Recently, I felt the need to reinvigorate my prayer life, do something different, and change it up. Prayer had become dull, uninspiring, and predictable just when I needed it most. Like many in these days of political strife, social media rants, and pandemic exhaustion I find myself falling into spiritual desolation. So, I joined the Fr. Mike Schmitz led, “Bible in a Year” podcast. What an amazing ride!!
As Fr. Mike has mentioned many times, right from the beginning of the book of Genesis what we see are broken people. God interacts with people who lie, cheat, murder and deceive others, even in their own family! It is not a pretty picture.
Yet, God never gives up on them. The story of Jacob is a case in point. As a young man, Jacob deceives his father, Isaac, and steals his brother’s birthright and blessing. He flees for his life in fear of his brother, Esau, and goes to his uncle, Laban. Laban, in turn, deceives Jacob into marrying the wrong sister and so it goes. Both men cheat and deceive each other for over twenty years.
Finally, a fearful Jacob goes to reconcile with Esau. That night he encounters God. After wrestling with a “stranger” throughout the night, Jacob is finally overcome when his opponent injures his hip and leaves him with a permanent limp. After asking Jacob his name, the stranger tells him, “Your name shall no more be called Jacob, but Israel… for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed.” He refuses to tell Jacob his own name, but blesses him instead — and, Pope Francis says, “Jacob understands he has encountered God ‘face-to-face’. Quoting from the Catechism, he further explains that “the spiritual tradition of the Church has retained the symbol of prayer as a battle of faith and as the triumph of perseverance.”*
In the end, God blesses Jacob. Jacob’s family become God’s chosen people! God leads them to Egypt in the famine, and delivers them back to the Promised Land after centuries of slavery to the Egyptians. God does not abandon them.
This story is good news for us today. God has not abandoned us. We still have to live with the consequences of sin – our own sin and those of others. However, God is always there, though we may not know it. We will have to wrestle with God and we may bear the scar, as Jacob did. In the end, if we persist in our prayer life, speaking to Him and listening for His whisper, God will show up. How that happens is a mystery; we may have to wait, we may not recognize Him when he comes, and we may not get exactly what we asked for. But, we will get something better: an encounter with God.
Don’t give up on your prayer. Change it up. Fr. Mike’s podcast has become the most popular podcast on Apple’s podcast app. Check it out if you need a boost and want to finally read the whole Bible. It may take longer than a year (I think it may take me two years), but the time will come and go even if I do nothing. I think I would rather wrestle with God!