In normal life as we know it, any claim that one has encountered God physically can only be met with searching suspicion and a good measure of sarcastic laughter. Luckily, in the safety of the pages of the Sacred Scripture, anything can happen! Indeed, it is only in the Christian and Jewish scripture where certain things happen. Nowhere else does a creature wrestle his Creator; nowhere, in any named religion do creatures crucify their God; nowhere else does the Son of God die for the love of humanity!
One interesting incident that we immediately come across is the one recorded in Genesis 32:23-32. In this fascinating story, Jacob meets and wrestles God through the night until the break of dawn! Yes..! Wrestling the Almighty God, Creator and sustainer of heaven and earth!
If we had a choice, we would naturally say No, but we just don’t have that privilege. We remain with the reality that Jacob did have a physical smack down with Yahweh, and that at dawn, he limped away with a new name.
Let us catch up with the real story from the horse’s mouth. The Bible itself;
“… In the course of that night, however, Jacob arose, took his two wives, with two maidservants and his eleven children, and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had taken them across the stream and had brought over all his possessions, Jacob was left there alone. Then some man wrestled with him until the break of dawn. When the man saw that he could not prevail over him, he struck Jacob’s hip at its socket, so that the hip socket was wrenched as they wrestled. The man then said, ‘Let me go, for it is daybreak.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go until you bless me.’ ‘What is your name?’ the man asked. He answered, ‘Jacob.’ Then the man said, ‘You shall no longer be spoken of as Jacob, but as Israel, because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed.’ Jacob then asked him, ‘Do tell me your name, please.’ He answered, ‘Why should you want to know my name?’ With that, he bade him farewell. Jacob named the place Peniel, ‘Because I have seen God face to face,’ he said, ‘yet my life has been spared.’
At sunrise, as he left Peniel, Jacob limped along because of his hip.”
It matters little that this incident might have taken place one fine calendar day. It matters even less that it may be a historical fact. We however borrow from its sheer possibility in the first place the reality that in many ways, our own lives can be seen as captivating ‘smack downs’ with the God of our faith. And that like Jacob, we can interpret the unfolding of our own existences as a duel through the night with a smart stranger; especially against the reality of our identity as the New Israel.
As soon as we drop from the warmth of the womb to the cold reality of this dwelling, our counter-attack begins from a reality of ‘fallenness’. The wisdom of God actually initiates us into a process of dying with Christ and rising again with him in Baptism. We are then ready to draw energy from God’s graciousness so we can be up to the task; the task of enjoying, and – many times also – enduring the ever changing tides and maneuvers of the night-long wrestle with a smart stranger. The wrestle will only end when like St. Paul; we finish the race and wait for the crown (2 Tim 4:6-8).
Just as happens in real-world wrestling matches, we have our moments of having a good grip of the opponent, moments when we experience little races on either side; stumbles and near-falls; moments of unofficial compromises to take a rest; moments of sizing up each other with our opponent, as well as the different rounds, which may come in days, months, years or even decades! Like Jacob, we limp away at the day-break of our individual lives with new names (Rev. 2:27)!
None of us can quite claim that they have enjoyed lives that have been predictable and sequential (if smooth). For nearly all of us, life has sometimes unfolded on its own terms – complete with its own strange language and color. Like a jig-saw puzzle, new pieces we did not expect have appeared and demanded inclusion towards the development of a picture we thought we owned!
We have probably married childhood friends we never dated; joined a trade or profession we openly loathed; or even acquired statuses we could never even consciously aspire to attain. Some of our strongest convictions have given way to views we would never have touched with a pole! Such is growth; such is adulthood. We have been reassured and betrayed by family and friends. We have endured deep pains but also made concrete resolutions; cursed and consoled. At certain times, we have yearned for love and understanding, but also hated without reason; savored moments full of hope and promise but also experienced the emptiness wrought by nagging angst, undying guilt and despair.
