Wrestling with the Angel

Jacob Wrestling with the Angel, Rembrandt van Rijn, c. 1659.

Wrestling with the Angel

When I was ten (or was I six? or eight?)
I had an infection in my right hip.
Walking was agony, the joint inflamed.

It was long ago, but I remember
struggling to limp across the yard,
stiff-legged in my plaid school jumper.

Ever since, that joint has periodically
rebelled— either the hip gives and suddenly
won’t hold, or it burns and throbs and complains.

I was nothing like Jacob, the sinew
of whose thigh was wrenched out from the socket
while he wrestled alone with God until dawn;

and God changed his name to Israel—
He who strives with God, or, God prevails—
the subject of the verb is ambiguous.

Yet sometimes I wonder if God’s right hand
did not reach out to mark me— as the angel
reached out to pull Jacob out of joint—

through the unseen agency of that host
of invisible bacteria—
always the little and lowly he uses.

And I, too, am now called to the struggle—
to contend in the dark with God, until
new day springs and I am not overcome.

+ + +

We are strangers and sojourners no more
but members of the household of
the living God, and so sons and daughters

adopted into that tribe, numberless
as the stars, brethren of the children of Israel,
the new Israel we dare to call ourselves,

unaware that in adopting the name
we enter into the same eternal
struggle, grappling with God and with men,

in the dark with unseen unknowable
powers that we can never master. Yet
it does not displease him that we should strive

grapple struggle contend and wrestle
for he can never be overcome but
his light always rises again each dawn.

And we are left, always, with a blessing,
a new name, a promise made, a life saved
and covenant, land, home, family.

+ + +

Unless the butterfly struggles to escape
her self-made prison, her wings will never
fill and she remains earthbound, crippled,

incomplete. It is the effort to fight
free that makes her fit for flight—Or so goes
the story—the reality is more

complicated, it seems — and yet, we know
to intervene in her escape can cause
irreparable damage to her wings.

So let the old story stand — there are worse
things to get wrong in the grand scheme— and still
some battles that we need to fight alone.



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