Thursday, December 29, 2011

Wrestling and the New Year

2011 has been a year of wrestling. We have seen revolutions arise across the world, we have lifted our voices in support of them and positioned our bodies in solidarity with them and to echo their demands for our own lives. But many of our writers on this blog have articulated another kind of wrestling, not wrestling to make our voices heard, but a wrestling to find God amidst all of this. I still get goosebumps thinking about Michael Airgood talking about taking communion with wrists bruised from handcuffs, Karl Kroger's reflection on his helplessness when he realized Troy Davis was going to be murdered; I still feel warmth reading Jamie Michaels talking about Sing a New Song as a coming together of family, and I am excited about the work Mallory Naake is doing in Peru around food justice. The warmth, the excitement, the helplessness, the confusion--- how do we narrate these feelings? How do we make sense of this past year so we can try to figure out what to do in 2012?

The story of Jacob wrestling from Genesis 32:24-31 is one that has stuck with me as I think about this year:

Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the 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 is breaking." But Jacob said, "I will not let you go, unless you bless me." So he said to him, "What is your name?" And he said, "Jacob." Then the man said, "You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, 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 place Peniel, saying, "For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved." The sun rose upon him as he passed Penuel, limping because of his hip.

The story of Jacob has been particularly poignant after reading Black Liberation Theologian James Cone's The Cross and the Lynching Tree (read the book but if you don't have time right now, check out this interview with Bill Moyers here and a lecture about it here). There, he speaks of black religious experience of wrestling, wrestling with trouble, wrestling with doubt, using this story from Genesis. It is a story I don't understand, but I am still drawn to because of the intimacy and the violence all wrapped up together. That is what I have seen this year. I visited Occupy Wall Street in New York right before it was evicted: the intimacy in living all together in tents, under tarps, playing music sitting on the sidewalk, was so beautiful. And yet, there was such violence, as we all saw in that horrifying picture of the police officer pepper spraying the UC Davis protesters.

It is about resistance against the odds. In the face of the increasing militarization of police, in the face of re-encroaching apathy of young people (we thought Egypt and OWS might have been the end of that), in the face of continued occupation of Palestine, in the face of the prison industrial complex, in the face of continued homophobia and heterosexism...God is there, alongside us, wrestling. I think sometimes God is also wrestling us when we can't see the joy in the struggle or when in the struggle we continue to support systems of oppression, or we are wrestling God when we just cannot see God's presence through the pepper spray--- there is this mess of arms and legs flailing about that we can't always separate out and understand. But as we continue into 2012, let us think about this wrestling and know that 2012 will be a year of continued wrestling. Where will we see God face-to-face in this year? Where will we strive with God and with humans for justice and prevail? And where will we find joy in the struggle?

Jacob Wrestles the Angel by Arthur Sussman (see more of his work here)


Shannon Sullivan is a seminary student at Drew in Madison, New Jersey, and is pursuing ordination in the Baltimore-Washington Conference. She is also a member of the OnFire leadership team. She blogs at You'll Never Guess What the Heathens Did Today.

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