Photo via Flickr user Lawrence OP
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 his hip socket, and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. Then he said, “Let me go, for the day has broken.” 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 longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me 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 has been delivered.”
Jacob has been through a lot by this point in the story. He’s scared, yet he is brave enough to know he must send his family away and be alone. And then the struggle.
Sometimes the struggle is so real we think we might have an idea what Jacob felt. Indeed, the struggle feels like wrestling. It comes with real, physical consequences. We are stuck with a limp to remind us of our humanity.
Yet Jacob prevailed. He saw God face to face. He only realized it, he only saw that it was God, after being utterly alone. After a physical confrontation. After injury. And after demanding to be blessed.
I marvel at Jacob’s audacity. I am a true Minnesotan. I hate putting other people out, inconveniencing them. In his spot, I probably would have missed out on the blessing because I would have been too reticent to demand it. It makes me wonder who, if anyone, I would be brave enough to hold hostage until I received a proper blessing.
Bruce Kramer, in his powerful blog Dis Ease Diary, wrote about going to a lecture by the Dalai Lama. At the time, he was living with ALS and was so afraid his body wouldn’t let him go. This is where his audacity comes in. His community rallied around him:
It takes a lot of energy for me to go anywhere, and left to my own devices, my own energy, my own abilities, I probably would not have gone. My family rallied around me, driving both the van and my chair, the six of us together and me feeling the love. My friend created a path of no resistance, placing me on the front row, making the lines to get in and security checks melt away.
Attending the lecture was not the end of the blessing, however:
At the end of the question-and-answer, his Holiness was asked if he would bless us. In reply, he stated that as a Buddhist he was skeptical about blessings, for blessings come from individual action and motivation…And then, he did something extraordinary….And he came to the edge of the stage in front of me, and when I realized he was coming to greet me, I began to cry. One of the Tibetan musicians behind me gave my daughter-in-law a scarf and he took the scarf and held it to his forehead and then said, “Meanwhile, my blessing,” and he gave it to me. Namaste….And his blessing was a message, that all blessing comes from intentional action, and cannot be conserved if it is to remain a blessing. To be a blessing it must be paid forward 100 and 100 and 100 times over, so that each blessing invites us to further realize the beauty and complexity and messiness of our sprawling humanity.
So I have been thinking a lot about blessing, and asking for blessing, and the individual action of blessing and how that act should automatically spur a rush of more good, individual action. I have been thinking about Jacob and Bruce, what they went through to get to the moment when the blessing happened. And how when that moment came, that beautiful, powerful, personal moment, they were ripe and ready to receive it fully.