Kargador at Dawn

Kargador at Dawn
Work in the Vineyard

Sunday, April 27, 2014

“Christ is Our Reconciliation” Icon: The Story of Jacob and Esau

by Clare Amos

This was an address given at a service of prayers held during the consultation. In a service of prayer being held during a consultation about Christian engagement with other faiths – especially Islam – it seems good to spend a few minutes exploring the icon “Christ is our reconciliation.” (The icon can be viewed at http://www.paxchristi.org.uk/documents/Ic on.pdf) This icon has fascinated me ever since I first caught sight of it in St Ethelburga’s Church in London. St Ethelburga’s is a church in the City of London which was destroyed by an IRA bomb in 1993 – and then reopened 10 years later as a centre specifically dedicated to the work of Reconciliation and Peace. These days a particular focus of its work involves reconciliation between people of different faiths. So it was a very apt place to come across this icon. Across the middle of the icon you can see those words written in Greek and Latin and Hebrew – languages chosen of course to echo the languages that were used to write up the inscription on Christ’s own cross.

Appropriately for an icon which has the desire for reconciliation as its meaning, it was created shortly before the millennium in the Holy Land at a Greek Catholic monastery called St John in the desert, just outside Jerusalem. Implicitly written into the different scenes of the icon therefore is the passion and pain of the Middle East and the Holy Land today and its need for reconciliation at so many levels: between Israel and Palestinians, between the three Abrahamic faiths, Jews, Christians and Muslims, between Eastern and Western Christians, and even between Eastern rite Catholics “Greek Catholics” and their more numerous Western rite, Roman Catholic brothers and sisters. In my reflections in the next few minutes I will be focusing on the main central scene of the icon – the reconciliation between the two brothers, Jacob and Esau. I will also talk more briefly about the two smaller scenes halfway down on the left and right of the picture – which illustrate the stories of Sarah and Isaac, and Hagar and Ishmael. And I will conclude with a short comment on the scene depicted in the picture in the bottom left hand corner of the icon, the account of Jesus meeting with the woman at the well of Samaria, which we have just read as our second biblical lesson. Looking over all the scenes and embracing them in his arms is the figure of Christ. I see this as a symbol of the way that Christ invites figures of the past, present and future – the past of the Old Testament, the present of the New and the future of the life of the Church – to share in his ministry of reconciliation.

“Esau ran to meet Jacob, and fell on his neck and kissed him and they wept.” It is these words from Genesis 33 that set the scene that the icon is illustrating. Yet to understand the full power of the scene and the story – what it has to say to us about reconciliation and how we are incomplete without the other – we need also to turn earlier episodes in the story of Jacob. Both the icon and the biblical text hint at this: the icon through the mysterious incorporation of the ladder into the background, a ladder that actually relates to the experience of Jacob at Bethel, in Genesis 28, several chapters earlier in the story – and the biblical text through those words of Jacob to his brother at their meeting, “Truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God, with such grace or favour you have received me.” They are words which both Jacob – and we – have quite literally to wrestle with if we wish to appropriate the exquisite yet demanding grace of what he – and we his spiritual descendants – are being offered. To understand them we need to dig deep into the whole of the book of Genesis.

I believe that there are two great themes in Genesis, which ultimately cannot be separated. The first is that human beings have been created as the image – or as the Greek translation of the Old Testament actually puts it – the icon of God. The second theme is that the number two, a sense of duality, is written into the fabric of creation. Think for example about how creation happens through a series of splits and pairs - light and darkness, land and sea, male and female.

This rhythm of twoness is emphasized by the steady refrain at the end of each day – there was evening and morning. Yet this creation is the expression of a God of whom it is said, “Hear O Israel the Lord is one” and of whom Christians believe that he is unity in Trinity, unity in relationship. So the question the writer of Genesis is posing throughout the book is how can or should the one and the two relate to each other so that neither dominates or disappears? Both unity and duality are necessary. And it is the task of human beings to live at the very heart of this conundrum – as created beings to be part of the world of duality in which ‘otherness’ is important and honoured, and yet also, because we are made in the image of God, to reflect also within ourselves the divine unity.

We are if you like to be a sort of sacrament, showing through our human life, just what it means to be incomplete without the other. This is the tension which Genesis explores, initially through the tale of a man and a woman – but then, and for most of the book through the stories of brothers. The question of what it means to be a brother is visited again and again. It is as if the book is telling us – if this can be got right, then the relationship between human beings and God can become what it was always intended to be. But nowhere in Genesis does ‘brotherhood’ get explored as seriously as in the story of Jacob and Esau. It is ‘the’ issue which binds together this entire section of the book.

