Friday, July 29, 2011

Finding True North #33: Wrestling with God

Since Brenda is leaving town again (*sigh*), I'm on point for worship Sunday evening at Lockerbie Central. This time, I actually got to design the service myself, which is exciting because (a) I love doing that and (b) this is my last Sunday night service of the summer (*sniff*). Also, the Old Testament lectionary passage this week is Genesis 32, the story of Jacob wrestling with God—perhaps my favorite Bible narrative. I found a great video by Peter Rollins commenting on the passage (see below). Plus, my favorite hymn, "Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown," is based on the passage. (That hymn is also Isaac Watts' favorite, so I'm in good company on that.)

I did have an interesting process in putting together the service, because our guest speaker for this week is Taylor Burton-Edwards, who works on worship resources for the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) and is an emerging church/liturgical studies guru. I ended up on the phone with him going over the worship order I had put together, dismantling and reconstructing it. It was a humbling process, but helpful—he persisted in asking what the purpose of each element of worship was, how the flow would go, etc. What emerged, I think, will be a much more effective, engaging worship service than I had originally created, and having gone through that with Taylor will hopefully inform future worship design decisions. Also, I made a pretty Powerpoint presentation to use (I know PPT is so out of date, but it's what I have).

Anyway, I wanted to share the first part of the service, which centers around the Genesis passage. We're going to start the service by interweaving "Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown" (I really need to record my quasi-arrangement of it) with Genesis 32:24-31, moves into the video and then goes into my own brief comments on the Scripture. This blog will probably represent my first draft of comments and may be updated later. Here goes! Advance apologies for the length of this post...

__________


Come, O thou traveler unknown,
Whom
still I hold but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with thee.
With thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle 'til the break of day;
With thee all night I mean to stay,

And wrestle 'til the break of day.

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.

I need not tell thee who I am,
My misery and sin declare;
Thyself has called me by thy name,
Look on thy hands a
nd read it there.
But who, I ask thee, who art thou?
Tell me thy name, and tell me now.
But who, I ask thee, who art thou?
Tell me thy name and tell me now.

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."

Yield to me now, for I am weak,
But confident in self-despair!
Speak to my heart, in blessing speak,
Be conquered by my instant prayer.
Speak, or thou never hence shalt move,
And tell me if thy name is Love.
Speak, or thou never hence shalt move,
And tell me if thy name is Love.

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.

'Tis Love! 'tis Love! Thou diedst for me,
I hear thy whisper in my heart.
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal Love thou art.
To me, to all, thy mercies move;
Thy nature and thy name is Love.
To me, to all, thy mercies move;

Thy nature and thy name is Love.


Wrestling with the Divine from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.


The story of Jacob wrestling with God is one of my favorite narratives in the Bible. I fell in love with this story, and with the hymn that we just sang, during my freshman year of college. That's the year over which I grudgingly came to terms with my call to ministry. While some of my friends had inspirational stories about receiving their call, I felt much more like I was fighting to get any sort of clarity out of God. Hearing a Biblical story about one of the great Israelite leaders physically wrestling with God resonated with me in a way that other call stories never had.

I love the image of wrestling with God because it says a lot about God's character. God is not afraid to get down and dirty with us. God invites us to grab him and wrestle with him because God can take it. Too often we treat God as some delicate being that we might damage if we question him. God's feelings are not hurt by questions or by pushing back! God does that thing Morpheus does in the movie The Matrix where he reaches toward Neo and beckons: "Come and get it." God doesn't just accept our questions as inevitable; God invites us into a wrestling match through which we can ask our questions and be transformed.

Of course, the reason why God can handle our questions and our push-back is that God ultimately is in control. Take a look at Rembrandt's depiction of Jacob wrestling God. (Just as an aside, the vast majority of artistic renderings of Genesis 32 show Jacob wrestling an angel, and I'm sure many of us, myself included, have often thought of this story in those terms, though the word "angel" actually is never used.) One thing I love about this painting is that it is unclear whether God (or the angel) is wrestling with Jacob or holding him. It almost looks like Jacob is being cradled, even falling asleep. Short of the angel putting him in the sleeper hold, what this says to me is that even in the midst of what may feel like physical grappling with God and God's will, God holds us; God is in control; we can rest even as we wrestle. God gives us that space and that freedom because God does not fear our questions but welcomes them and welcomes us. Thanks be to God for the spaciousness of his love.

