Saturday, March 14, 2009

Crossing the Jabbok

22The same night he got up… and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me."
Genesis 32:22-32

The other day at prayer we read the passage from Genesis of Jacob wrestling with the angel. I haven’t been able to get it out of my mind. There is something about Jacob’s wrestling that is a deep metaphor for monastic life, especially entry into monastic life.

Jacob was in a liminal space, a boundary between his old and new life. He is trying to reconcile with his brother Esau and yet is afraid that Esau will try to kill him. He has sent his family, servants and animals on ahead and is alone, camped by the river. In the night he wrestles with a mysterious stranger, demanding to know his name and thus to have power over him. Jacob prevails in the fight and is himself given a new name to suit his new life.

In coming to monastic life, indeed to any commitment of faith, we have to cross the Jabbok, not just once but again and again on this journey. I remember the last night in my home before I left for the monastery and the last night before I finished driving to Cottonwood. They were nights of anxiety, hope, fear and wonder, nights of wrestling with the mysterious forces that led me to this place. I was standing by my own river, the boundary between my old and new life, demanding a blessing as I went into the unknown.

The monastic life requires giving up possessions, money, previous employment and networks of friends and family. It entails crossing a boundary into a new land, a new culture, a new way of being. When we enter this new way of life we wrestle with mysterious forces in the night, demanding that we be blessed for our willingness to seek God in this new way, demanding that we know the name of the forces that keep us awake at night wondering whether this was the right decision, wondering what we will face in the morning when we cross our own Jabbok.

Perhaps more than anything I resonate with Jacob who came away blessed but who always limped because of the blessing. Every day as he limped, his hip hurting, he was reminded that even though he had “’…striven with God and with humans, and …prevailed’” there was a cost to his wrestling, he prevailed at a price. This was not a cheap blessing, Jacob had to surrender a part of himself at the Jabbok, the blessing was won at the price of loss.

In the journey of monastic life, of any life of seeking God, we will cross and re-cross our Jabbok. At night we will face our fear of the unknown, of being called ever deeper into this life of following God at whatever price, to an unknown destination. In the night we will wrestle and demand that we be blessed by this fierce God who leads us to a fearsome unknown. Again and again we receive a new name, a new affirmation that we are not alone, we are indeed blessed. But each time we limp. We are reminded at each step on the journey that it is God alone who grants the blessing, God alone who gives us our new name and God alone who brings the daybreak and the light by which we will cross our Jabbok again.

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