The story of these particular two brothers is recounted with an intensity unparalleled elsewhere in Genesis. In part this is a reflection of the intimacy of the relationship between Jacob and Esau, not merely even full brothers, but actually twins sharing the same womb. When I wrote a commentary on Genesis I called this section ‘Double trouble’, for the comparisons and contrasts between Jacob and Esau challenge us with the possibilities and problems inherent in the number two. Let us take up the tale of Jacob and Esau at the moment when Jacob has been forced to flee to escape the anger of his brother Esau, after he has deceived his father and stolen Esau’s blessing. Despondent, he is on his way to what will prove to be twenty long hard years of exile.

At a place called Bethel – the name means ‘House of God’ – Jacob sees a ladder which stretches between earth and heaven, with angels going up upon it, and even catches a vision of God himself standing by the ladder. That is the ladder shown in our icon. In the ancient world temples were built to be the earthly house of a god, places where their worshippers would come to meet them and sense their protection. And so in Jacob’s night vision the ladder was there to link God’s heavenly and earthly dwellings, and Bethel is living up to its very name, which means ‘House of God’. Yet then the words that God then speaks to Jacob subvert the very rationale for this holy place – effectively declaring it redundant. For God promises to be with Jacob ‘wherever you go’.

Normally worshippers had to come to a particular holy building, a temple, to find their god – that was their essential purpose: but God assures Jacob that he can find him anywhere. This is a God who is not confined by a building or even a holy land. He will be Jacob’s travelling companion – but on his own terms. And in doing, so God will offer Jacob an immense challenge. For one way of reading the story of Jacob’s experience at Bethel is to suggest that God’s promise to Jacob to travel with him was effectively offering Jacob the opportunity to be the gateway to God for others. But it was not an opportunity that Jacob is yet brave enough to accept.

We move fast forward 20 years – and to Jacob’s eventual return to his homeland. And just as the meeting with God by the ladder at Bethel marked the beginning of Jacob’s journey into exile – away from his homeland, afraid of his brother – there is another equally mysterious meeting with the divine that takes place on his return,. It is a wrestling bout with an angel that takes place at a river ford called Penuel, a place whose name means the “Face of God”. This is described in Genesis 32.22- 32. We shall discover it is strangely interconnected with the meeting Jacob has the next day with his brother Esau in Genesis 33 – that scene depicted on our icon. These two means by which Jacob meet God at this point approach the profoundest insights of biblical spirituality. The key which links them both is the word ‘face’.

One of the interesting things about Jacob is that up till now he has never found it easy to look people in the face, especially his brother. His very name means ‘heel’ and as befits someone of that name he has always been a ‘behind’ sort of person. But when he wrestles with the angel in the passage we have just read he has no choice: it is a face-to-face encounter.

Rembrandt has painted an inspired picture of this scene. In it Jacob is being held by the divine wrestler in such a way that his head is gradually being forced round so that he is compelled to look his opponent in the face. He will not be allowed to avoid confronting his past, his present and his future.. There is an incredible frisson to the moment: Jacob is all too aware that to look on the face of God in this way was dangerous – yet it was also his only means of healing. Jacob’s cry as the struggle comes to its close, ‘I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been preserved’ is a cry of both exultation and wonder.

The new name – Israel – that he is granted as an apparent blessing through his struggle expresses the ambiguity. For, according to the biblical writer, ‘Israel’ means ‘the one who strives with God’. What a name and a destiny for Jacob to bequeath to his descendants! Is it a blessing to struggle with God, or is it the reverse? Elie Wiesel, writing out of the experience of the Nazi holocaust, speaks of the “eternal struggle” of the Jewish people, “in more than one land, during more than one night.” Back in 1940 the Jewish sculptor Jacob Epstein sculpted an extraordinary portrayal of the two figures wrestling. It can be viewed in the Tate Britain gallery in London. Epstein’s sculpture was created in the knowledge of the terrible suffering the Jewish people were already enduring at that time.

