The Wrestling Is Where the Blessing Begins

Image: The Wrestling Is Where the Blessing Begins
© Jan Richardson

Reading from the Hebrew Scriptures, Year A, Proper 13/Ordinary 18/Pentecost +9: Genesis 32.22-31

Jacob was left alone;
and a man wrestled with him
until daybreak.

—Genesis 32.24

Jacob is no stranger to encountering God in a dark, betwixt place. It has been just four chapters and a lifetime since that night when, fleeing for his life, he was visited by an angel-drenched dream that assured him of God’s presence on his path. Now, in this latest nighttime meeting, Jacob learns that sometimes when the angel meets us in the wilderness, it makes us work for a blessing. This seems to be one of the ways the angels choose to minister to us, knowing there are times when a good struggle comes as one of those strange comforts of the wilderness. Sometimes we need not to rest but to wrestle, to be stretched to our limits, to reach deep into the reserves we did not know we had.

We are not certain, of course, just who it is that goes toe-to-toe with Jacob in the night as he is on his way, with trepidation, to seek Esau years and lifetimes after fleeing in fear. The text is fuzzy—likely with intention—on whether the visitor who approaches Jacob in the dark is a man or God. The visual tradition settled somewhere in between, frequently depicting Jacob wrestling an angel.

Working on this painting as I thought about this passage, I began to find my imagination drawn not to the figures locked in their fierce struggle; what drew me instead was the ground. I imagined the tracks and traces left by their feet, the imprint of their bodies on the earth, the map made by their wrestling. I imagined those lines beginning to form the blessing that Jacob receives, twining into the letters of the new name he will bear with him, limping, when morning comes.

On your path, where have you encountered a struggle that brought not only a wound but also a blessing? When has an experience of wrestling with God helped you know who you are, and which way to go? If you were to write a blessing whose lines have their roots in a time of struggle, what would that blessing be?

Jacob’s Blessing

If this blessing were easy,
anyone could claim it.
As it is,
I am here to tell you
that it will take some work.

This is the blessing
that visits you
in the struggling,
in the wrestling,
in the striving.

This is the blessing
that comes
after you have left
everything behind,
after you have stepped out,
after you have crossed
into that realm
beyond every landmark
you have known.

This is the blessing
that takes all night
to find.

It’s not that this blessing
is so difficult,
as if it were not filled
with grace
or with the love
that lives
in every line.

It’s simply that
it requires you
to want it,
to ask for it,
to place yourself
in its path.
It demands that you
stand to meet it
when it arrives,
that you stretch yourself
in ways you didn’t know
you could move,
that you agree
to not give up.

So when this blessing comes,
borne in the hands
of the difficult angel
who has chosen you,
do not let go.
Give yourself
into its grip.

It will wound you,
but I tell you
there will come a day
when what felt to you
like limping

was something more
like dancing
as you moved into
the cadence
of your new
and blessed name.

—Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief

A bonus blessing: Please click the audio player below to hear Gary’s wondrous song “I Will Not Let Go,” which was inspired by this story. (For my email subscribers: if you don’t see the player below, click here to go to The Painted Prayerbook, where you can view it in this post.)

Using Jan’s artwork…
To use the image “The Wrestling Is Where the Blessing Begins,” please visit this page at janrichardsonimages.com. (This is also available as an art print. After clicking over to the image’s page on the Jan Richardson Images site, just scroll down to the “Purchase as an Art Print” section.) Your use of janrichardsonimages.com helps make the ministry of The Painted Prayerbook possible. Thank you!

Using Jan’s words…
For worship services and related settings, you are welcome to use Jan’s blessings or other words from this blog without requesting permission. All that’s needed is to acknowledge the source. Please include this info in a credit line: “© Jan Richardson. janrichardson.com.” For other uses, visit Copyright Permissions.

8 Responses to “The Wrestling Is Where the Blessing Begins”

  1. Kay Eflin Says:

    Jan, I had the honor to meet Gary and be blessed by his Psalmist heart several years ago in Denver, CO at your art retreat. I Will Not Let Go was a blessing then and I am so pleased to have a link to his creation to listen over and over.

    Thank you.

    • Marcia Chadly Says:

      Hi Kay, I knew I had heard this song before. I was part of the group that put that retreat together. Thanks for reminding me that Gary sang it then. The song has a whole new meaning for me now.
      Marcia

  2. Irene McGuinness Says:

    So fitting. On all levels. Thank you.

  3. Deb Nondorf Says:

    Wondrous. Thank you. Bless you. Love you.

  4. Mary Reuter Says:

    Thank you, Jan, for your painting and poem on Jacob’s struggle. And Gary’s song is an added bonus. You encourage me to look for blessings with open hands during these troubled times. Somehow God is in it all–and can and will bring good out of our struggles.

  5. Dee Wade Says:

    This is such a good piece.seers beautifully between despair and joy.
    The solid force of the piece isin the poetic lines. Three years from now, I hope I will r4member this post and wave its hopeful if tear-stains banner fn front of the people I love and serve.

  6. Marilyn Says:

    A beautiful post, just what was needed this morning. Thank you!

  7. Linda Goddard Says:

    Jan, This blessing is just exactly what I will read each day for the next week or so! It feels like one written with my journey through these next few weeks! Thank you, thank you, dear one!

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