Even now, while going through this blog site, there could be events going on in our lives or even circumstances that remain shrouded in impenetrable mystery. We have even probably spent time planning and re-planning, drawing and erasing, resolving and reneging on issues that we really have no choice about. This is wrestling, only that they are not always as glaring as wrestling with inner conflicts, relationships, addictions and other bad habits. But when the big picture is finally drawn, we notice that all these experiences have actually been blows, grips, pushes, stumbles, short races and even falls, in an encounter with the God of our Faith.
Let us briefly consider what various gracious moments in our life could translate into within the jargon of wrestling encounters;
Good Grip of the Opponent
These are moments of fluid and high-gear. Everything readily falls in place. Everything happens well. These are moments when the objects of our fears melt as we approach. The roads we tread are clear and our paths well lit. We sing along the paths and corridors of this life humming our favorite songs and wearing an infectious smile. ‘Life is good’, we repeatedly tell the world and all who care to listen. We all believe we have a good grip of the opponent when we are in charge, and on the driving wheel – or so we imagine.
Little races on either direction
Even though there is not so much playground left on our neighborhoods of late, we still probably remember how we could grip and treat our wrestling opponents to a reverse race, hoping to knock them down on something; anything. And how they would eventually gain balance after hitting a ‘providential wall’ and give us an equally risky backward race. During such moments, fear and anxiety abound. These are moments in life when we have little, if any control over what might happen. A diagnosis with a terminal illness for instance might give us this feeling or even our fears over a youngster who gets hooked into drugs or a dangerous habit.
Many times, our prayers at such times might seem slow. We want to act, but we recognize the fact that we cannot do much. This is a smack down of sorts! Our smart opponent knows full well that we shall hit nothing as we are pushed backwards, but we have no idea. Like Elijah, these are the moments we might want to pray; ‘This is enough, O LORD! Take my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’ (I Kings 19:4).
Even in ordinary wrestle, we stumble. The good part of wrestling stumble is the fact that one is able to stable up using the very opponent! Furthermore, a stumble is not a fall. We can often explain the causes of our stumbles. Sometimes they occur because of unforeseen circumstances: a stone we had not quite seen; an aspect we had not considered; a piece of advice we ignored; a factor we underrated, or other things like them. With every stumble, we see how closely we could get to the worst case scenario. The result is often that we now engage our best gears and literally put our best foot forward!
It is not uncommon to promise ourselves that we will start again. Israel, the descendants of Jacob did this all the time; “Sing a new song to the LORD…” (Ps 149), they readily said as many times as they stumbled.
This commitment to start again or, better put, ‘to try again’ is the hallmark of humility. With every stumble, we have a fresh opportunity; something we readily learn from children who grip us more firmly whenever they stumble as we hold their little hands.
In our fallen world, things will always occasionally go wrong. When we adopt ‘smack down’ spirituality, we soon discover that some, indeed most of our stumbles are providential, or, as the exultet at Easter beautifully puts it; happy fault! Felix culpa! Some mistakes have indeed saved us!
This is more like a near-score in a highly charged football march. Moments when fans and armchair spectators want to jump from their seats, as we are engaged by the God of our Faith. It is a close-shave with the worst, (if you want), a hug with death! And almost always, we are the only ones who can explain our true feelings. Those who have relapsed into a clinical comma for instance or those who have been taken hostage by terror gangs always speak with admirable conviction. Their sense of faith is always deep and penetrating. What we need dear friends is perfect trust that our master and teacher has good reasons to make us occasionally peer into some of the most fearsome realities of our human condition.
This is one of the most fascinating realities of our wrestle with our creator. He understands us more than we will ever do. He allows smooth eventless moments to help us freshen up. During such restful breaks, everything seems to go well. At such moments, choice and opportunity embrace, and we thank God for gifting us with the loftiest of our aspirations. Friendships blossom and dreams come to pass. These are moments of song and dance. But for whatever reason, these moments do not last as long as we would wish. Even though they appear a lot more like the moments of good grips, their uniqueness lies in the fact that they come to us more as undeserved gifts that we do not work for. We all experience them.
