Monday, April 23, 2007

Monday's Meditation

Frederick Buechner's The Son of Laughter is a fictionalized account of the life of Jacob, who would become Israel and would father the twelve sons for whom the twelve tribes of Israel would be named. It's an outstanding book and holds true to the biblical account of Jacob, but expands upon its story. Below are a couple of passages that I thought were especially thought provoking for me at this time of my life.

The first passage comes as Jacob is reflecting on Isaac giving the Blessing of Abraham to him. Here's what Jacob had to say about the Blessing on page 86.
"When the camel you're riding runs wild, nothing will stop it. You cling to its neck. You wrench at its beard and long lip. You cry into its soft ear for mercy. You threaten vengeance. Either you hurl yourself off to death from its pitching back or you ride out its madness to the end.

"It was not I who ran off with my father's blessing. It was my father's blessing that ran off with me. Often since then I have cried mercy with the sand in my teeth...The blessing will take me where it will take me. It is beautiful and it is appalling. It races through the barren hills to an end of its own."
I love comparing the Blessing with a camel gone wild. So often in the Christ life, we forget that God is bigger than we are and that he has his own ways in mind and that his ways are his own and not ours. We hold on for fear of death, but at the same time wonder if holding on will itself bring us to our end. And I think this wild camel of a God means to bring us to our end, for at our end, we find ourselves resurrected in Christ; a new man meant for the purposes of God.

While living in the land of Laban, Jacob's father-in-law, Jacob watches as his children play and he thinks (page 98):
"But the children were the Fear's (God is referred to as "The Fear of Isaac" in the book, which is quite thought provoking on its own). All the time I knew it, even so. They were the seed of the seed of the seed of Abraham, who was his friend. My sons' pert, jouncing little parts, which they snatched at like monkeys when the wrestled on the hard-packed floor, were bearers of the earth's best luck and blessing. Theirs was the seed that would cover the earth like dust."

There's so much here for me, but perhaps more than anything this paragraph brought to mind the sacred responsibility of raising children and passing on a heritage of faith in the Most High God to future generations and the implications of that heritage on the history of the Earth. I have to admit, right now I don't feel very good at it. But my hope, more than anything else as a parent, is that through word and deed my children can become bearers of "the earth's best luck and blessing." What a tremendous thought and promise! that we can be called the children of the living God!

After taking the Blessing from his brother Esau, Jacob flees for his life to his uncle Laban and thinks:
"They say the Fear has no face a man can see, and I did not see it. But on starless nights as I traveled north with my black camel I saw over my head an emptiness that had no end. I saw darkness. I heard silence deeper than the kingdom of the dead. I knew that this was the way the face of the Fear appears to those who have committed abominations in his sight, and shuddered beneath it."
Compare that view of God's face with this, which takes place at the end of Jacob's "wrestling match"
"We were both of us whispering. He did not wait for my answer. He blessed me as I had asked him. I do not remember the words of his blessing or even if there were words. I remember the blessing of his arms holding me and the blessing of his arms letting me go. I remember as blessing the black shape of him against the rose-colored sky.

"I remember as blessing the one glimpse I had of his face. It was more terrible than the face of the dark, or of pain, or of terror. It was the face of light. No words can tell of it. Silence cannot tell of it. Sometimes I cannot believe that I saw it and lived but that I only dreamed I saw it. Sometimes I believe I saw it and that I only dream I live."
I think here we gain a glimpse as to why Buechner has chosen to name God "The Fear." The blessing of seeing God's face is "more terrible than the dark," but the dark itself causes Jacob to shudder. There is no doubt in my mind that God is great and terrible, just as Buechner writes. But for some reason, I find Buechner's description of God beautiful and rest-giving. I find myself resting as Jacob rested in the arms of this terrible God and finding blessing in his terrible arms.

I've long thought that God is to be feared in the same way that the Grand Canyon at sunrise is to be feared. It is an awesome experience - or so I've been told and can imagine. Here you have this beautiful and vast place wherein you are placed into the context of the Universe at large - you are no longer a powerful demigod, but a part of a whole, and subject to the whole. The setting takes your breath away and your soul is filled with the Joy of God at creation. Yet, you must be fearful, for you are but a tiny speck at the precipice of a seemingly never ending abyss, from which you could never survive. God is to be enjoyed and his beauty is to fill our being, but let us not make any rash choices about him. Before we can experience the blessing of his terror, we must first humble ourselves before him.