The embrace of Jacob by the angel – is tight, so tight that it must have been painful, almost forcing the breath out of him. And yet the massive angel also seems to be supporting the frailer figure with which he is interlocked. The way the statue portrays the intimacy between Jacob and the angel is remarkable – it feels almost shocking. It is a sharp reminder that for God to touch us, and allow himself to be touched, costs God. It foreshadows the intimate relationship God will have with the prophets. Perhaps it also foreshadows the intimacy of incarnation? Words like “incarnation” are Christian terminology, yet it is telling that the Jewish Elie Wiesel writes again, “God does not wait for man at the end of the road, the termination of exile; he accompanies him there. More than that: He is the road, He is the exile. God holds both ends of the rope, He is present in every extremity, He is every limit. He is part of Jacob as He is part of Esau.” What might this have to say to us as Christian church people and scholars as we reflect on our engagement with people of other faiths?

But all too often people fail to realize that the story of Jacob’s encounter with God’s face does not stop here in chapter 32. After this painful night struggle that has resulted in his wounding – though also his new name – next morning the sun rises. Careful readers of the story of Jacob can notice that this is the first time we read of the sun rising since we were told of its setting more than twenty years before as Jacob approached Bethel. This new day seems to herald a new future and new possibilities. And the new future is fleshed in reality when Jacob finally meets the brother, Esau, whom he once deceived so bitterly and has feared so long, to be greeted with a graciousness which surprises him. Those words that Jacob uses in response to Esau’s welcome perhaps offer the profoundest biblical summary of what reconciliation can and should mean. They so often pass unnoticed – but they are at the heart of this story. “Accept my present from my hand; for truly to see your face is like seeing the face of God – since you have received me with such favour.” This brother has become a “holy place” for Jacob, the gateway by which he can meet God. Without this brother Jacob is incomplete. Esau seems to have accepted the challenge which Jacob was too afraid to accept all those years ago at Bethel.

Jacob’s experiences of the previous dark night and this bright morning somehow mysteriously coalesce – there are Jewish traditions that suggest that Jacob’s divine assailant at the river crossing was none other than the guardian angel of Esau, or perhaps the nation of Edom, of which Esau was to be the ancestor. We need to read both episodes together. That Jacob had to struggle so hard for the blessing, and was wounded in the struggle, is a rightful reminder of how costly reconciliation can – and sometimes should – be. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer once commented there must be no “cheap grace”.

Likewise reconciliation if it is to be authentic must never be easy or “cheap.” Any who wish legitimately to claim the name “Israel” given to Jacob that night by the river must be prepared to continue the dual and interlocking struggle, “wrestling” for reconciliation both with God and with their brothers and sisters, and discovering that the ‘face’ of each illuminates the other. In that struggle is the blessing. Take another look at the icon. Now you can realize why the ladder is there as the background to the embrace and reconciliation of Jacob and Esau. I think the icon painter is telling us that it is only when Jacob and Esau are reconciled in this way that the ladder really can span from earth to heaven. It is only when human beings can see the face of God in one another that the holy place of God’s presence can really be manifested here on earth.
There is a wonderful traditional and humorous Middle Eastern tale that expresses this perfectly:

Two brothers worked together on a family farm. One was unmarried and the other married with children. They shared what they grew equally as they always did, produce and profit. But one day the single brother said to himself, “You know, it’s not right that we should share the produce equally, and the profit too. After all I’m all alone, just by myself and my needs are simple. But there is my poor brother with a wife and all those children.” So in the middle of the night he took a sack of grain from his bin, crept over the field between their houses and dumped it in his brother’s bin. Meanwhile, unknown to him, his brother had the same thought. He said to himself, “It is not right that we should share produce and profit equally. After all, I am married and I have my wife to look after me and my children for years to come. But my brother has no one to take care of his future.” So he too, in the middle of the night, took to taking a sack of grain from his bin and sneaking across the field to deposit it in his brother’s. And both were puzzled for years as to why their supply did not dwindle.

Well, one night it just so happened that they both set out for each other’s house at the same time. In the dark they bumped into each other carrying their sacks. Each was startled, but then it slowly dawned on them what was happening. They dropped their sacks and embraced one another. Suddenly the dark sky lit up and a voice from heaven spoke, “Here at last is the place where I will build my Temple. For where brothers meet in love, there my Presence shall dwell.”

The Old Testament will never again wrestle quite so powerfully with this topic of brotherhood. It is as though it is too painful to do so. Human beings cannot bear so much reality. It is easier for Jacob to travel to Canaan and Esau to Edom, rather than live together face to face. But once on a dark night and a sunlit morning we were given a glimpse that we cannot ignore. This blessing will not be taken from us.

