Wrestling with God
We had our NMCC Board meeting today. After our business agenda and after the welcoming of guests and enjoying our lunch, we participated in the African Bible Study, focusing on the text from Genesis 32:22-31. It’s the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel; and there was lovely conversation about the passage and how it speaks to faith leaders today especially as we continue to struggle with Covid 19.
Did you know that Jacob is thought to be the first human to have prayed in the dark? Earlier, after running from Esau, he had landed in a place that was really no place and had a dream of heaven. In some parts of the Jewish tradition it is believed that each of the three patriarchs initiated one of the three daily prayers, those being morning, day, and evening. The evening prayer being, "May it be thy will, O Lord, my God, that you bring me out of the darkness into the light." Jacob is seen as the author of that one, and the darkness was where he stopped and learned that God was with him. He isn't left alone there and his journey doesn't take him out of his place, out to a new place, but rather back home, back to be reconciled with his past. Scholar Walter Brueggemann writes, “In the night, the divine antagonist tends to take on the features of others with whom we struggle throughout the day.”
Joan Chittister, author of “Scarred by Trouble, Transformed by Hope,” writes about Jacob: “No one escapes struggle. Jacob’s is complicated. He is on his way to meet Esau, stole the blessing from him, due to meet him the next day, sends his family ahead. Why does he stay alone? To pray? To prepare? He doesn’t win the wrestling match, but he does survive it, breaks his hip and is ‘plucked out of nowhere,’ going on in spite of pain, struggles resolve, new blessing in hand.” She continues, “Struggle is the soul’s ash heap of failure, of not being in charge, of not being on top, of not being sure that we will really survive this wrestling match with God, by which we are currently being consumed.”
The truth is that there may be no way out of the struggles, only through them. However, when we refuse to give up, as Jacob didn’t give up his fight, then struggle itself becomes our sign that struggle will transform us. Responding to the failures, to the powerlessness, to the fear, the change, the vulnerability, actually brings us hope.
Pastor Dorisanne Cooper from North Carolina, tells the story of going skiing with friends. In the mix of skiers was a seven year old, skiing for the first time. Pastor Dorisanne tells that when the seven year old daughter skied past her she was holding onto her mom skiing ahead of her. Dorisanne could hear the child yelling, “I’m scared, Mom, keep going.”
Wrestling with God is not easy. In fact, it’s frightening. But if we look at our sacred texts, we see Jacob refusing to yell “uncle,” refusing to stop until he is blessed. There is no easy way to get to the other side; and while you struggle, you must know that nothing will return to the way things used to be. And you may have a hefty limp when dawn comes. The story, however, reminds us that God will stay with us and that we will be blessed when it’s done.
I don’t know what you’re wrestling with today; but I do know that we have Biblical context to remind us that wrestling isn’t a bad thing. In fact, it may be the only way we get that new name; so beloveds, don't quit, keep fighting!
You are the light of the world.
NMCC Conference Director