Rounds and Episodes
Even though our entire life is one of uninterrupted wrestle with the smart stranger, the bout is divided into rounds and episodes. The big picture that our life represents in the final bow is brought to us in bits and pieces, and we try to fix only what pieces we have received, often in packages called days, months, years, or even decades!
Every waking moment is a choice. As long as we are awake and conscious, we find ourselves acting out or living a choice. Some of these choices are so small that they fly past our gazes without much thought. Some are sizeable but friendly, and yet others are mammoth, fearsome – even threatening! Small or big, we have no choice but to make these choices. None is negligible.
A decision to pleat or shave one’s hair for instance may not be as energy sapping as one to become a celibate or embrace marriage. All these are ‘smack downs’ in their own right! Some of these contests have distinct ends; others seem to be composed of countless rounds that seem to concertina and jumble up into yet others.
It is important to mention at this point that these ‘smack downs’ need not be always against us. In fact for the most part, they are in our favor, making us live up to our privileged nature of rationality. We only truly rest when we rest in peace, for this wrestle of faith never really stops… We actually limp away, never quite knowing even the identity of our smart opponent.
Limping away with a new name
The sheer ability to limp away at dawn after a night-long wrestle with God is a divine favor. We may limp away with fractures, bruises and wounds; but also with a new name inscribed upon a white amulet (Rev. 2:17). The closest we could get to a new name in common parlance is, a graduation after a period of learning or initiation. It often implies a period of marked growth, authentic change or a transformation. Many cultures respect the wisdom of age. The old have indeed been in the ring of life long enough to provide counsel.
Some of us have probably limped out of bad habits and addictions. Others have limped out of bad relationships and even beliefs. And we have probably limped into value-adding struggles with a resolve to fight on the side of the smart stranger. One consoling paradox in our wrestle is the fact that we limp away, not as victims, but as victors. We are allowed to win by the God of our faith who lovingly binds our wounds, having struck us down (Hosea 6:1). After all, did not our first parents flag-off the whole struggle when he dared his God to a duel, wanting to be like him, and did not more grace abound where sin and weakness increased? (Gen 3:5-7; Rom 5:20).
This BlogSpot is an invitation to all who believe in God to reap the full benefits of their courage to want to love God against the odds stacked against our journey of faith. We recognize particularly the fact that courage does not come in grandiose ways. It comes in small steps. We gain it as we win small fights in faith.
Miereka ya Imani (Wrestle of Faith) is a Spirituality. It is also a lifestyle. It is a way of interpreting our concrete circumstances and giving every experience of our lives real existential and faith-filled meaning. It is an approach to our Christian life in which we allow the characters within the drama of our lives to express themselves more clearly so we may see them with the light of dawn. Through our constant interactions inspired by this blog, we will be able to assist each other to wake up to the reality of God’s immense love for each one of us. There is a whole symphony of beautiful sounds of music in the air as all forms of creation praises their creator (Dan 3:57-88). The Saints, in their own wrestles noted this!
Behind this approach to living our faith is a solid conviction not a single human person was created to languish in fear and endless anxiety, or even wallow in an amorphous morass of elements of fate. Even when one’s life seems to assume in a serious way, a semblance of this, it is often one’s response to the precious gift that life is that make a whole difference. There is a whole ideology of looking at life with new eyes; eyes of faith, or we could even say, looking at our circumstances as Jesus Christ would. There are of course painful truths about living, but there are also countless reasons to celebrate and to thank God. If we want, life could be one unending Eucharistic dance. But we could also effectively render it a long funeral procession. One interesting reality about life is its habit of giving us back exactly what we put into it. When we sow joy and goodwill, we reap even greater joy and lots of goodwill. And that is how it goes…
At the origin of this blog is a rich lived experience that I know we will share in the course of our interactions. My own life remains an unending smack down with the God of my Faith; this same God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The Sacred scripture is replete with great women and men whose courage to be honest with God transformed seeming misery and despair into fountains of unyielding Faith, unstinting Hope and unfailing Love. They, who the world despised, became perfect models of our emulation.
