11024 S. Bell Avenue
Chicago, IL 60643
Rev. Dr. Joel Mitchell, Pastor
Reflection August 13, 2017
Rev. Dr. Thomas Aldworth
This past Sunday, August 6, I preached on Jacob’s Wrestling Match from Genesis 32. I will not put my sermon in this week’s Advance but I’ll develop a thought or two from that sermon, along with a piece I wrote in 1990, which I used to end the sermon.
I believe, in a very real sense, God must “attack” us to get our attention and to make contact with us. What happened to the first disciples on Pentecost morning is an example of how God works among us - setting us afire and “slamming“ us with the hurricane of God‘s Spirit. The strange story of Jacob fighting an unnamed stranger at the river Jabbok is also an example of God’s mysterious nature and God’s unfathomable activity regarding us humans.
In Jeremiah 20:7, the prophet complains to God: “You have duped me, Lord, and I have been your dupe; you have outwitted me and prevailed.” (Revised English Bible) This passage has been variously translated. I especially like the translation: “You have seduced me, O Lord, and I let you seduce me.”
God seems to be always seeking to open us to God’s infinite love. But we are often deaf and dumb (in every sense of that word!). We move through the expanse of our days and nights without much attention or care regarding the One Who Made Us. We imagine God is content if we pray on occasion and go to church when we feel the urge to do so - if nothing better presents itself.
But God will not be deterred! God is always attempting to “seduce” each of us. God is always pursuing us. God is always “attacking” us. God is always “stalking” us.
A memorable analogy of this pursuit comes from the English poet and mystic, Francis Thompson’s Hound of Heaven:
“I fled Him, down the nights and down the days; I fled Him, down the arches of the years; I fled Him, down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind; and in the midst of tears, I hid from Him …” (Yes, Jim B, I happily recall your recitation of this!)
(By the way, Francis Thompson was an opium addict, homeless for years on the streets of London, who seriously considered suicide and was a trained physician. He died of tuberculosis at the age of 47. He knew well of what he wrote!)
As I mentioned at the end of our worship on Sunday, I believe God “attacks” us - “seduces” us - primarily in two incredibly powerful ways: the way of beauty and the way of love. And, yes, the way of beauty and the way of love are intimately intermingled.
I love this quote from the philosopher /psychologist Rollo May’s My Quest for Beauty: “Beauty is not God, but it is the resplendent gown of God and of our spiritual life … Beauty is eternity born into human existence.” (Rollo May and his brother Gerald May have had a great influence in my life since my long-ago college years.)
Life beats us up. There is a profound truth contained in this simple statement. We all suffer body blows as we make our way through life. Some of the blows take our breath away. Some of the blows wound us as happened to Jacob. Many of the blows are fashioned to make us pay attention, to “wake up.” Some of the blows can only be said to come from the hand of God.
Beauty and love are ultimately assaults upon the human heart and the human soul. This may sound unduly harsh but this truth underlines everything I’ve come to know about God and God’s ferocious activity among us and among all creation.
In the summer of 1990, I had the good fortune to spend a number of weeks on a study pilgrimage in Assisi and its environs. Near the end of that pilgrimage I wrote the following. I believe it sums up, for me, my personal experience of the Living God.
O, Ancient of Beauties
You startle and stun
My defenseless soul
With your constant blows,
Raining down on me
From each and every place
My fear-filled eyes fall.
I don’t know yet how
To block the blows that
Attack my fright-filled heart
So I let you pummel me
With your beauty-filled fists.
But I will not forget
Nor forgive this beating.
Standing bruised before you
I yearn for a respite.
You are unremitting.
I cannot long endure
For I feel you coming
To strike the final blow
As my fear falls away.