When David asked me to take this worship service, I immediately looked up the readings and found this old story of Jacob crossing the Jabbok River. It resonated with me immediately, so much so that I decided to paint the image. I thought of the many times that I had made river crossings in the Kimberley, gingerly creeping over the rocks, feeling challenged as a novice four-wheel driver.
The worst time was when I drove the Boab Network’s two wheel vehicle to a remote location on the May river. It had been a place where drovers had crossed with their herds on the way to Derby. When I saw the crossing, my heart sank for I knew that the clearance was barely an inch or two, if I got it right. My passengers were egging me on to make this crossing, because the camping was better on the other side. It felt great to have made the crossing and safely returning, knowing I would have some explaining to do if I had not made it and the car had to be left in this wild place. When I began to think about Jacob’s story, I set it in the Kimberley, flanked by Boab trees and with rocks indicating where a person might walk without falling into the water. These rocks become symbolic of our life crossings, noting that all of us will be able to think of moments when we have made a crossing from one kind of life to another. This might have taken the form of marriage, or work, or even physical illness and recuperation. The Corona – 19 virus invites such a crossing, though many of us including myself, might feel that we are stuck in the middle of the Jabbok, or its contemporary form.
Yet, my challenge in the artwork was to illustrate the wrestling. I looked up several artists who had illustrated the story – Chagall and Redon – and tried to emulate their work. My attempt failed, for I am discovering the importance of being my own person and artist. It is not possible to copy their attempt, as it is impossible for us to find a way through our current challenge by simply replicating the past. We must find a new way through this current crisis.
Today’s theme is one of struggle and transformation. I took the theme from Jacob’s life: the man with the technicolour coat who stole his brother’s birthright and spent the first half of his life on the run. He eventually reached the Zabbok crossing, which became more than a physical crossing. It became symbolic of his life crossing, as he struggled with the angel probably in dream-space and eventually went on to reconcile with his brother.
According to Dr Wiki, The Zarqa River is identified with the Biblical river Jabbok where Jacob crossed on his way to Canaan. The contemporary river is far from picturesque, with raw sewage and inadequate treatment plants leaving it smelling bad and an eyesore for the community. Maybe, this simple example illustrates what we struggle with today: a world that has gone out of control and urgent needs change and transformation. Yet, we are bearing the pain of this change, as we wait in hope for such a better world. In Jacob’s case, he had to reconcile himself with the fact that he stole from his more down – to – earth brother who was described as the hunter.
We, in Australia, must make our own (re)conciliation with Aboriginal people, having stolen their birthright and rightful connection to this land. I use the (re) because there never was a conciliation, but as with other colonising across the world, it was a takeover with lack of relationship. We are deeply aware of the impact of this takeover in the current struggle of “Black Lives Matter” – seeing a revisioning of what Europeans thought to be their natural right. Yet the reconciliation must go
even further. It will need to be a reconciliation with the land itself and the earth of which it is part. We might see the Corona -19 virus as an enemy, taking our lives both economically and physically. But I wonder if the virus needs to be seen in a different light. Perhaps it is more of a prophetic sign and challenge, inviting us to wake up and as a nation and change our ways. We are wading through a modern- day Jabbok and wrestling with an angel. I have written this piece before completing my painting, so will show the work in tomorrow’s worship. I decided to incorporate images of the virus in the painting, enfolded in the angelic light. I am unsure what this means. Does the angel bring the virus, or is this enfolded in the light, so that we are not alone as we
meet what might be a diabolic challenge? Who knows. I leave it as a question for our reflection, though we may never find the answer.