Scripture for this Sunday: Genesis 28.10-19a; Matthew 13.24-30,36-43
There are a number of Talaiotic sites in Menorca – prehistoric settlements that in some cases show evidence of having been occupied in one way or another for more than 2000 years. What most of these settlements show is evidence of places of worship. In other words, the early residents of Menorca (as elsewhere) felt moved to express their spirituality, something that seems to be an intrinsic human characteristic.
Interestingly, the places of worship in Menorca were probably being constructed at around the same time that Jacob was erecting stones at Bethel, to mark his experience of the original ‘stairway to heaven.’ We might note that Jacob was on the run, having cheated his brother Esau from both his birthright and his father’s deathbed blessing, and being warned by his mother, Rebekah, to get away before Esau could take revenge. Yet even at this dark time (albeit of his own creation), Jacob found that God’s presence was with him.
This might be encouraging for those of us who find ourselves making a mess, or falling into sin. Building an altar in a place that became a centre of worship (Bethel, house of God) was, for Jacob, a way of marking the spot and commemorating the experience.
It must have been a holy place for the people of Israel of subsequent generations; and in quiet, reflective moments, I find that the prehistoric worship places of Menorca can have a sort of spiritual presence. It is rather similar to what we found in churches on the Camino de Santiago, or what someone said about the church of Santa Margarita: it is almost as if the prayers of those who have worshipped there are steeped into the very fabric of the building.
It might be possible to grumble that these are pagan places, to be avoided or destroyed. Certainly, many Christian missionaries have taken the approach of destroying what they consider to be heathen sites. Yet Celtic Christians, for example Patrick and Brigid in Ireland, have often taken places that were previously regarded as holy and claimed them in the name of Christ, making them Christian shrines. After all, if there is only one God, and people felt the presence of the divine, it sounds quite logical that what they were experiencing was the presence of the one true God, even if they did not know it.
God can be found in unexpected places, as Jacob found – and as many have also found since. To destroy or avoid everything that is different runs the risk of falling into what Jesus described in his parable of the grain and weeds: by being too diligent in plucking out the weeds, we might damage or destroy the good growth.
At the moment, when many are wrestling with questions of where and how to worship, this is a pertinent question to address. The answer is almost certainly that wherever we can bring ourselves closer to the presence of God will be of value to us in enriching our spiritual development.
This is true in broader terms: we all have parts of our lives that might fall into the category of weeds, and rather than obsess about plucking them out, we might just get on with nurturing what is good, by finding ways and places to worship God, and thus fuelling the way in which we live our lives as followers of Christ. Then we can let God worry about dealing with the harvest – and any wailing or gnashing of teeth, should it come to that.