Monday, March 22, 2021

Jacob's fight with the One is our fight as well.

Most of our lives are marked with struggles and fights that come in different forms. We experienced this from the very day of our birth, when we really wanted to stay in the confines and comfort of our mothers’ wombs, but had to be expelled from that comfort zone of security and warmth into the cold and hostile environment outside.  This disdain is marked by the sharp cries of a newborn that peal the corridors of a labour ward.  


Our human nature is dotted with episodes of rebellion, willfulness and struggles as we grow.  From our youth, we struggle with eating, walking, and taking instructions.  Isn’t it strange to see that even expelling wastes from our bodies come with great struggles for many.  


As we grow into adulthood and face many more choices in our lives, the very act of choosing from a variety of seeming goods in front of us poses yet another array of other struggles.  We all want to do the ‘right’ thing in life, but to choose the best ‘right’ amongst other ‘rights’ is yet another struggle.


The fight that Jacob has with this figure of deity in Genesis 32 vs 23-32 brings this struggle a little clearer, especially when we struggle between  two ‘goods’.  It is easy to see what is the better choice when we are asked to choose between a good and an evil.  But between two ‘goods’ is a much harder choice, and that makes the struggle that much more painful; that much more difficult.


Notice how Jacob first sends his family and possessions across the stream Jabbok before he meets his brother Esau.  We are told that Jacob was then left alone till daybreak, and that was when the Lord wrestled with him. This exemplifies what real struggle is – when we are no longer with those who give us strength through their physical presence, when we are really alone in our choices and what is in front of us.  At those moments, the only thing that has any influence on our choices is our conscience and our free will. This marks where our true alliance and love lie.  But it takes a whole lot of courage to want to send our ‘family and possessions’ ahead of us.  It takes a massive amount of courage to choose to be alone, and to as it were, face our demons alone.


Left alone with no one to influence or guide our choices, we fight that real fight with ourselves. This is characterised by Jacob’s wrestle with God. When we are in the depths of aloneness and solitude, we begin our real wrestle with the god within ourselves. This is when we don’t have the assistance or influence of our friends, our valued family members, our spouses, our fellow priests, our counselors, our spiritual directors or anyone else.  


And the more frightening thing about it is that we also cannot wear the masks that I have been so comfortable wearing so often.  Our fears are exposed, our weaknesses left bare, our defenses are down. This is the real struggle and we have to muster all our strength and will to fight till dawn breaks.  The one thing good about community as far as the Church is concerned is that we have a ‘body’ to rely on when things are not going well.  But the downside of it is that we may become too reliant on it and refuse to face our personal struggles.  Could this be why many are not willing to face their personal struggles head-on? Of course, there are time when community is indeed necessary, like for instance, when one is struggling with living with a terminal illness.  But when we are unwilling to spend part of this struggle alone, it can end up making our final exit from this world the real pain that we have to endure because there is no one who will go to the other side with us when we have not made any effort to face some sort of aloneness alone.


There are many whose daily meditation is marked with many struggles.  Physical struggles of not falling asleep, not having our minds wandering, thoughts that we are ‘wasting’ our time when it could be used for something far more ‘productive’ - these are just some of them. 


But deeper in significance are the interior struggles that we face.  Where is my life going?  Am I in the ‘right’ place in life right now?  What am I most afraid of, and why?  Are these fears real?  How much do I really love?  What prevents me from truly loving?  These are all the kinds of wrestling that we and God enter into each day, and we cannot wait for the ‘dawn’ to come when we are being pinned down.


And just like Jacob, we too need to ask for a blessing from the one we are struggling with. We need to know that our struggles are not in vain.  We would like some form of affirmation, some form of blessing that all is not lost when we are facing failure in our endeavours.  We seek some clarity despite the fact that we are in a nebulous cloud of unknowing.  


Jacob’s struggle with Yahweh did not go on forever.  There was a dawn that broke through the darkness, and he did rejoin his family and possessions eventually - but only after the struggle.  Perhaps this is what we need to realise too.  The difficulties that we are facing on our own, the uncomfortable surroundings of where we find ourselves, the un-familiarness of so many things in our life right now, they too will come to an end. The dawn will break.  


But right now, we have to face our wrestling with God till he gives us his blessing.  We may even be struck in the hip, and because of that, left with a limp.  But if we do, that limp will serve as a constant reminder that we have been with the Lord through our struggles and we have been blessed as well.  The blessing of Jacob comes with a price of a limp.  


We don’t see blessings this way at all, and that is unfortunate.  We think that blessings must be pain-free and leave us feeling like a million dollars.  But in truth, blessings come is so many different forms, and quite often, blessings in life have a price.  Not that God wants us to pay for them, but I think he wants us to realise that his presence in our lives is not about giving us all that we want.  The sicknesses that we encounter, the empty bank account, the recalcitrant child, the friend who has let us down (again), the philandering heart of our spouse, the occasional heartache, the child born with a genetic condition - these may well be God’s striking us at the hip.  But without any deep spirituality in our lives, these will often  only end up being seen as curses, when they can in fact be blessings.  




No comments:

Post a Comment