One of the great ‘lost’ poems of English literature is Kubla Khan by Samuel Coleridge Taylor. Coleridge claimed to have perceived the entire course of the poem in a dream (probably aided by opium!) but was interrupted by an un-named visitor from Porlock while in the process of writing it. Only the first 54 lines were written down and the poem was never completed. Now it may not be a work of romantic poetry but we have all had the experience of being interrupted in the middle of a task and then struggled to remember what we were doing.
In Genesis we read of Jacob having a similar experience, (Genesis 28:1-22). Jacob’s father, Isaac, sent him to Paddan Aram to find a wife. This may seem extraordinary in our culture where marriage is often entered into without direction from anyone but Jacob obeys his father and sets out on a journey not realising that his journey will be interrupted by angels.
Jacob camps for the night and in this ordinary setting he dreams of a stairway going from earth to heaven. Angels are on the staircase and if that were not enough, the God of Abraham is just above the stairway with a message for our traveler. After identifying himself, the Lord promises Jacob that his family will multiply and they in turn will bless many other people.
As if the promise is not enough, God reassured Jacob that he would be with him and never leave him. One would think Jacob’s worries were behind him. Yet when he awakens he is afraid. His fear may have been based on a sense of God’s Holiness or perhaps he was insecure and wondered what to do next.
Our lives have been interrupted not by a visitor, nor by angels but by a virus. Our plans have been turned upside-down, tasks remain unfinished and like Samuel Coleridge Taylor we are angry and upset. Like Jacob we are fearful.
Throughout this time I keep coming back to the words of Julian of Norwich ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.’ Wonderful reassuring words, but at times I am not reassured. Like Jacob I wake in a morning and am fearful and concerned.
Jacob erects a crude structure dedicated to the God he has encountered and he promises that this is the beginning of a house for God. Then he makes a vow to God promising to follow him. God has already promised care, but Jacob needs reassurance. He can’t be satisfied with the free gift of God’s grace. He must add to it.
Like Jacob we have difficulty taking God at his word, or even the words of Julian of Norwich. We insist on adding to the gift of grace when God has already assured us he loves us. Much of our religious work may be more for our benefit rather than the Creators. God had already promised to be with Jacob. His faith story included a gift of grace as does ours. God has unconditionally promised us that he will be with us no matter what, yet we want to prove we are worthy of God. We no longer see grace as a gift but as a reward for good behaviour or faithful service. Yet grace, God’s wonderful grace, will always remain a gift. And no matter how hard we try to please God our efforts are no more than a crude pile of rocks like Jacob’s altar.
So take a deep breath, stop what you are doing, forget what you want to achieve today and allow you life to be interrupted by angels.