In our community gathering last night at Emmaus Way, we began a summer reading and discussion of the Biblical story of Jacob (roughly Gen 25-36).
Over the years, I have become more and more sensitive to the reality that I don't have "a personal relationship with God" in the sense that I would have connection to God that is mine or exclusive from a vast network of relational experiences and realities that make up my life. My conceptions of God, pursuits of the divine, and my most humble or desperate prayers have been shaped by 43 years of life experiences. And, of course, my short years on earth are but a small part of long relational, familial legacies that stretch over decades and through the centuries.
For example, when I read the story of Jacob, my hearing of the story is shaped by a fear of abandoment which is the honest legacy of a child who lost a parent early in life (How did Jacob feel when he was forced to flee from his home and homeland?). And as I read this story, I also realize that I am reading the narrative of my own spiritual family. Those of us who seek to follow the way of Jesus realize that we (like others) trace our own familial narrative to the people God formed from Abraham's lineage. I see the same patterns of deceit, competition, jealousy, and lack of graciousness in my recent family narrative as I see in the strange journeys of Jacob and his family. And, of course, I also see patterns of redemption and hope in both of my families.
Our hope this summer is to read this narrative from the lens of our own familial experiences and also have that reading deeply enhanced by listening carefully to the stories of others.
Last night, Mimi led us through a meaningful exercise of familial mapping. The idea came from the Cornucopia House, a local non-profit that supports cancer patients and their caregivers. Mimi enjoyed several visits to this community as she cared for her mom this winter and spring. The exercise calls for the creation of a collage of images, words, and art that describe your family-of-origin and current experiences in relationship with others. The collage that she made has been prominently displayed on the great suburban art gallery, also known as the refrigerator, for some time. The meaningfulness of these symbols has only increased with time. I can only conclude that there is something sacred in expressing one's story — this is indeed the canvas that God works on.
So last night, we discussed and inquired our way through the bizarre realities of Jacob's family background —
• A grandfather (Abraham) who allowed his wife, deceitfully identified as his sister, to be taken into the Pharoah's harem rather than run the personal risk of living in a foreign land with a beautiful wife.
• A repetition of this same pretense by his son (Isaac, Jacob's father) and a growing legacy of deceit throughout the whole family
• Bitter competitions among family members for wells, grazing rights, birthrights, and honor with the family.
• The bitter juxtapostiion of great promises of family expansion and the common experiences of infertility among the key women in the story
• The difficult to read theme of inappropriate (?) favoritism in the family that in some way corresponds to some form of redemptive favoritism expressed by God. How does one understand this?
As we explored our own families, no one could claim a dysfunction that far exceeded the strange narrative of Jacob's family.
We look forward to a continued exploration of this story. Next week we'll move into a scene of unparalled deceit as Jacob and his mother conspire together to steal the prophetic blessing his father intends for his older twin, Esau (Genesis 27).
The relational nature of faith of seems very obvious in this story and subsequent dialogue. Our journeys with and from God are so significantly marked by the presence of others.