But before I conclude – those two other parts of the icon that I want to comment on very briefly: first the scenes of Sarah and Isaac on the one side and Hagar and Ishmael on the other. I suspect that the two different scenes are intended to recall the respective positions of those such as Christians and Jews, who honour Sarah and Isaac as their forbears in the faith, and those, such as Muslims who turn to Hagar and Ishmael. It is perhaps no accident that there is such a distance between the two scenes: it speaks of the sometimes tense and conflicted nature of our mutual relationships.

Unlike Esau and Jacob was there ever reconciliation between Isaac and Ishmael and their respective mothers? Well, just perhaps. There is an intriguing line in the birth oracle of Ishmael in Genesis 16. Normally it is translated as “Ishmael will live in hostility with all his brothers.” But significantly it is also possible to translate the line as “Ishmael will live alongside his brothers”. Perhaps the destiny of the Middle       East,         Christian-Muslim engagement, even the life of our world, lies caught between these two possibilities.

And secondly the scene of Jesus’ encounter between Jesus and the woman at the well of Samaria, which you can see in the bottom left corner and which we had read as our New Testament lesson. It is a passage of extraordinary richness – which offers such a variety of insights that there is no hope of doing it justice in these few remaining words. For our purposes here it is interesting to note that some Christian scholars of Islam compare the relationship of Jews and Samaritans in the time of Jesus, with that of Christians and Muslims in our world of today. In both cases we are speaking of sibling faiths – yet ones whose very proximity to each other can lead to distance and bitter hostility. But there is one thing that I cannot resist pointing out. You will be aware that one of the features of John’s Gospel is Jesus’ repeated declaration of himself as “I am”, an apparent claim to the divine name. Some of these “I am” statements include a predicate such as “I am the bread of life”. But some of the “I am” statements do not, and these are harder to recognise in the text because they are often half hidden in the translation.

The very first “I am” statement in John’s Gospel occurs here in this encounter between Jesus and the woman. In verse 26, towards the end of their conversation Jesus proclaims, “I am, the one who is speaking to you”. Isn’t it extraordinary that the first time Jesus speaks clearly of his real nature, it would be to a woman, a member of a different religious community to his own, and a person of apparent ill repute? Might that just possibly be hinting to us that it is through our engagement with ‘the other’ that we can come to a truer revelation and understanding of who God is, that God discloses himself to us in our relationship with others? I leave you with that tantalising thought.
And what might the stories depicted on this icon mean in our world today?
It seems fitting to end with a challenge offered by Archbishop Elias Chacour, a Palestinian Christian, writing from the context of one of the most intractable conflicts of our world today:

The true icon is your neighbour, the human being who has been created in the image and with the likeness of God. How beautiful it is when our eyes are transfigured and we see that our neighbour is the icon of God, and that you, and you, and I – we are all the icons of God. How serious it is when we hate the image of God, whoever that may be, whether a Jew or a Palestinian. How serious it is when we cannot go and say, ‘I am sorry about the icon of God who was hurt by my behaviour.’ We all need to be transfigured so we can recognise the glory of God in one another.

Clare Amos became Programme Coordinator  and Executive for Interreligious Dialogue and Cooperation at the World Council of Churches in September 2011. At the time she delivered this address during the October 2008 consultation she was Director of Theological Studies in the Anglican Communion Office, London, including holding responsibility for inter faith dialogue.



Compassion was so key to Fr. Louis  Massignon's understanding of the Badaliyya and substitution as a call to intercessory prayer, action and inter-religious relationship. 

In his twenties, in 1908, Fr. Massignon had a profound experience of what he later described as "God breaking into his life" and as his "conversion experience". From this beginning he recognized the compassionate caring and prayer for him by others, including Blessed Charles de Foucauld and the Muslim Alussy family in Baghdad. Deeply affected by his correspondence with Foucauld, his understanding of compassion became a center piece of his spirituality and a vital component of his experience of authentic relationship with God and others. As we explore the meaning of compassion in our lives, and pray with and for those suffering in our world, hear the words of Fr. Louis Massignon:

"As long as God leaves us absorbed in our own suffering we remain sterile, nailed to ourselves. As soon as compassion brings us beyond, to another's suffering other than our own, we enter into the realm of compassion experientially, we discover wisdom in it; in the immortal company of all creatures purified by angelic and human trial we glimpse the joy of tomorrow through the pain of today".

