I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame. – Mary Oliver.
Stained With Light – The Quotes Series – Part 2
I always felt sorry for Jacob. The one from the Bible who was the younger twin, who cheated his brother out of a birthright, who had to flee from his family, who had to work seven years for the woman he loved only to be tricked into marrying someone else and had to work an additional seven years to get his love (those guys were messed up, hey…). The story starts in Genesis 25.
One day, God told Jacob to go back to his Father Isaac's, and his Grandfather Abraham's, land. The place where his brother Esau, lived. The same brother who he stole from some twenty years earlier and had vowed to kill him.
He traveled and journeyed, he sent messages and gifts and his family ahead to his brother to appease his anger, and set up camp for the evening. Finally, it came to the night before he faced Esau.
Genesis 32 tells us that while Jacob was praying, a man came to wrestle with him. Some people believe that the man was an Angel, God, Jesus… Who knows? The Bible isn’t specific about it. He wrestled with that man long into the night until the dawn.
In fact, Jacob had wrestled all his life. With his position as the youngest son; with his identity crisis; with his own deception; with his brother and family… Perhaps that night he wrestled it all: life, himself, God. He finally got his hands and heart into it.
The story goes:
“When the man saw that he would not win the match, he touched Jacob’s hip and wrenched it out of its socket. Then the man said, “Let me go, for the dawn is breaking!”
But Jacob said, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
“What is your name?” the man asked.
He replied, “Jacob.”” (Genesis 32:25-27)
This echoed a conversation from years earlier when Jacob sought a blessing from his father that he thought would change his life for the better, but had instead brought him pain and sorrow.
He wanted a new blessing. A reset. Something that was his.
And this time, when asked his name, he didn’t pretend to be someone else, he spoke the truth: Jacob.
He had finally come to accept himself and what he had done. He wrestled it all to the ground and was ready to stand on his own two feet.
And at that moment, when Jacob had finally overcome his identity crises, the man he had wrestled with said:
“Your name will no longer be Jacob. From now on you will be called Israel, because you have fought with God and with men and have won.” Genesis 32:28
The name Israel means “You have struggled with the divine and succeeded.” A divine struggle.
In Jewish culture, if you’re NOT struggling and wrestling with faith, then you’ve already failed. There is so much going on around the world, and in our communities and hearts, we SHOULD have questions and things to wrestle out with the Divine.
Too often we look for God in the sublime and perfect moments of life. But I tend to find him more in the wrestle, in the struggle, in my questions and my nagging curiosity; in my heartaches and pains, in my injuries – heart and body alike – that turn out to be blessings when I live all the way through them. It’s not God who desires perfection; that's a human hang up. All God wants is our awareness and willingness to wake up to him and walk with him through whatever comes our way as best we can.
Wrestling with God often means losing something that we were wishing for, to gain what we were born for.
Maybe that means we walk away with a limp; a little differently than we used to. But I’m no longer ashamed of the way I walk. I no longer feel sorry for Jacob: he was one of the lucky ones.
“I have wrestled with the angel and I am stained with light and I have no shame.” Mary Oliver, (1).
(1). Mary Oliver. Upstream. Pg 30. Penguin Press.
Written by Lizzy Milani