Thursday, September 15, 2011

Wrestling with the Divine

You may recall an article I wrote a while ago, Creation, in which I looked at Genesis 1. I did so with an eye towards finding some of the "spiritual meanings hidden in the heart of the words", as 'Abdul-Baha put it. Needless to say, I haven't finished. I'm still looking for more of the "spiritual meanings".

Just the other day I was reminded of the story of Jacob, and decided to revisit Genesis, and the story of Jacob, in particular. I was reminded of how he wrestled with an angel, and I was left wondering why this would have been the case. I mean, it sure seems like an odd pastime, if you ask me. I could think of many better things to do with my time. And if I met an angel, wrestling it is not one of the first things that would cross my mind.

Aside - A number of years ago I was visiting a friend's church, and had the pleasure of sitting next to the Reverend over lunch. He looked a bit embarrassed, because they were using paper plates and party napkins with the WWF logo on them. And no, it wasn't the World Wildlife Fund. It was the World Wrestling Federation. I smiled at him, hoping to dispel his discomfort, and said that this was appropriate. After all, I reasoned, wrestling is a sport found in the Bible.

But back to Jacob. To recount, Jacob had already received the blessing from his father, Isaac, and he had been married for some time. He was successful in his life, with a lot of sheep, and a very healthy family. It was at this time that he chose to return home and see his brother again. But, since he had tricked Isaac into giving him the blessing instead of his brother, he was a bit fearful that his brother might want to kill him.

"Should I? Shouldn't I?" He was obviously torn as to whether or not he should go back. He, in fact, wrestled with this question.

It was at this point that he was visited by a "man", wrestled with him throughout the night, and when the "man" realized that he could not overpower Jacob, dislocated his hip. Yowch. That had to have hurt. And Jacob, instead of letting go, asked for a blessing. (Again, not the first thing that would have crossed my mind to do.) This is when he was called "Israel", "he who has striven with the divine".

There are many interesting aspects to this story, not the least of which is how Jacob asked for a blessing, instead of any other gifts he may have requested. No. It was a blessing that was most important to him.

My question, though, is what else can we learn from this, besides the importance of a blessing?

Well, to start, I think it there is a lesson about the divine, or sacred Text. When reading Genesis, it is sometimes very difficult to figure out the history as it does not always appear to be what we would call "historically accurate". There seem to be a few areas which are unclear.

In our culture, speaking as a North American, we tend to try and read everything as if it is a scientific treatise, clear and concise from start to finish, hence the propensity of many to try to read a literal interpretation of it. But this is not always the case, nor should it be. Poetry, for example, is often non-linear and laden with multiple meanings.

When trying to describe the indescribable, I believe that the sacred Books of the world also speak in a way that would lead us to contemplate, not to merely cognate.

There are many problems that tend to creep up when you try to take sacred text too literally. The main one, of course, is that you lose the overall sense of spirit. As I often say, the underlying message of Jesus is that of love. If there is anything in His message that leads us to anything other than love of another, we can be fairly sure that we have misunderstood it. Similarly, the underlying message of Baha'u'llah is that of unity. If there is anything in His teachings that leads us anywhere other than unity, then we can be sure that we need to meditate on it more, for we have missed the point.

But let me be clear: this is not easy. It is a long and difficult process for most of us.

It is, to me, like Jacob wrestling the angel. It is arduous, and we can even get hurt in the process. But ultimately, it is well worth it.

When we wrestle with the divine, grapple with difficult issues, put aside our own pains and passions, then we can, at last, arrive at a point where we can receive that blessing.

But the struggle is never with anyone else. It is always within ourselves. And this, perhaps, is why it was an angel that wrestled with Jacob, and not another human being.

In fact, when we look at the story, don't we see ourselves in his position? Aren't we scared of what others may think, or do? Aren't we overly conscious of the wrongs we have committed, and fearful that those we wronged will want some sort of revenge? But then, when we grapple with the spiritual issues within us and face those of whom we are scared, we find a loving brother ready to embrace us.

Yeah. I just love the story of Jacob.

Perhaps I'll look at the story of Joseph another time.

Whatever. I can guarantee, though, that I'll continue to look at Genesis and see what other little spiritual gems are hidden within it.

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