Thus far, 2020 has felt like one long wrestling match to me. I have wrestled with how to be a faithful priest to you all when we are physically apart; I have wrestled with loneliness in the midst of separation from friends and family; I’ve wrestled with canceled plans and stalled dreams; I have wrestled with finding my place in the ongoing struggles for racial justice in our country. And in the midst of all of this, I have wrestled with how to maintain my spiritual practices and a faithful prayer life when everything feels so chaotic. I have wrestled with God.
The story of Jacob wrestling with God (Genesis 32:22–32) is one of my favorite stories in the Bible. It is one that I return to again and again; it is one I’ve been spending a lot of time with over the last five months! In the story, Jacob is alone and wrestles through the night with a “man.” As the wrestling match comes to an end, Jacob insists that he will not release his opponent until the opponent blesses him. It is here, in the blessing, that we learn that the “man” is in fact God. God does bless Jacob, but Jacob still leaves the encounter limping away. I’ve always loved Jacob’s perseverance in this story. He has an opportunity to stop wrestling, to walk away, but he insists, “I will not let you go, until you bless me.”
I often go to this story when I feel like I am wrestling with God through some difficult period in my life. Wrestling seems a very appropriate image for the last five months of the pandemic and social and political upheaval. And yet as I imagine this wrestling match, I picture myself clinging to God even while we wrestle. I don’t want to be wrestling, but there is comfort in God’s presence wrestling with me. As I think about my own wrestling with God, I often pray Jacob’s words, “I will not let you go, until you bless me.”
Wrestling, exhaustion, sadness, fear, determination…but also an unrelenting trust in God. Even though I’m struggling, I know God is struggling with me. I know that I am not abandoned, even when I feel alone. Part of Jacob’s blessing is a name change, a biblical signal that this person’s life has just undergone a significant shift as a result of a direct encounter with God; they will never be the same. As dawn broke, Jacob limped away a different man than he had been at the beginning of the night. We too will limp away from 2020 different people than we were when we entered it back in January. I pray that we will continue to recognize God in the midst of the struggle. I pray that we will continue to say with Jacob, “I will not let you go, until you bless me.”
The Reverend Amanda C. Stephenson, Associate Rector