truth of Christ’s Gospel has “died the death of a thousand qualifications” as Antony Flew once concluded. And now, you and I are called to be the saints-in-the-making for such a time as this, this Apostolic Age version 2 so to speak? How can we, as Saints James and Philip impact society with the Truth of the Gospel?

Recently I came across something what Pope Francis said about the the necessity of “white martyrdom” of those living in countries where freedom of religion is restricted. As we consider our own country and the growing restrictions on religious expression and freedom of speech, we must not delude ourselves into thinking that if we just keep our head down and continue to be a good neighbor, it will be enough to turn the tide against the escalating hatred of The Faith and the freedom to express that Faith here in the United States. Our white martyrdom is upon us, some of us on the frontline of public debate endure the “cancel culture” mindset every time they speak up for the Truth of Christ. They join the martyrs in this Apostolic Mission we are in now in the 21st century. The bloody martyrdom of Saints James and Philip came about because they did not waver in bearing witness to the Truth of the Gospel. Currently white martyrs are being marginalized, slandered and maligned, even imprisoned. Are they losing relationships because of their stand for the Truth of the Gospel? Probably. Does everyone around them cheer them on in their faithfulness to Christ and His Church? Certainly not! Will their lives end in a bloody death? I hope not!

I believe what Pope Francis was getting at in his reference to white martyrdom is a clarion call for you and me. We may not be a well-known apologists or public figure; however, we live our lives alongside neighbors, fellow employees, even family members that would allow the Truth of the Gospel to “die through a thousand qualifications.” If we are going to “look just like our Father” by being transformed into the image of Christ we are going to be confronted with choices every day that require a dying to our sense of self-protection. Do those around us know us for our faithfulness to the social teachings of Christ’s Church? Do we have the moral backbone to honor Christ’s image in us if we are threatened by their rejection or marginalization?

The white martyrdom of believers who face repeated trials in bearing witness to Christ, can be terrifying. When we are tempted to despair over the isolation we may have to endure, we need to remember that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of The Church, and now we must stand up for the Truth they died to protect. We join the company of believers around the world as we stand for this Truth, in doing so we can water The Church with our faithfulness and courage.

Father, grant us the courage of Saints Philip and James. May we make our own white martyrdom as a total offering to You where we not only die to ourselves, the world, and its allurements, but we stand against the tide of our culture’s denial of You.

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

What’s That in Your Hand?

The Lord said to [Moses], “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.”  –Exodus 4:2

Before God revealed himself to Moses on the backside of the desert around Mount Horeb [Sinai], he caught his attention through a burning bush. And Moses turned aside to look at the burning bush, this was not simply a glance, Moses beheld the sight. And that made all the difference for Moses and eventually for God’s enslaved people. To behold is to gaze and discern–I kindle to that. We could say Moses clapped his eyes on the burning bush and entered into a stunned suspension of thought at the mystery of God revealed! “When the Lord saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And he said, ‘Here am I.Do not come near; put off your shoes from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground. And he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.’ And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.”

God waited for Moses to behold the theophany and once he did, God revealed himself to Moses! By rights, Moses could have been consumed by the fire of God in that moment, but God invited Moses into the posture of anticipation, indeed, of worship! In spite of Moses’ fear and trembling at the sight, he proceeded to tell Moses where to go! Of all things! Moses, a fearful man, reluctantly ask God a question, “’Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh, and bring the sons of Israel out of Egypt?’  [God replied], ‘But I will be with you; and this shall be the sign for you, that I have sent you: when you have brought forth the people out of Egypt, you shall serve God upon this mountain.’” Follows is another comeback from Moses about his doubts about this mission God had in mind. Me thinks God must have been wearing thin on patience by this time, yet there’s no indication of that, in fact, God reveals more of himself to Moses by revealing his holy name.

God’s holy name, “I am who I am” discloses the penultimate, up to that point, nature of himself, we could spend so much time mining the depth of his revealed name here, but let’s move on to what that name exposed about the nature of God in that moment. He instructed Moses to speak for him in what would become one of the most fascinating revelations of the lengths God will go to to keep his covenant with his creation. He tells Moses to say for him, “I have observed you and what has been done to you in Egypt; and I promise that I will bring you up out of the affliction of Egypt, to the … land flowing with milk and honey.”’

The LORD knows Moses–he’s intimately familiar with Moses’ doubt, fear, and his speech impediment. He, too, sees Moses’ afflictions and he want to bring him out of the slavery he has to those afflictions. Not only does God plan to free the Hebrew slaves, he plans to transform Moses. God’s love for Moses is so great that he seems to concede when Moses puts up his arguments about what he has in mind. In response to Moses’ doubts: The Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod.” The rod was most likely a staff or walking stick but more importantly to Moses the rod defined his own limitations–“Who am I but a shepherd?”

