Jacob and Grounding (Part 5)

Jacob and Esau finally meet! And having been apart from each other for over two decades, they weep together. Previous segments in this series showed how successive scenes in the Jacob story were building up to this encounter. Working things out with Laban and wrestling with the angel can almost be viewed as rehearsals. The real literary climax is when Jacob and Esau meet; you can palpably feel the tension in the air. Each had good reason to fear the other and to be very cautious. Nevertheless, their encounter resulted in a profound moment of emotional grounding which allowed all negative feelings to dissipate.

Perhaps you have experienced a similar situation of fear and tension. I mentioned in Part 4 that I had been struggling with several relationships this year which needed to have some sort of reconciling moment. Due to strained communications and uncomfortable frictions (and in one case an insensitive harm I caused), I knew deep down that without some sort of face-to-face encounter, residual emotions would fester within me in unhealthy ways. For months I avoided taking any action, yet I noticed within myself that I was also watering the seeds of courage to go and face my various Esaus.

It is easier for me to now complete this final piece to the Jacob series, having met with each of the people with whom I had struggled. Each situation was unique, but each resulted in strengthening a relational bond. These encounters also relieved me of an emotional burden. One meeting involved four hours of deep, healing conversation. Another one involved no direct conversation but rather a warm, affirming hour of human connection during a workshop. Common to all of the encounters was the way face-to-face presence, along with my positive intent to mend things, was sufficient to remove the emotional energy shields that had been generated by myself and perhaps by the other person.

Jacob was good at generating energy shields. It all boils down to personal protection. For some people, the protective impulse is to prevent further harm to themselves; for Jacob, it was a manifestation of his insecure pattern of controlling others or grasping for gain. But his choice to return to his homeland and see his estranged brother shows the part of him that could be more humble and more open. This required greater trust on his part. Taking a risk in mending relationships always requires trust. Even when Jacob buffered his animals and family members between himself and Esau, he still intended to meet his brother.

We now resume the story at the start of Genesis 33. Esau soon realizes there is no threat. Yes, he has 400 men to back him up, but he only reads Jacob’s positive intent. Jacob exaggerates his humility by bowing “down to the ground seven times.” Esau will have none of it. Like the prodigal son’s father in Luke 15, Esau does four things toward his brother: he runs to meet him, he embraces him, he throws his arms around his neck, and he kisses him (Genesis 33:4).

“And they wept.”

In the Joseph story we learned that Joseph repeatedly weeps throughout the narrative. This revealed that even though he “moved on” in life on a social, vocational level, he still carried deep, unhealed hurts on the inside. The tears of Esau and Jacob may have included tears of joy, but my guess is that they were mostly tears of release for all of the hard feelings that never found good closure. Grounding essentially involves this experience of emotional release which is often expressed through heartfelt crying.

What develops next is a discussion about gift-giving. Recall from earlier scenes that Jacob sent a significant gift of donkeys, goats, camels, etc., thinking to himself, “I will pacify him with these gifts sent ahead of me” (Gen. 32:20). Esau now asks, “What’s with all those droves I met?” Jacob shifts his language a bit: “To find favor in your eyes.” He is still playing the humble servant. Esau says, “I’ve got plenty; you keep it.” “No, please,” says Jacob. “I insist.” Why does he insist? Part of grounding out the charge of bad emotions requires a practical act of giving. Offenders have a natural need to do something to make reparation. Words are not enough.

By meeting in peace and in physical proximity the brothers experience a huge energetic shift. The real issue is not settling scores as one might expect in a courtroom. It is now about human connection. It is about rectifying a relationship, about making things right between people. The most telling line in the whole narrative now follows:

“To see your face is like seeing the face of God,

now that you have received me favorably.”

Wow. Did we not just learn of a reference to seeing the face of God during the nocturnal wrestling scene? “I saw God face to face, and yet my life was spared” (32:30). This earlier dramatic encounter which shifted things on a relational level with God is now echoed in the ultimate face-to-face meeting of twin brothers who once wrestled each other in their mother’s womb. Neither of them seem to hold a negative grudge toward the other. Consequently, the fears and emotional tensions that walled between them were able to evaporate quite quickly.

Over the years I have heard many victims of crime reflect after a restorative dialogue session by saying it was good for them to “put a face” on the crime. I have also heard offenders say that it was good, though hard, to “face the person” whom they hurt. This facial dimension, higher than a verbal dimension, represents what I call the heart-zone where conflicts and harms are transformed into relational, human connectivity. This is because when people are brave enough to come together in the wake of harms and disputes, they tend to present their highest, noblest selves.

With the emotional barriers gone, the brothers are able to reach mutual agreement on land issues for the future. Tense emotions always weight things to the past, and if those emotions are mixed with deep mistrust, even bitterness, a person can be held captive to the past. Our metaphor of grounding out these emotions (which operate like excess negatively-charged electrical particles) is one way to imagine how relationships can shift from a “highly charged” situation to one that is calm and relaxed. When that shift happens, people naturally lean to the future and agree together on arrangements that sustain healthier relationships.

We have finally reached the end of this series! The Jacob story is filled with jostling and grasping, tensions and frictions. Many people conclude that such rivalry is fated between the descendants of these biblical characters! But this biblical story ends in reconciliation. How amazing it is, too, that this story is filled with insights on how relational tensions can escalate and how those same tensions can get grounded out in healthy, nonviolent ways. It is enough to encourage us in our own journeys with others to find hope, courage, wisdom, compassion,… you name it, as a way to “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14).

Blessings on your new year.

Stay tuned for a new website in 2019 that a new group will be sponsoring:

 Restorative Church

Contacting Ted Lewis

If you would like to make a comment about my entries or ask a question, you are welcome to contact me directly at tedlewis76@gmail.com

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