A Stormy Blessing

It’s one of my favourites: Jacob wrestles with an angel and is blessed and wounded as a result (Genesis 32:24-32).

The angel pulls a move that puts Jacob’s hip out of joint but Jacob still won’t submit. Jacob is an awkward customer. I love the bit where the angel pleads with him:  ‘Let me go, for the day is breaking.’ But Jacob said, ‘I will not let you go, unless you bless me.’

So, the angel does exactly that, by conferring a new identity on the tricky, devious Jacob; he becomes Israel, the one who strives with God and prevails.

Everything I’ve said above is dwarfed by the way Rainer Maria Rilke puts in in the poem below. It was sent to me yesterday, by a friend I haven’t seen for a while.

I can see that the storms are coming
by the trees, which out of stale lukewarm days
beat against my anxious windows,
and I can hear the distances say things
one can’t bear without a friend,
can’t love without a sister.

Then the storm swirls, a rearranger,
swirls through the woods and through time,
and everything is as if without age:
the landscape, like a verse in the psalter,
is weight and ardor and eternity.

How small that is, with which we wrestle,
what wrestles with us, how immense;
were we to let ourselves, the way things do,
be conquered thus by the great storm,—
we would become far-reaching and nameless.

What we triumph over is the Small,
and the success itself makes us petty.
The Eternal and Unexampled
will not be bent by us.

Think of the Angel who appeared
to the wrestlers of the Old Testament:
when his opponent’s sinews
in that contest stretch like steel,
he feels them under his fingers
as strings making deep melodies.

Whoever was overcome by this Angel
(who so often declined the fight),
he strides erect and justified
and great out of that hard hand
which, as if sculpting, nestled round him.
Winning does not tempt him.
His growth is: to be the deeply defeated
by ever greater things.

“The Man Watching” by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated by Edward Snow.

Bowing my Head

I can’t get enough of this little thing.

Bowl with Human Feet, Predynastic Egypt, Late Naqada l–Naqada II, ca. 3900–3650 BCE. Pottery (red polished ware). Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.

I came across it on a favourite blogger’s site this morning – she’s doing a series for Lent. Here’s what she says about it: …“this small anthropomorphized bowl seems to be bending forward in humility. I see in it a reminder of how, on the one hand, we are to bring our selves as an offering to God, pouring out our praises and love; and on the other, how we bring our emptinesses, our lack, to God to fill.

I couldn’t put it better myself so I won’t. Check it out here: https://artandtheology.org/2022/03/04/lent-3/

I do, however, think it’s worth saying that the little praying bowl reminds me of the Orthodox Christian practice of praying the Jesus Prayer (Prayer of the Heart) with ‘the beard laid on the chest’. In other words, with the head bowed. That posture seems to encapsulate something very important about Christian meditation and contemplation that is difficult to put into words but goes something like this: I am not just looking for the inner treasure of the Christ-Self when I practice; I am also acknowledging, and bowing in reverence to, the Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us (to use the Trisagion).

God is both immanent and transcendent and this little bowl puts it beautifully, in a way that makes me smile.