Happy Valentines Day! But also, Happy Ash Wednesday!
I can’t help but begin this Lenten Journey with the story of Jacob wrestling with the “Angel”! What a story. Here’s a synopsis of the story from Genesis 32:
The back-story first: Decades earlier, Jacob (with the help of his mother) helps him cheat his older brother Esau out of his rightful “family blessing”. Because he knew his brother would kill him when he found out, Jacob had to leave home. He becomes prosperous; a couple of wives, many children, and lots of animals!
At one point, God gives him signs that it’s time to meet his brother finally. He sends messengers ahead to Esau. They come back with word Esau was coming with an army of 400 men! Jacob is scared of course! He prays to God, starting out with praises for all he has, how he’s blessed. While he’s scared, he trusts God’s plan in all this.
He first sends his animals ahead, hoping Esau would either be pleased with the gifts, or would take out his anger on the animals first. Then he sends his wives and children across the river dividing Esau’s land from Jacob’s.
This leaves Jacob all alone at night in his empty camp. At this point a “man” comes, and both he and Jacob begin to wrestle. All night long they fight. Just before dawn, as Jacob was about to win, the man does something to Jacob’s hip (maybe dislocates it). The man demands to be let go… seems he needs to leave before dawn. Jacob demands the man bless him first! The man asks his name, and Jacob tells him. The man then changes his name, calling him Israel – the first time this name is used – “…because you have fought with God and with humans and have won."
Jacob asks the man’s name, but the man responds (in the Hebrew translations): “You must not ask my name”. And after that, he blesses Jacob.
Jacob/Israel then names the place, Peniel, meaning "face of God". "I have seen God face to face, yet my life has been spared."
Likely this did not happen… but it’s a timeless story anyway! It’s an archetypal story of the human experience! The “fight” happens at night, while Jacob was all alone… with his thoughts, his past, his demons… his angels… What a metaphor!
A movie from about 30 years ago, Jacob’s Ladder, tells the story of a Vietnam Veteran (Tim Robbins) who returns after injuries. As times goes on he begins to see demons… evil beings. He thinks he’s going crazy. His chiropractor – the “sage” in this story (Danny Aiello), shares with him that sometimes, when an angel has a message for us we’re not ready to hear, they appear to us as demons.
In the Bible story, Jacob has his name changed by this “angel” of God… Israel – (“because you have struggle with God and humanity”)… but only after he took the time to struggle, to confront his own “demons”.
Jacob has changed! He’s no longer the same person he was before that experience in the empty dark camp!
A biblical name-change indicates some kind of change in a person’s relationship to God… sure. For example, Jacob’s Grandmother and Grandfather (Sarai to Sarah, and Abram to Abraham). But more importantly, in a deeper way, a name change represents a change of relationship between a person and themselves! … and their world around them!
So here we are beginning Lent… My prayer is that we all be open to a name-changing experience. Oh what a scary thing indeed! And yet, out of our long nights of the soul, comes a deep blessing of New Life! We learn a deeper trust in God… in what it means to be human!
May this Ash Wednesday be the start of a journey that brings you a deeper blessing. Trust God, practice your disciplines you are called to practice – listen to your heart, your soul – practice the disciplines, face the “demons” who may indeed be “angels” with a message we need to hear.
God bless you…