As a member of the clergy, I struggle to discern the true mission for my life.
What does it mean to be in God’s presence? How does one meet the Holy One face to face? Is the climb towards holiness a noble goal?
I look to the Biblical Jacob and his two dream encounters with the Divine.
In the first soothing, silent dream, Genesis 28.16, Jacob follows the angels’ ascent and descent towards the stairway to heaven. Jacob calls the experience “awesome” because he becomes aware of God’s presence in his life. Jacob awakens from his sleep state and embraces a new vision. Jacob sets out to live his life as a Jew.
The second dream (Genesis 33:23) is a wrestling match more than a dream Jacob is in a state of not knowing. Will his estranged twin brother, Esau overcome him with rage and physical destruction or will their relationship survive twenty years of silent enmity?
This “not knowing” produces fear and anxiety for Jacob. After taking his family across the river Jabbok, the following verse reads “Jacob was left alone.”(Genesis 32:25)
Jacob needed a separation of time and space. He engaged in a power struggle with a being that was both divine and human. During the encounter he is physically injured and spiritually altered. He pursues the God-like figure demanding that he call out his name and identity. God eludes him. Nevertheless, Jacob receives the blessing of renewed self confidence
“I have seen a divine face yet my life has been preserved” (Genesis 32:31)
The price for being in God’s presence and witnessing one’s own spiritual strength
is the metaphoric “unhinged hip”. Jacob is wounded. The limping serves as a reminder of his “striving” to know and to be known by God. Jacob learns what he did not know at the beginning of this encounter.
Divinity has no name and no face. Striving is the action that supports are life’s purpose. The stairway to heaven represents a climbing into the unknown journey we call faith. Our wounds preserve our souls when threatened.
Struggling with what is, is the spiritual nature of our own humble human aspirations.
When we enter into the river of “not knowing” we enter into God’s mystery. When we are threatened by an external or internal enemy, we must believe that our own spiritual resource center will emerge triumphant. To experience God face to face is to experience our own doubts, fears and anxieties and then to transcend them.
When I strive to be in God’s presence, I am already within reach of the Divine embrace.