Peniel

A couple of Facebook posts, combined with lack of sleep due to the sickness bug sweeping through our family have put me in rather nostalgic mode.  One thing people have often noted about talking to us is how alive we come when we are describing our years at Regent in Vancouver.  The two sets of images in this post are one way of answering why we loved it so much.  The first comes from Regent Library.

The post invited us to describe our memories of Regent Library – this is what I put:

From the hours in my first summer term, doing ‘suicide’ Greek homework in the afternoon in the comparative cool of the library before emerging into the hot sunshine. The progression over the three years from at first Roz wheeling our eldest in the stroller to dig Daddy out of the library, and then his enjoyment at going into the library to get Daddy to come home, or come up for a hot chocolate at the well.

Speed reading CTC readings and writing summaries into some strange format for Moodle – actually very good training for the complex and frustrating hermeneutics summaries (which in turn were vital groundwork for further study).

The moment of realisation as I translated the story of Elijah and the widow’s son from 1 Kings for 2nd year Hebrew – this Yahweh who provides in such strange ways is the same Yahweh I trust today, and still provides in strange ways for our family.

The chance conversations outside the library on the way in or out that were all part of learning in community. The piles of books as I went slowly mad getting a seminar paper written in my final year – fortunately I managed to get it written before our second son arrived!

Sitting on the sofas rocking our second son in his stroller while trying to read some more Childs, Brueggemann or other OT scholar for the comprehensive exam and willing him to sleep for another hour or so… The beautiful calligraphy in those pictures reminding me each day that learning more stuff is useless if it isn’t part of the reality of a daily living relationship with the LORD from whom all wisdom and knowledge comes. A great place. Haven’t found a library to match it…

The second image is these words:

lord-of-all-the-nations

This was the unofficial Regent hymn, sung at our welcome and at our leaving, and it encapsulates what I have occasionally tried to put into words and failed – the way in which our times at Regent had the effect of unmaking and remaking us.

The second verse speaks of purification, loosening, of God entering and untangling.  What they can’t say, until you experience it is the struggle this involves, the bewilderment and dislocation.  Sometimes an academic and intellectual dislocation, sometimes a very personal unmaking.

For us, for me it involved both – in my first year I remember the dis-orientation and bewilderment of trying to make sense of how Christianity and culture and philosophy have interacted and whether these different ways have been good and bad.  I remember the relief of realising I didn’t have to solve all these issues to still trust the good God who gives us all we need for our journeys with him.

The personal unmaking came later.  The pain of our second miscarriage in 2010, and the trauma of the aftermath followed me into the grey Vancouver November – and yet I remember too how that November was a time of deepening community ties, at church and  at Regent.  Of soup lunches after chapel, and soup evenings with our church small group.  Of a chapel service and evening lecture where the words spoken could have been written directly to me.  The assurance of God’s keeping and guiding.

Those unmakings may only be hinted at in the song – but when the song is sung at the end of the journey, then their reality comes to be a part of the song.  The final verse is the key – alluding as it does to the mysterious wrestling match between God and Jacob on the journey back to his brother.  In the story God is sending Jacob back – but it is not the Jacob who left.  The story in Genesis tells of a God who transforms Jacob into Israel.  Jacob comes away from the encounter knowing he is not in charge, and knowing that he has seen God face to face.  Jacob demands a blessing – and he gets one, but not what he expects.  God’s blessing is not to give us our way, on our terms.

God’s blessing is that we come away with identities built not on our achievement, background or gifts, but on his calling and design. God’s blessing is not that we are successful heroes, but limping servants, who, by walking with the limp show the power of Christ in us, the one whose power is shown in weakness.  God’s blessing to the world comes, not by political power, or charismatic magnetism, but by a crucified carpenter whose weak and foolish death overcomes the power and wisdom of the world.

And so we ask that he would indeed wrestle with our spirits until we are his alone.  Knowing that in this world that wrestling is ongoing.  There is always more of us to give to the more of him we are always discovering as we walk with him, and there is always more struggle from us when we recoil from the hardship, fail to understand the wisdom and refuse to trust his promise.  And yet, still we can turn and hold on to him.  Sometimes that is all we can do.  Sometimes there are no answers – and yet he is still at work.  In the darkness. In the pain. His holding of us means we can hold to the promise that the light will shine out the clearer for the darkness having been so dark.  That one day we will taste his glory, and the glimpses of his face will become sight.  One day he will touch us and make us fully whole again – for healing then will be total, real, and irreversible.  That day is to come.

And until that day we limp on, strengthened by times and places where God becomes more real and more vivid to us.  Regent was such a place for us – and that song, intertwined with our lives in that place, reminds me of the place of encounter it was for us.   That came flooding back a few weeks ago when our friends and neighbours from Vancouver days were able to be at our induction service in our new role.  When they walked into the building I could scarcely hold back the tears – and while doing my introduction to us up front knew I couldn’t look at them for fear of giving way to tears completely.  Their being there tied at least three aspects of my life together, and reinforced the sense that here, now, is the right place and the right calling, that will somehow use the experiences thus far for our good as a family and the good of the church, and for his glory.  I could go on but I need to sleep, praying that our family would sleep too.

 

Hopefully that gives a taster of the time Regent & Vancouver were, and the lessons learnt – lessons that help us keep on keeping on here and now – until the day when will indeed see clearly Peniel – the face of God.

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