Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Wrestling with God

Today's 1st reading from Genesis 33:23-33 has been a source of great spiritual fruit for me whenever I have come across it in my Jesuit life. It speaks to me, as there is something very human about the way Jacob wrestles with God. It is a common experience for us to struggle with God. Yet, it is in that wrestling that Jacob becomes transformed, symbolized by his name being changed to Israel.

"Because I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared." (According to the footnotes in my bible, it was an ancient notion that a person died upon seeing God).

The first painting that I found online comes from the artist Gustave Dore. What strikes me about this painting is the lack of effort that the angel seems to be exerting as opposed to Jacob. Jacob here seems intent on his struggle until he receives the blessing he so desires. I do not get a sense from the bible passage that Jacob seeks to overthrow God. He knows that God's power is greater than his own. Despite grave injury, however, Jacob perseveres with God--not to win, but rather to seek God's favor and grace. And, ultimately, God provides that which Jacob seeks, and he becomes a new man.

There's much about prayer life to be learned here.

The second painting is from Rembrandt, and he is depicting the point in which the angel strikes him at the hip. Jacob, however, does not seem to be in pain, nor does there seem to be any malice on the part of the angel. It seems to me that it's rather like what a doctor must do for her/his patient--sometimes, there must be short term pain in order for long term healing. Also, although Rembrandt seems to be painting the strike at the hip, the image looks completely different if you were not aware of the biblical passage. The angel, seen in another way, offers support and an embrace to an exhausted Jacob weary after the struggle.

What do you see? How do you relate to the struggle of Jacob?

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