The Wound and the Blessing

print by Jack Baumgartner

print by Jack Baumgartner

When I began writing this meditation on Jacob wrestling with God and its implications for the spiritual life, I did not intend it to be another essay on suffering. Yet the theme came of its own accord, and has some continuity with thoughts posted here, here, and here.

The story, found in Genesis 32, should be familiar. Jacob, traveling to meet his estranged brother Esau, camps alone at the ford of Jabbok.

And Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until the breaking of the day. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and Jacob’s thigh was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” And he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” Then he said, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Tell me, I pray, your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. So Jacob called the name of the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.” The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his thigh.

The stranger is usually seen in the Christian tradition as Christ himself. Perhaps the most conventional moral interpretation emphasizes Jacob’s persistence. In refusing to let God go, he receives a blessing; so also must we be persistent in prayer and struggle in faith. Another, almost opposite interpretation sees the struggle as God destroying our willfulness, teaching us to submit and “let God.” But these readings in themselves make little sense of the most striking aspects of the text.

My own exegesis of this passage focuses on the wound, which I first began to contemplate after reading a passage in Scott Cairns’s memoir Short Trip to the Edge. Here, an ordinary Athonite monk uses the story of Jacob and the stranger to illustrate for Cairns a mystery of the life of prayer.

[Father Iakovos] placed a hand on his chest, just above his abdomen. “You have to hold on to Him,” he said, “with all your strength…. You have to plead with Him to meet you here…. And when He arrives, you must hold on to Him and not let go. Like Jacob,” he said, “you must hold on to Him…. And like Jacob,” he met my eyes with new intensity, “you will be wounded. Like Jacob, you must say, ‘I will not let You go unless you bless me,’ and then the wound, the tender hip thereafter, the blessing…. He is everything,” Father Iakovos continued, “and ever-present. He is never not here,” he said, touching his upper abdomen, “but when you plead to know He’s here, and when He answers you, and helps you to meet Him here, you will be wounded by that meeting. The wound will help you know, and that is the blessing.” (136-137)

Continue reading

Advertisements

O Oriens: Meditations on the O Antiphons

Travel, jet lag, and holiday activities predictably demolished my plans to keep up with Advent 2014. So now, after Epiphany, I resume my series on the O Antiphons.

The fifth O Antiphon is to the Rising Dawn.

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae,
et sol justitiae:
veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris,
et umbra mortis.

O rising one, splendor of eternal light,
and sun of justice:
come, and illuminate those sitting in darkness,
and the shadow of death.

This antiphon shows Christ to be light and enlightener. O Clavis David showed us his descent. Now the image reverses, and we see that the descent of Christ in the incarnation is also an ascent.

The Latin oriens is the root of our word “oriental.” It is literally “rising [one],” usually indicating the east, the dawn, or the rising sun. Nevertheless, there is a tradition of rendering oriens here “morning star,” which is within the range of possible meanings, as in the Old English poem based on this antiphon, Eala earendel. The morning star, Venus, is the harbinger of the dawn; Christ takes this name for himself in Revelation 22:16 (see also 2 Peter 1:19 and Revelation 2:28).

Continue reading