Did you ever have one of those days where a word just keeps coming up? In every context today, I seem to hear the word “wrestling.” It started in church with the Old Testament lesson, Jacob wrestling in the desert with an unknown, perhaps divine stranger. Jacob…who becomes known as “Israel” in this human-divine wrestling match and walks away with both a limp, and a blessing.
I’ve talked with several people close to me today who are wrestling with situations of life; their situations are not imposed by God, and yet they are invariably taken to a place of existential wondering. For each of my friends in their varied situations, they are limping from the human anguish and frustrations of life and yet feeling blessed in ways they don’t completely understand. Walking away with a limp, and a blessing it would seem.
My father wrestled with his blankets last night, and ended up taking a fall trying to get out of bed. He’s feeling the frustration of aging and thinking his body is capable of doing more than it really is capable of anymore. That is frustrating, and so is spending a Sunday getting bandaged up. Talking to them, I heard my parents each feel blessed by the other person’s strength, and the fact that they are home and safe and have what they need to survive. They are wrestling, with a limp and a blessing.
Then, my daughter started talking about wrestling at dinner. “Why is she asking about this?” I thought. It was random…she wanted to know why there seems to be so many wrestling shows on the television on Sunday. I think we settled with some explanation about television ratings and marketing groups which she found completely unsatisfying. So did I. I began to think maybe it’s because we are in need of noticing both that we are limping, and that we are craving a blessing. Maybe that is a Sunday kind of lesson unintentionally spun into network programming.
The biggest wrestling match for me these days, though, is the one I am helplessly watching play out on the global arena. As a result, I am wrestling in my mind and my spirit. I am watching this wrestling match play out on my personal social media, afraid to hit “like” or comment because of course, that is broadcast to the world. It’s much more complex than what I “like” or refuse to like. I have close friends I love who have deeply pro-Israel ties that harken back to years of wrestling, strife, and oppression. And I have close friends that I love who are so personally impacted by the violence in Palestine, who cannot imagine how this can be justifiable. I agree with both sides: it has to stop. I have been watching this wrestling, and rather like Jacob in the desert, no one has been prevailing. In the case of the conflict in Gaza, it is perhaps because this conflict is deeper than the present actions, and deeper even than both the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine movements can fully articulate. Like the scene playing out thousands of years ago in a desert…literally or metaphorically…no one is prevailing. The wrestling continues. But, I feel the hope within this narrative: “Let me go, for the day is breaking.”
It’s time to stop wrestling.
I have debated writing a blog post on this subject in recent weeks, because I have so much emotion for multiple perspectives in this conflict in a political sense. But, tonight, I realized that what I needed to speak wasn’t political. I needed to write about the human-wrestling-divine at the core of this and so many other human conflicts. Like so many conflicts, it comes to impasse at exactly that place: a perceived divine right, fought out in human terms. Our way out of a sense of oppression begins to feel like a wrestling match, a fight to see who will prevail and a sense that if we (or our side) prevails we will be the divine victors.
Back to the old testament lesson, it doesn’t work that way.
I think that the lesson-in-the-lesson of Jacob and his night-time struggles with the divine is one that is so entirely and authentically human that we want to skip over it as just another one of those biblical stories that may or may not have relevance to today’s culture. In my view, it’s so extremely human that we want to overlook it. When we are wrestling, we are going to inflict injury or have injury inflicted upon us. Likely, both. We may end up with a blessing (in Jacob’s case, for having confronted divine presence and survived) and we also may end up limping. It’s like saying in a concrete way: even if you win, you will be humbled. I might suggest that the real blessing is in that humility.
For my friends who are wrestling in their lives, they understand that sometimes limping and blessing come together. Its a paradox that I understand deeply myself, both in a physical sense and symbolically. For the conflicts that are so poignant in this world that we are living in…how can there be a victor, truly? How can we allow politics to outweigh human life? We cannot. Even if we are the victor, we will be known by our limping.
A few weeks ago I went to see a performance of Shakespeare’s Richard III which was wonderfully well acted. Richard, bellicose and filled with angst uses the outer trappings of religious zeal to further his quest for power. As the actor in this play was limping with such reality one could almost imagine he was genuinely as challenged as his historical namesake. But, his limp that seemed to bring him blessing turns into his downfall. In that play…a true tragedy…the casualties are high and there is little to be done but to rebuild from the ashes. And yet…it is also a history…England rebuils from within these dark nights of history.
Hopefully, I am wrapping around to my point here. It isn’t about the wrestling, nor is it about the divine blessing that we seek from the struggle. It really may be the human-and-divine, divine-in-human story of redemption around which we are struggling. We get caught up in the fight itself: who started it, who is justified, who has oppressed whom. The fact of the matter is, we the people are all limping from the battle. We’ve been wounded by our short-sightedness and our quest to be victorious. But, we the people also have a blessing which lies even further beneath the surface than the limp that marks us. We have room for forgiveness; reconciliation; healing; redemption.
In all that we wrestle with, in our lives and on the global stage, let’s not lose sight of both the limp and the blessing that mark our human struggles. We human beings are limping right now…physically, spiritually, politically, emotionally. This wrestling match needs to draw to a close not by one clear victor, but because we realize it is time to stop. We recognize the divine, and we know when to stop. Tonight, I pray for peace, for forgiveness, for an end to oppression which I only believe can happen when we see the spark of the divine in each and every human being we encounter. That is the blessing…to see that our wrestling has brought us into contact with the divine, and to know that we have been changed by that experience.
Perhaps that is why “wrestling” has been in my life today. The small point of light when we name our limping and our blessing, and walk into the sun of a new day.
The same night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maids, and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. He took them and sent them across the stream, and likewise everything that he had. Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.