Right after the “more and more” part in Lauren Winner’s Still (like, seriously, the next paragraph), she tells the story of her friend who, preparing for confirmation at 12, told her pastor-father that she wasn’t sure whether she believed everything, whether she could claim these beliefs forever in front of the congregation. Her father’s reply: “What you promise when you are confirmed…is not that you will believe this forever. What you promise when you are confirmed is that that is the story you will wrestle with forever” (p. 172).
This is Christianity to me: the story I have chosen to wrestle with forever.
In the chapter on sacraments in Your Faith, Your Life, the book my inquirers seminar used when I was preparing for confirmation in TEC, Bill Lewellis relates a story from writer Nikos Kazantsakis about a monk at a Grecian monastery. When Nikos asks saintly old Father Makarios, “Do you still wrestle with the devil?” Father Makarios states that he and the devil have grown old together and no longer bother each other. Now, Father Makarios says, “I wrestle with God.”
“With God? And you hope to win?” Nikos asks.
“I hope to lose.”
Bill Lewellis extrapolates—when you wrestle with God, “one of two things can happen. Winning isn’t one. Either you walk away from the relationship, or you wrestle until you lose. When God wins, you have reason to celebrate” (p. 169).
This echoes, somewhat, the story of Jacob, wrestling—with whom? The mysterious figure. God? So his new name (Israel) would suggest. Jacob wrestles all night, and winds up with a limp and a blessing. What a deal.
When my cousin died suddenly at 29, and the pastor at my home church had to deliver a sermon to her family and friends—parents, sister, nieces, husband, sons—he spoke about Jacob.* Jacob went through quite a night, wrestling God, and in the end he lost—and was blessed. But the blessing didn’t take away the limp.
We’re living an awesome and terrible story, and we don’t leave this story unmarked.
Even the resurrected Christ, God incarnate dead-and-raised, kept the marks of his wounds. Those of us on the RCL cycle heard about these wounds in the Gospel reading: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side.” And again, for good ol’ Tom: “Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’”
I mean, this is the Jesus who rose from the dead; I’m pretty sure he could’ve gotten rid of the scars if he’d chosen to—but he didn’t, and we know a wounded Christ, a Christ who went through quite a 3-day night, and didn’t leave unmarked.
I think it’s a common impulse to want to get through life unscathed: clean, pure, flawless. That never happens, though. Life leaves marks. And these marks—these physical or emotional limps and scars—are only perceived as imperfection or weakness. Perhaps, really, they’re blessing. They’re what make us human, what show that we’ve really lived. They are our stories, etched onto our selves, indelible and holy reminders.
How do you wrestle with God? With the Christian story? What are the marks and blessings you’ve received?
*I think. I thought I’d recorded this in journals somewhere, but I can’t find it, so I’m apparently trusting solely a years-old memory. My apologies if I happened to get this wrong.