Since the late 1970s, the section in Genesis concerning Jacob wrestling with God has been part of my spiritual life.
Some of you have read my second poem on this event.
Here is the Scriptural passage again.
22 And rising early he took his two wives, and his two handmaids, with his eleven sons, and passed over the ford of Jaboc.
23 And when all things were brought over that belonged to him,
24 He remained alone: and behold a man wrestled with him till morning.
25 And when he saw that he could not overcome him, he touched the sinew of his thigh, and forthwith it shrank.
26 And he said to him: Let me go, for it is break of day. He answered: I will not let thee go except thou bless me.
27 And he said: What is thy name? He answered: Jacob.
28 But he said: Thy name shall not be called Jacob, but Israel: for if thou hast been strong against God, how much more shalt thou prevail against men?
29 Jacob asked him, Tell me by what name art thou called? He answered: Why dost thou ask my name? And he blessed him in the same place.
30 And Jacob called the name of the place Phanuel, saying: I have seen God face to face, and my soul has been saved.
31 And immediately the sun rose upon him, after he was past Phanuel; but he halted on his foot.
32 Therefore the children of Israel, unto this day, eat not the sinew, that shrank in Jacob's thigh: because he touched the sinew of his thigh and it shrank.
Raissa, being of Jewish descent, has a keen insight into this great event, which I have pondered on and off for years. I knew that Jacob's wrestling was the same as mine, or yours, in confronting God and demanding, after struggle, the blessing.
I understood that this wrestling is part of each person's spiritual journey, as we encounter God with all our flaws and sins, having to be purified. I knew that we had to wrestle with God's Great Holiness in order to be made holy ourselves, to be blessed, and that frequently, this involves physical pain, not merely emotional or psychological pain. I knew, also, that as Jacob won the blessing, we too must win merit, with grace.
As I noted in my poem, the struggle is the completion of God's call of Jacob, which was initiated in deceit. But, Raissa adds this insight, making the struggle all the more real. "The eternal (spiritual) life, I understand this now, can appear as an enemy, risen up against our soul, our unique root-possession It fights against us in order to be conquered, that is to say won. Thus it is God who triumphs in the triumph of Jacob. For that was Jacob's victory: he won God by letting himself be vanquished by him."
Of course, God wins. But, each one of us wins God, "And Jacob," states Raissa, "won God by letting himself be mortified in his flesh."
I have been continually mortified in my flesh, by cancer, asthma, many other illnesses in the past, and just the aches and pains of getting old. I have not aged well, moving from being very attractive, to ugly, as someone told me in so many words yesterday, to my humiliation, but truth.
This mortification, of the dying of the flesh is absolutely part of the Dark Night of the Senses. One must become detached from one's own strength, (and I was very strong physically), and one's physical presence in the world. One learns one's complete physical reliance on God.
Jacob won God's love and the blessing of the covenant through suffering the humiliation of being attacked by God in the night. We not only offer our things and relationships to God, but also our very bodies. One loses confidence in this battle, which I am sure Jacob lost, as he limped for the rest of his life. But, God does not want us to have confidence in our own physical or spiritual abilities--only in Him.
AWAITING THE COMMAND
I have had sciatica for exactly 40 years on and off. To endure the continual reminder of mortification of the flesh is part of the wrestling with the self, the ego.
We cannot be perfect without losing some bodily perfection, and so, God in His goodness, allows those of us who are more stubborn long lives to give back to Him daily. Jacob learned the hard way to become one with God. A not-so-good priest told me years ago that humility was not humiliation. Nope, he was wrong. We are humiliated in the realization of our limitations in order that God's strength shines forth through us, not our own. God allowed Himself to be humbled through gross humiliations. He willed that men would beat him, He willed the crucifixion, and that He would be naked on the cross. God was in control, and He is in control of our lives as well. "Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and He will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?" (Matthew 26:53)
Jacob's wound was an indication, as Raissa notes, that God won the wrestling match. But, Jacob won God's heart as well, through the death of his ego.