Moses story is my story, it’s everyone’s story. I like Moses can doubt my own abilities, I can fear change. I find myself sometimes questioning the LORD about his providence and my role in it. I am reminded of something Sister Ruth Barrows wrote about the position we find ourselves in from time to time:

“… God is always working to bring us to an awareness and acceptance of our poverty, which is the essential condition of our being able to receive him, and the petty frustrations, the restrictions, the humiliations, the occasions when we are made to feel poignantly and distressingly hedged around, not in control of the world, not even in control of that tiny corner of it we are supposed to call our own, are his chosen channel into the soul. It is the one who has learned to bow his head, to accept the yoke knows what freedom is.”

Sister Ruth Barrows, o.c.d.

The LORD used a the burning bush to draw Moses into his presence, and in doing so invited him to learn to bow his head, to accept the yoke he had for him. Freedom would follow in the moment he was willing to reveal what was in his hand. In one fell swoop he let Moses set him free. He worked with what Moses was able to hand over to him. In the same way, the LORD sees me in my tiny corner as he did to Moses–infinitely patient yet stubbornly persistent in his great love for me and for his great providence to be accomplished through me. He waits for me to turn aside and behold him! The LORD asks of me, too, “Lois, what is in your hand?……What identity do you hold onto?…..What limitations have you put on yourself because you are afraid of what I might ask from you?….What is hedging you in that keeps you from trusting that I know what I am doing?”

Eternal Burning Bush, you patiently wait for me to turn aside and to fix my gaze upon you, forgive me for the time I’ve wasted chasing after a burning twig.

Sovereign God, the ground around me is your holy ground, it is not MY ground to protect. Teach me to move, and live, and have my being on your holy ground!

Great Shepherd, I open my hand to you, releasing the walking stick of my existence. I accept the yoke your desire to place on my shoulders. Lead me toward freedom.

In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Amen

*To learn more about what the LORD does with what we have in our hand, see my post, “Nothing But A Walking Stick”

Waiting

There’s all kinds of waiting: grocery queues and traffic jams, the mundane and the monumental. There’s the pregnant pause of anticipation before a bride walks down the aisle or when a loved one is about to draw her last breath. Waiting can cause dis-ease in my life or it can bring grace. “I can wait empty or I can wait full. It all depends on what I do with the time. Those who wait empty get irritated or dissipated. Those who wait full get richer as time goes by. Those who wait empty wait aimlessly. Those who wait full do something that changes them by the time they get what they are waiting for.”*

It had been about 400 years of suffering in the darkness of the times since the last prophet promised the Messiah’s entrance into history. The waiting was filled with the unremitting hopelessness of the human condition. For the Jews, they endured without a word from a prophet. Some waited empty–embittered by persecution and subjection, but there were a few, a remnant, that refused to lose the gift of expectancy, even when all signs pointed the other direction. They waited full with hope, HOPE in God, to reveal himself as the promised Messiah.

Then one dark night in a forgotten town in a forsaken country, the Messiah made his resplendent entrance into the world in the most ordinary way–a birth. Six pounds of new flesh filled the world! The scriptures say, “In the fullness of time…,” The Sovereign LORD knew what needed to be fulfilled before he incarnated himself into our darkness. I also think he came because of those who were waiting full, the moment was according to plan, the right humans were in place. Mary, Joseph, shepherds, wisemen, Simeon and Anna, and then there was the anonymous “they” who were waiting–humanity crippled, sick, and oppressed, even the dead got what they were waiting for. They saw hope revealed because they never lost sight in the truth that God is good. How they waited made all the difference for them and the rest of history.

It’s been said that Advent is a search in the dark. The Liturgy brings us back to this truth every year in order to compel us to live wide-awake, alert, to God with us–Immanuel! The scriptures display how Saints Simeon and Anna laid down the posture of waiting for us in the gospel according to St. Luke:

Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, looking for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him.  And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he should not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.  And inspired by the Spirit he came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the law,  he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said,

 “Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace,
according to thy word;
 for mine eyes have seen thy salvation
 which thou hast prepared in the presence of all peoples,
 a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and for glory to thy people Israel.”

And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him; and Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother,

“Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising of many in Israel,
and for a sign that is spoken against
 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also),
that thoughts out of many hearts may be revealed.”

 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phan′u-el, of the tribe of Asher; she was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years from her virginity, and as a widow till she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. And coming up at that very hour she gave thanks to God, and spoke of him to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

LORD, I desire to take you in my arms as St. Simeon did, but I have to empty my arms to receive you. Empty me of my pride, fear and anger and fill me with your virtues. Wisdom, understanding, counsel, fortitude, knowledge, piety and reverence.

LORD, make me like St. Simeon, righteous and devout, knowing that consolation in my doubts or fears comes in the fullness of time.

LORD, make me like St. Anne, waiting upon you, abiding in your Presence, filling the moments with worship, fasting and prayer. Displaying thanksgiving to my dark world.

LORD, may peace reign in me and through me for my eyes, too, have seen your salvation, Immanuel, God with me, with us, filling our empty world.