thoughts from oak park community

Archive for December, 2011

the spiritual discipline of wrestling

It may be best to start with a poem by Gerard Manely Hopkins:

Carrion Comfort

Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

   Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.


The poem doesn’t speak quite to where I am now, but I find it connecting to myself in the past. Indeed, the poem itself is a reflection on a previous experience (especially the last stanza). How do we look back on certain times in our lives? Often times we would much rather choose not to look back at all. Or think that we have done the necessary processing and healing and the past is in the past. One has to keep on living life, right?

I wonder if Jacob ever tried to hide the limp that he walked with ever after that fateful night of wrestling, when he refused to let go of his God. Was his wrestling over? or did he continue to struggle with every step he took from that night on?

The psalms also speak to us of the need for wrestling, for struggle, for sincere emotion–even with God, perhaps most with God. The need has arisen for it to be a discipline because it seems most of us would rather avoid it. It’s much easier to hide or disengage or bury those feelings. It will not be a regular discipline that we schedule into our day planners every week. But it will take setting apart a particular time and place. It will take a level of emotional energy. It will take more than I know to describe.

God help us–for we will need it if we are going to take you on. We already know we will lose, but you assure us that is the only way to really win, the only way to really live.