An ancient wisdom asserts that the whole universe is in the Torah, we just have to keep turning it to see it more fully. I believe this to be true—even as a transgender person of faith, even in light of the many ways our sacred texts have been used to exclude trans and LGBQ people. Perhaps, it is precisely because of the hurt arising from the misuse of scripture that I have come to hear refrains of our diverse human conditions sounding forth from Biblical narratives. It is what keeps me turning again to look closer, then, turning the text, itself, to find stories that connect even with my own. One story that speaks profoundly to me is the story of Jacob wrestling until daybreak in the desert.
Most of us know the story, at least generally.
After a life of falling behind, living under the influence of others, making questionable decisions, controlling circumstances, suffering consequences, and trying to live with himself and others in a life made running from himself, from his past, Jacob—the heel grabber—realized things needed to change. More, he had reached a point where he finally had no choice but to go home. Going home meant setting things right. And, setting things right almost always means, first, dealing with ourselves.
Setting things right. Amends. Making change. Starting over. Whatever we choose to call it, it is deep work. We often engage it only when we run out of other options. It is dusty, grappling, solitary work. In fact, the Hebrew word translated as “wrestle” comes from the word for dust. In the verb sense, it means to become or to get dusty. In this passage, the verb is reflexive, telling us Jacob wrestled with himself. With his conscience. His past. Jacob was alone in the desert of his life, getting dusty. Struggling. Yet, some kind of presence was with him—some unknown man—who did not prevail against him. As he tussled and skirmished in the dust, Jacob held his own. In all his desert grappling, his hip was knocked out of socket. He was forever changed. Transformed.
Yet, there is more to the story. Jacob perceived this unnamed other getting dusty with him to be some manifestation of God. His experience left him with the understanding he had contended with God and humans, including, himself. Not only that, he prevailed. As if he somehow understood the significance of his striving, Jacob asked for a blessing. Perhaps because he asked, because he persisted, he was granted the blessing of affirmation—the thing he had been seeking all along. And, his name was changed to Israel: one who strives with God.
In my own journey, I have learned what Jacob learned. At some point, all our striving, all of our heel-grabbing a world that doesn’t fit us, brings us face-to-face with ourselves. And, because God is ever with us, in us, we are brought fully into the presence of God. What we find there is staggeringly profound.
Not only is it acceptable for us to wrestle with God as well as ourselves, but it seems to be in some way part of the process of being in relationship with God. Striving with self and God seem, also, to be essentially the same thing. And, if we dare to face ourselves—to grapple in our desert dust—we come face-to-face with all that is the Holy One. We will, doubtless, walk away changed, perhaps limping, but we are assured the sun will rise upon us. Somehow, this being changed makes us more who we are. It is a coming home. The way we are known, our very name, changes forever as we are changed. And, a way is made for setting things right. This is how it is with transformation, Jacob teaches. We bear it. In our skin. In our walking. In our name. And in our going forth. We come home, limping, joyfully, as the sun comes up before us.