If the Blessed Virgin Mary could have clung to human logic for instance, the story of God’s incarnation could have been so different. If the Samaritan woman by the well with a Jewish stranger would have pretended to be better than she really was (a serial divorcee), would that entire village have known and believed in the Messiah? If Mary Magdalene would not have thrown caution to the wind and anointed Christ in public, the story of the resurrection would probably have come to us a little differently. Paul and his zealous service of a god he only thought he understood would have probably never known the TRUE GOD. What about the four prostitutes that punctuate the Matthian genealogy of our savior, couldn’t there have been a better genealogy without public sinners? And why, for the record would Christ pick on Peter, a habitual stumbler, as the rock on which to build his church, as well as the holder of the keys of such a serious place as heaven? (Matt 16:16).
The mysteriousness of God and his ways and the fact that we really can never grasp God’s ways fascinates us more than it surprises us. We are able to glean from the drama of life so much divine comic as well as a unique reassurance that we really have no business whining and worrying. ‘Can any of you by worrying add a single moment to your lifespan?’ (Matt. 6:27).
Miereka Ya Imani or “Wrestling of Faith” is, apart from being a Spirituality also a methodology. Through this methodology, we slowly acquire a patient, understanding and faith-filled attitude towards every single existential reality that may define the mundaneity of our everyday living.
Through sharing our stories, re-telling the tales of our pasts and recounting the experiences of yesteryears, we will not only rediscover ourselves, but also start seeing our lives in a more renewing light. Through honest and prayerful interactions, we will be able to retrieve the many pieces of the bigger picture of God’s will in our lives and place them where they rightly belong; in short, we will allow God to Himself give them names and meaning.
‘Smack down’ as a spirituality allows nature to freely converse with its creator, in a language we may not even decipher. But one thing is for sure when we let this happen, we soon discover that our pains and miseries have better names; that, all this while, our fears have been wearing genuine smiles, and our hopes so near to us. It will dawn on us that we share so intimately in Christ’s conquest of the world, if only we could care to claim it. We will also, like St. Peter grow in the relieving conviction that our countless sins and mistakes are not as important (to God) as our genuine and heartfelt desire to love him. When Peter tells Christ in his third response; “LORD, You know everything, you know that I Love You.” (John 21:17) This is what he means. He implies that within the framework of my many faults and mistakes and sins, you know that I Love you – or at least desperately desire it.
You might want to engage me in your life-story so we may prayerfully seek a greater clarity of the meaning hidden in its content. You might be going through a deep crisis out of which you wish to extract meaning. You might perhaps be going through interesting circumstances and you wish to place a finger on some aspect of it. Or perhaps you just feel that you wish to make your prayer life more lively and yet as simple as the Syro-phoenician woman’s protest (Mark 7:28). You have a choice to share in confidence through FACEBOOK by Inboxing in facebook.com/Gutlevelfaith or E-mail address; firstname.lastname@example.org
In order to continue growing in the art of extracting the many ‘smack down’ angles of every story, we have posted articles, stories and papers written and presented in various forums for our practice. Note that the wrestling aspects of our stories do not come out glaringly. That is what makes this spirituality an art. We will go through the ropes together.
Kindly feel free to post stories you might want everyone else to learn from. This is the time to share those dark realities we have consigned to eerie silence to our detriment. This is the time to break the shackles and chains of slavery that block us from listening to Christ’s revelation as he initiates us into a friendship. He wants to call us friends; but not before telling us everything he has learnt from his Father (John 15:15).
Where do you stand in the unending smack down of faith? When you finally answer this question, you will be amazed at how our God invites us to have life, and to have it abundantly! (John 10:10).