In our first lesson, from the Book of Genesis, we hear about Jacob, who was a scoundrel and schemer. His latest scam was to trick his father. Jacob co-opts his father’s blessing intended for his older brother, Esau.
Where the story picks up in our Genesis reading, Jacob is traveling to meet up with his estranged and cheated brother, Esau, an encounter which Jacob would surely dread. This difficult reunion is delayed because of a wrestling match Jacob undergoes in the middle of the night by the river Jabbok. Who is this opponent? Is it a demon or is it an angel, some emissary from God? We can’t immediately tell. These two beings fight with tremendous, even superhuman strength. In Jacob’s case, it’s as if his life depends upon it… which it probably does. Jacob’s thigh is thrown out of joint. And this is very curious, because Jacob does not experience his wounding as being beaten but rather as being blessed. Finally we get the picture that his accoster is not a thief-in-the-night nor a demon, but rather some angelic messenger who brings a severe mercy to Jacob: God’s blessing which has broken through to Jacob. What do we make of this story? Here’s two suggestions:
For one, your relationship with God will probably require wrestling. When I have the privilege of listening to someone speak about their life and their relationships, where I witness the most suffering is when a relationship has grown silent. People suffer the most when they experience disengagement, when in their significant relationship(s) there are few words, or no responses, just a haunting vacuum that begs interpretation. It is terribly sad; it can be crazy-making. The real suffering is in the absence of communication. People in real relationships are on speaking terms with one another. Real and alive relationships cover the spectrum of life – from the best of times to the worst of times, joyful conversations and difficult conversations. Being in real relationship with another person is not about always being nice to one another. (It’s nice to be nice, but it’s not enough.) Being in real relationship with another person means you are real to one another. We have been created in the image of God who longs to be really present to us and in a real relationship to us. Relationship is of God’s essence.
What is happening in your life just now and in your relationship with God? If you are living with unanswered questions whose answers are only in God, ask God the questions. Ask why? Ask how? Ask where? Ask when? Wrestle with God. Your questions are your prayer. In actuality, it is probably God who has given you the questions to ask. God is giving you the questions to draw you into a real and active relationship with God, who knows you and calls you by name. Respond in turn. Call on God. Use Jesus as your advocate, as your intercessor, as your lobbyist through whom you may speak to or wrestle with the God whom he calls “Father.” Speak to God in and through Jesus, who has given us his name to use. Be real. Pray your questions. If need be, wrestle with God.
Secondly, about the blessings of your life. Life is oftentimes very challenging, in two ways: the blessings and the wounds. You have likely been the recipient of countless blessings, and from your earliest days. If you consider what we read daily in the media – the suffering and trauma that so many people of the world know, and, for some, a state of injustice into which they have been caste since their birth – you can likely recognize in bold relief so much goodness in your own life. If your life in any way parallels mine, you can lay claim on many blessings in life, far beyond what you could have asked for or deserved. You may even identify with young Jacob, the trickster. You may have a chapter in your past where your life was a little shadowy, or where you broke a rule or violated a virtue. This may be on public record, or it may be in the secret hold of your heart. Because of what you did or said, did not do or did not say, perhaps something twisted, maybe even shameful, clearly not right… and yet you got through it, or maybe you got away with it.
Like Jacob, you may still walk with a limp in some way. There may still be some kind of scarring on your life from this shaded part of your past, but – and this may be nothing short of a miracle – you have come into a clearing. You may even have the experience of your broken past not only being forgiven but in some way redeemed. It’s actually being put to use, and to God’s glory. The insight, the care, the sensitivity, generosity, wisdom, humility which others may see in you has come out of your broken past. Take the occasion to acknowledge before God where you find yourself now (which is where God finds you now). Consider the work of God’s hand on you life.
Jesus has promised to seek and save the lost, which may apply to some part of your own past. Pray your history… which, of course, God already knows. But one of the most important things in a relationship, when people in relationship speak deeply to one another, is not the content of the conversation. People who know one another well often understand one another well. Many things can go without saying… except that in the saying, often times there’s the making or re-making of a relationship. It’s not about the content, it’s about the trust. It’s about the choosing to invite another back into your life after the lifeflow in the relationship has been broken. And so it is in our prayer. Pray your history; pray your gratitude; acknowledge God’s blessing where there’s blessing to behold.
The whole of life is to be blessed. A blessing from God is the assurance of wellbeing, a promise of provision, a gift of hope, an experience of having a place in God’s heart of love. Look for God’s blessing. Ask God for a blessing of your past, in your present, in your future. Blessing is of the essence of God, who longs to be in relationship with you. Whether you have a shadowy past (like Jacob) or are as innocent as a dove – many of us are probably a bit of both – God knows, God loves. God longs to bless you, and bless others through you. It’s of God’s essence; it’s of your essence, you who have been created in the image of God. Bless you.
Please support the Brothers work.
The brothers of SSJE rely on the inspired kindness of friends to sustain our life and our work. We are grateful for the prayers and support provided to us.