(Bapa Jun)

Saturday, April 26, 2014

St. Pope John Paul II

JP II is a popular Saint with a mega star attraction... He was good when it comes to IRD and PEACE! But he was a product of Poland with an IMPLACABLE BIAS against RED or anything with tinges of RED... This made him blind in many ways vis-a-vis movements coming from the 3rd world like Liberation Theology. It is good to know that strong bias is NOT an obstacle to holiness...!

St. Pope John XXIII


Short Reflection for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (A)

Dhikr for the 2nd Sunday of Easter (A): “We have seen the Lord…”

Readings: Acts 2: 42-47; 1 Peter 1: 3-9; John 20: 19-31

Text: Thomas, called Didymus, one of the Twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples said to him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into his side, I will not believe." (John 20: 24-25)

Meditation: In life, we behave like Thomas. We do not believe unless we, too, put our fingers into the nail marks in Jesus’ body. Yet our faith lies NOT in seeing but on the testimony of believers… We accept the testimony, because we recognize the trustworthiness and integrity of the witnesses… Today, we are the witnesses of Jesus’ resurrection! Are we trustworthy witnesses…? (Bapa Jun)


1st step: Write the text or Dhikr (the Arabic word for REMEMBRANCE) in your heart.
2nd step: Let the text remain always in on your lips and mind - RECITING the text silently as often as possible...
3rd step: Be attentive to the disclosure of the meaning/s of the text in your life.

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Palm Sunday Meditation

Palm Sunday Meditation...
Today we are that donkey that leads Jesus into the world, reveals him and speaks of him as the late Cardinal Lustiger of Paris used to say. This is a beautiful picture because it reminds us that Jesus did not want to be led by imposing mounts but by the small and humble ones.

     Jesus is a "poor" King and, therefore, is a King of peace who chose the Cross as a throne. He is a brave King because he enters Jerusalem knowing that he will meet the Crucifixion to ripen his fruit only beyond the Cross, passing through it to enter into eternal life: "Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains just a grain of wheat; but if it dies, it produces much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will preserve it for eternal life "(Jn 12: 24-25).

     The cross which is a symbol of death and a symbol of a curse that is the expression of the worst of all sentences, with Christ and for Christ becomes the instrument of elevation of all mankind and the entire universe in the glory of God (cf. St. Ignatius of Antioch).

      This is the Christian paradox:  the one who orients himself to the eternal Kingdom following the instructions of Jesus Christ, is meek ​​, merciful, a peacemaker, pure in heart and thirsting for God’s justice and is able to change the history of the world in a deeper and more efficient way than the power-holders for whom nothing is more important than supremacy.

     It follows that the Cross is required. As Christians, we must not only direct our gaze to the permanent Kingdom beyond death and preach it. Together with Christ, we must live the need of the Cross for us so that for the Church and for the world  we can complete in our body what is still in ourselves lacking in the Passion of Christ ( cf. Col 1: 24).

(Mons. Francesco Follo at Zenit)

Friday, April 04, 2014

Short Reflection for the 5th Sunday of Leant (A)

Readings: Ezekiel 37: 12-14; Romans 8: 8-11; John 11: 1-45

Text:  And when Jesus had said this, he cried out in a loud voice, "Lazarus, come out!" (John 11: 43)

Meditation:  The drama of raising Lazarus from the dead confronts us anew of the same question asked of Marta and Mary… "I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

We need to hear the call of Jesus, the Lord, anew… and come out from the tomb of fear, unbelief, powerlessness and isolation. Let us all come out from the tomb of impotence that is ourselves…


1st step: Write the text or Dhikr (the Arabic word for REMEMBRANCE) in your heart.
2nd step: Let the text remain always in on your lips and mind - RECITING the text silently as often as possible...
3rd step:  Be attentive to the disclosure of the meaning/s of the text in your life.

Thursday, April 03, 2014

A Pilgrim


Greetings of Peace!

In 1949 Massignon wrote, "Our Faith is essentially a living faith, and our life is the quality of the pilgrim who walks. Towards what is this pilgrim moving? He is going toward a Holy Place prefigured in the Beatitudes, he exiles himself from himself, which is the meaning of faith. We exile ourselves from the sweetness of daily life, from our ordinary ease, in order to find, one more time, a homeland that is not at all a negation of our original homeland, but that is transcendent... We are en route between these two points, the one that we leave and the arrival at the transcendent homeland, and Faith is our lifeline.I would like everyone to understand that the interference of transcendent action into the empirical facts of the most humble human life, by scrutinizing the details within his ability, predisposes everyone through the loving arbitration of divine transcendence for an unimaginable Meeting".