A reflection on the readings for Proper 13A: Genesis 32:22-32
When I was a little girl I had, for a time, this fear that a monster lived under my bed. I was old enough to know that the fear was irrational, so I didn’t tell anyone about it, but I was young enough that it still took hold of me every night. The monster only liked the night time, after my bedroom light was turned off for the night. During the day I was perfectly fine in my room. But every night, after I turned out the light I would have to leap into my bed in order to avoid that monster that was suddenly present under the bed.
Now, it wasn’t the sort of monster that was going to come out from under the bed. No. This monster laid on its back under the bed and had long arms that would reach out from underneath and grab me! Or at least that was my fear, it never actually got me. Once I had successfully jumped into bed and covered up I had to sleep in the center of the mattress. If I ventured too close to either edge the monster might reach one of its arms up around the side of the bed and grab me. The monster’s arms were such that they could even squeeze between the wall and the sideboard and mattress of the bed, and grab me. So, no edges for me, right in the center is where I slept.
I’m amused now, when I think of that childhood fear, and the silly irrationality of it. But fears are often irrational. Fear takes over our logic and grips us in such a way that we are frozen, immobile, and incapable of making sound decisions.
Our recent book discussions on Karen Armstong’s book, Twelve Steps to a Compassionate Life, have considered the idea of fear and the way fear can take over and control us. Karen Armstong says, that we need to recognize our fears and have compassion toward ourselves. And, then, recognize that often the very things we dislike in another person are the same qualities we dislike in ourselves.
Armstrong argues that there is a lot of this going on the world today – a lot of fear, and a lot of finger pointing at others, disliking the behavior of others but not taking ownership for ones own behavior. Just watch the news, and you can see how this is true.
Good gracious, the anxiety in the world around us, not to mention Washington DC, is enough to give anyone nightmares, let alone worry about monsters roaming about!
Jacob, in our reading this morning from Genesis, is also anxious. Last week we heard the story of his time working for Laban, a distant relative of Jacob’s mother Rebekah. In the process of working for Laban Jacob has acquired two wives, several servants, a lot of children, and a herd of sheep. He has dealt with Laban’s unethical work practices, and negotiated a way to leave Laban and return to Canaan, to be reuinted with his brother, Esau.
But Jacob has no idea how Esau will respond to this reuniting. Last Jacob knew, Esau was mad as a hornet and out for revenge. Still, Jacob yearns to return home. Our reading this morning tells the story of Jacob, enroute to Canaan, anxious and worried as he approaches the land of his brother. Out of fear Jacob sends his family off a few miles away, to wait in safety. Jacob then spends the night alone, preparing to meet Esau in the next day. And in the night, Jacob has this dream, this wrestling with a man, an angel, with God, dream, that leaves him with a dislocated hip and a new name. Jacob has been renamed Israel. Jacob’s story is the story of the people who follow this God. A people who are sometimes faithful and considerate and a people who are other times, greedy and cruel. A people who are much like the people in the world today.
What we learn from the Genesis stories is that wrestling and wrangling, struggling, with ourselves, with others, and with God, is part of what it means to be human. But, it is often in the wrestling that God comes and something profound happens. All of the great saints have experienced that their most profound moments of conversion, come from a struggle, of coming face to face with God in such a way that they are forever changed.
So the crux of the matter, for the Genesis story, our lives, and our world today is: how do we manage to move beyond our own individual fears, the stuff we wrestle over, and focus on the common good of all, living as God calls us to live? The story of Jacob becomes the story of the people of God, struggling with life and God, to become faithful, to love God, love self, and love others. Our task, as a people of God is the same, to recognize that our individual selves are only as good as our collective selves, and, that how we care for others in this world is as important as how we care for ourselves.