1 comments:

Lockerbie Central United Methodist said...

great worship service last night...and glad that you called taylor. the only thing that it was missing was maybe a clip from wrestlemania :)

Friday, July 29, 2011

Finding True North #33: Wrestling with God

Since Brenda is leaving town again (*sigh*), I'm on point for worship Sunday evening at Lockerbie Central. This time, I actually got to design the service myself, which is exciting because (a) I love doing that and (b) this is my last Sunday night service of the summer (*sniff*). Also, the Old Testament lectionary passage this week is Genesis 32, the story of Jacob wrestling with God—perhaps my favorite Bible narrative. I found a great video by Peter Rollins commenting on the passage (see below). Plus, my favorite hymn, "Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown," is based on the passage. (That hymn is also Isaac Watts' favorite, so I'm in good company on that.)

I did have an interesting process in putting together the service, because our guest speaker for this week is Taylor Burton-Edwards, who works on worship resources for the General Board of Discipleship (GBOD) and is an emerging church/liturgical studies guru. I ended up on the phone with him going over the worship order I had put together, dismantling and reconstructing it. It was a humbling process, but helpful—he persisted in asking what the purpose of each element of worship was, how the flow would go, etc. What emerged, I think, will be a much more effective, engaging worship service than I had originally created, and having gone through that with Taylor will hopefully inform future worship design decisions. Also, I made a pretty Powerpoint presentation to use (I know PPT is so out of date, but it's what I have).

Anyway, I wanted to share the first part of the service, which centers around the Genesis passage. We're going to start the service by interweaving "Come, O Thou Traveler Unknown" (I really need to record my quasi-arrangement of it) with Genesis 32:24-31, moves into the video and then goes into my own brief comments on the Scripture. This blog will probably represent my first draft of comments and may be updated later. Here goes! Advance apologies for the length of this post...

__________


Come, O thou traveler unknown,
Whom
still I hold but cannot see!
My company before is gone,
And I am left alone with thee.
With thee all night I mean to stay,
And wrestle 'til the break of day;
With thee all night I mean to stay,

And wrestle 'til the break of day.

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.

I need not tell thee who I am,
My misery and sin declare;
Thyself has called me by thy name,
Look on thy hands a
nd read it there.
But who, I ask thee, who art thou?
Tell me thy name, and tell me now.
But who, I ask thee, who art thou?
Tell me thy name and tell me now.

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."

Yield to me now, for I am weak,
But confident in self-despair!
Speak to my heart, in blessing speak,
Be conquered by my instant prayer.
Speak, or thou never hence shalt move,
And tell me if thy name is Love.
Speak, or thou never hence shalt move,
And tell me if thy name is Love.

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.

'Tis Love! 'tis Love! Thou diedst for me,
I hear thy whisper in my heart.
The morning breaks, the shadows flee,
Pure, universal Love thou art.
To me, to all, thy mercies move;
Thy nature and thy name is Love.
To me, to all, thy mercies move;

Thy nature and thy name is Love.


Wrestling with the Divine from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.


The story of Jacob wrestling with God is one of my favorite narratives in the Bible. I fell in love with this story, and with the hymn that we just sang, during my freshman year of college. That's the year over which I grudgingly came to terms with my call to ministry. While some of my friends had inspirational stories about receiving their call, I felt much more like I was fighting to get any sort of clarity out of God. Hearing a Biblical story about one of the great Israelite leaders physically wrestling with God resonated with me in a way that other call stories never had.

I love the image of wrestling with God because it says a lot about God's character. God is not afraid to get down and dirty with us. God invites us to grab him and wrestle with him because God can take it. Too often we treat God as some delicate being that we might damage if we question him. God's feelings are not hurt by questions or by pushing back! God does that thing Morpheus does in the movie The Matrix where he reaches toward Neo and beckons: "Come and get it." God doesn't just accept our questions as inevitable; God invites us into a wrestling match through which we can ask our questions and be transformed.

Of course, the reason why God can handle our questions and our push-back is that God ultimately is in control. Take a look at Rembrandt's depiction of Jacob wrestling God. (Just as an aside, the vast majority of artistic renderings of Genesis 32 show Jacob wrestling an angel, and I'm sure many of us, myself included, have often thought of this story in those terms, though the word "angel" actually is never used.) One thing I love about this painting is that it is unclear whether God (or the angel) is wrestling with Jacob or holding him. It almost looks like Jacob is being cradled, even falling asleep. Short of the angel putting him in the sleeper hold, what this says to me is that even in the midst of what may feel like physical grappling with God and God's will, God holds us; God is in control; we can rest even as we wrestle. God gives us that space and that freedom because God does not fear our questions but welcomes them and welcomes us. Thanks be to God for the spaciousness of his love.

1 comments:

Lockerbie Central United Methodist said...

great worship service last night...and glad that you called taylor. the only thing that it was missing was maybe a clip from wrestlemania :)

 

Designed by Simply Fabulous Blogger Templates, Modified by Sarah Howell