Today’s first reading at Mass is about Jacob’s nocturnal wrestling bout with God that ends with Jacob’s hip being knocked out of joint by God, God’s being strong-armed into giving Jacob a blessing, Jacob-the-schemer’s name being changed to Israel, the ‘God-contender,’ and God’s asking Jacob why he wants to know the divine Name. And, to top it off, the text reveals the fact that the man Jacob wrestles with until dawn is ‘divine and human,’ making this, from a Christian vantage, a proleptic glimpse of the Incarnation yet to come. How absolutely perfect it is for Jacob-Israel to receive a foretaste of the enfleshment of God under the form of a night-long wresting match that ends with a weakness-inducing injury, the near-revelation of the secret divine Name and a blessing at Dawn!
It’s one of my favorite biblical stories, in part because I am deeply attracted to the Jewish version of the spiritual life (what other one is there for us?) that is earthy, messy, exhausting, exhilarating, with God and man fully engaged, and is red-blooded passionate. To conceive of the life of prayer, the cycle of virtue-vice-repentance-forgiveness, and the living out of the divine human communion (i.e. the Church) not as serene, stayed and placid, but as an all-out brawl that ends in a conciliating covenant makes the reality of what any man or woman of faith (who’s truly honest) faces in trying to ‘live the life of grace’ much easier to embrace.
St. Teresa of Ávila’s well-worn story makes this point fabulously.
Once, when she was travelling to one of her convents, Teresa was knocked off her donkey and fell into the mud, injuring her leg. “Lord,” she said, “ Why would you let this happen?”
The Lord responded, “That is how I treat all my friends.”
Teresa answered, “And that is why you have so few of them!”
Truly a daughter of Zion.