This ancient story still speaks, doesn’t it? I expect that is because we have all found ourselves exactly where Jacob finds himself today: wresting all night long. Only in my experience, the wrestling doesn’t usually end with the break of dawn. Or at least not the first break of dawn. And yet, by God’s grace and gift, there are times when the wrestling is broken down into measurable periods. And there are instances when you may find yourself walking away with a limp, yet still powerfully blessed. And yes, there are times when dawn breaks and you know that life as you have known it will never be the same again. As it was with Jacob, so it is with all of us from time to time.
This was so for me more than two decades ago when we kept vigil with my dad. And oh, yes, it was a period of wrestling. With grief. With the unknown. With uncertainty about what was best. With balancing this all important time of standing still beside one another with other pressing obligations. It was a wrestling match which went on for three weeks that time. And on that last early morning, I walked away more than limping. And on that last early morning, I walked away powerfully blessed by what I had experienced of the nearness of God in such a difficult time. And, like Jacob, on that last early morning I knew the world as I lived in it would never be the same.
It wasn’t the end of that particular wrestling match, of course, for in many ways, grief only begins the moment the hospital doors close behind you for the last time, but it was a space in time when I knew some of what Jacob did in a way that I recognized it fully.
There have been other such matches, of course. Some so long ago that they are written mostly only in memory now and some as recent as a few days back:
The match where I really, truly, didn’t want to explore a call to ministry. For one thing, I had grown up in a conflicted congregation and I wanted no more of that. For another, among women who have been called to this, I was early enough yet that I had no models for how women might look as they followed this call. And yet sometimes one’s adversary does not let go. And sometimes there are others on the sidelines cheering you on. And sometimes, yes, you walk away limping and blessed. And you know it then, but you know it all the more these many decades later that that was a wrestling match the outcome of which would change everything that came after. And so it has.
Or the one where thought I had discerned another call away from parish ministry, only to get tossed into a six month wrestling match with adversaries I could not have imagined. Some in human form, some in an unexpected situation, some in myself, and no doubt, God in and through it all. I walked away knowing things I could not have possibly known otherwise. About myself, most of all I expect. And yes, the world opened up differently after that.
Or this one, from just last week. There was in incident in the town where I serve. It was video recorded on a bystander’s cell phone. Many who observed it concluded that the force used by the police officer was excessive. Indeed, many found themselves reeling as they watched it, for it stirred up their own not at all buried fears. Others saw it and wondered and what happened before and after which had not been recorded. Others wanted to give the benefit of the doubt to the officer who acted in such a way that stirred up the fears of many. I, myself, do not know what to think. I do know that I serve in a congregation where those who come together would not be of one mind on this.
And then the invitation came from a beloved and trusted friend who serves a congregation so very different from the one where I am called. He asked me to come to a meeting of students at the Black Studies Center to support them as they plan next steps. I did not answer at first. I was in the midst of a five funeral week and I didn’t have the emotional capacity to wrestle much right then, to tell you the truth. But then he reached out again. And although I was teaching that night so I knew I would have to arrive late, I said I would come.
I do not know what the truth is in this particular situation, but I do know this. That little snippet of 1 Corinthians kept running through my mind: “If one member suffers all suffer together with it…” (1Corinthians 12:26) My colleague, my friend was suffering and so I would go.
And I did. I did arrive late after much of the group had headed for home, but when I finally got there, I stepped through the door and witnessed a remarkable sight. My friend was perched on the edge of a table. Two students were sitting before him taking careful notes as he gently taught them how to advocate for change.
I am still wrestling, yes, but I will go when they demonstrate in a few weeks. And I will pray for them and all of us. And I will look for ways to bring others along in this important conversation which affects us all. I am still wrestling and perhaps I always shall — with uncertainty about what is right or wrong — and yes with fear. Always with fear, it seems. I am grateful, though, to have been blessed with another voice in the middle of this wrestling. One that reminded me that we are all in this together. That if part of the body is suffering and so am I. So are we all.
No, this particular wrestling is not done, but I expect that when dawn finally comes I may just recognize this as another one of those moments when everything that comes after will not be the same again. And I may find myself limping as a result, but I imagine I will also be blessed.
Oh, the story still speaks doesn’t it?
Along with Jacob, may we keep wrestling, you and I.
And may God make God’s presence known to each and all of us.
And though we may walk away limping, may we also walk away blessed:
- By new insights and understandings.
- By renewed courage and hope.
- and by the powerful sense that from this moment on, nothing will ever be the same again.
As it was with Jacob, with Israel, may it also be with us.
- When have you known yourself to be ‘wrestling all night long’ as Jacob did? (Are you in the midst of one of those wrestling matches now? How goes it with you?)
- How have you found yourself both walk away limping and yet blessed at the same time?
- How did the whole world open up after that?
- What story or stories might you offer this week to help bring Jacob’s experience ‘home’ to those who will gather with you?