LEARNING TO WALK WITH A LIMP - JACOB'S AWAKENING PART 2
Last week, we reflected on a moment in the life of Jacob that could be described as a moment of Spiritual Awakening in Genesis 28.
On the run from his brother who had intentions of murdering him after he stole his brother's birthright and his father’s blessing, Jacob sleeps out in the open on his first night.
With a rock for a pillow, he has a dream of a ladder reaching from earth to heaven with angels ascending and descending. He wakes up and declares, surely God is in this place and I was unaware of it. This is the gate of heaven.
In this moment, he becomes aware of God’s presence in the temple or cathedral of creation. It is a wonderfully symbolic story that can invite us to wake up to the omnipresence of God for ourselves. The spirit of God who is everywhere present.
Today, I would like to explore a second significant story in Jacob’s life that I believe can also be a pointer to us on our own spiritual journey.
Jacob has been away from home for the past 20 years. During that time he has built up a large family with two wives, Leah and Rachael. He also has amassed quite a sizeable amount of wealth in the form of livestock.
But he is nervous of being reunited with his brother Esau. He had fled in haste after he had deceived his brother, and his brother had intention of murdering him. The night before meeting his brother, he sends his family and flocks across the river Jabbok ahead of him, and he spends the night alone.
We are often afraid of spending time alone. But time alone can often be extremely beneficial. It can give space to bring a clarity of mind and heart that we can often miss in the company of other people. We can be so busy playing roles in the presence of others that we don’t always truly know ourselves.
The English word alone could be extrapolated into two words “all-one”. When we are alone, there is the possibility of discovering a greater sense of inner one-ness, inner unity that we can lose through the many fragmented roles that we play.
So Jacob spends the night alone out in the open, just like he had done 20 years before when he laid his head on a stone to sleep at the place that became known as Bethel.
This time it happens at the ford of the River Jabbok. As Davis Marshall says, rivers represent boundaries and moments of transition. The river in this story represents a moment of transition in Jacob’s life, a crossing over from a former life to a new one. From an old identity to a new one.
In the story, during the night, Jacob wrestles with a mysterious character who is at first spoken of as being a man, and then later is identified as being God. So Jacob wrestles with this unknown figure in the dark all night long.
It is a wonderfully vivid description. I think many of us have had this experience of wrestling on our beds during the night at difficult moments of transition.
As the sun rises on Jacob, the unknown assailant begins to leave him and Jacob refuses to let go of him until he receives a blessing from him. The unknown shadowy figure then gives Jacob a new name. It is a symbolic echo of the creation story where God names everything and then later Adam names everything. This is a moment of new birth and new creation in Jacob’s life. The shadowy figure renames Jacob as “Israel” which means “one who wrestles with God”. “Your name will no longer be Jacob but Israel because you have struggled, or wrestled with God and with human beings and have overcome.”
Jacob asks his opponent's name, but the opponent refuses to give to him. It comes as a reminder to us of the unnameable nature of God. As soon as we name God, we have reduced God to a human conception and a human understanding and so in the story, the mysterious opponent, who turns out to be God, remains nameless.
Byron Katie, like Michael Dowd, believes that God is synonymous with Reality itself. When we wrestle with God or Reality, she says we will always lose unless we accept Reality as it is. Reality is always what is and therefore is unchangeable. When we wrestle with that which cannot be changed, we will always end up the loser, unless we come to accept Reality as it is.
I wonder if in this story, we see Jacob wrestling with the reality of his own deceitful nature. Before he can meet his brother Esau, he has to come to a new honesty about himself. This feels like he is wrestling with none other than God. Until Jacob can become honest with himself about his own past , he is not ready to meet his brother. He is not ready to be reconciled to him.
As Marshall Davis puts it: We wrestle in the dark with the Unknown, but if we persevere, we will be transformed so dramatically that we will need a new name, just as Jacob received a new name to reflect his new identity. But as Marshall Davis says, we will not come out of this struggle unscathed. In the story, Jacob is wounded in this fight. His hip is put out of joint and he walks with a limp for the rest of his life.
I wonder if it is a symbol of Jacob’s overconfident ego and pride which are now dented. He is no longer as confident as before and this is a good thing. It is often the case, that moments of spiritual awakening are accompanied by a greater degree of humility and not-knowing. Coming to terms with a deeper awareness of our human fragility, weakness and limitation invite us to become a little more humble and grateful than we were before. Jacob has overcome, not as a superman who defeats his enemies, but maybe as someone who has come to know and accept himself a little more than before. Jacob’s freedom comes as he learns to walk with a limp.
So, as you wrestle with God, with Reality, with life, as you seek to become your truest, most authentic self, may there come a moment when you receive a new name, as one who has wrestled and come out the other side a new person, even if it feels that you walk with a limp, with a little more humility, gratitude and grace.