By DAN VALENTI
PLANET VALENTI News and Commentary
(FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, WEDNESDAY, MARCH 26, 2014) — THE PLANET shall dispense of any arguments for or against a Creator, much less issue an opinion on the nature of the Holy Bible. The Book of Genesis has the most difficult job of all the books in The Bible. It must begin the story that, a few thousand years later, science would take up in earnest with a more refined and exacting vocabulary. Genesis must explain The Beginning without the knowledge of science. It therefore relies upon the pre-scientific pedagogy that doesn’t know of empiricism. It presents an event larger than its vocabulary the only way the vocabulary of such knowledge can: as myth.
We move into Genesis, skip the Creation account, and stop at a place where Jacob wrestles with an angel. Here is the text in Genesis:
——- 000 ——-
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two maidservants, and his 11 sons and crossed the ford of the Jabbok. After he had sent them across the stream, he sent over all his possessions.
So Jacob was left alone, and a man wrestled with him till daybreak. When the man saw that he could not overpower him, he touched the socket of Jacob’s hip so that his hip was wrenched as he wrestled with the man. Then the man said, “Let me go, for it is daybreak.” But Jacob replied, “I will not let you go unless you bless me.”
The man asked him, “What is your name?”
“Jacob,” he answered.
Then the man said, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with men and have overcome.” Jacob said, “Please tell me your name.” But he replied, “Why do you ask my name”? Then he blessed him there.
So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “It is because I saw God face to face and yet my life was spared.” The sun rose above him as he passed Peniel, and he was limping because of his hip. Therefore to this day the Israelites do not eat the tendon attached to the socket of the hip, because the socket of Jacob’s hip was touched near the tendon. ” (Genesis 32:22-32, NIV)
——- 000 ——-
OK, let’s skip the part about two wives and how the ancient Yehudis knew how to live it up in the desert. Who or what did Jacob wrestle? Genesis calls Jacob’s partner a “man” not an “angel.” Nonetheless, based on the “man’s” statement that Jacob has “struggled with God” and Jacob’s declaration later that he “saw God face to face,” theologians have interpreted Jacob’s foe as either an angel or God himself.
No one who ascribes to religious faith can escape wrestling with God. Those who declare “there is no God” are perhaps the mightiest combatants of them all, which is perhaps why they usually win in debate against believers. Only the agnostics are spared.
Truth is, though, that most choose not to wrestle at all. We take the easy way out by simply accepting what we’ve been told of God as taught by others and leave it at that. No combat there, merely acceptance of the human from the human by the human, a third-hand replacement of a second-hand acceptance for what can only be done primarily — what we call “religion.” All religion is a “hand-me-down.” No matter who gets it from whom, they’re getting it from someone who, themselves, got it from someone else in the form of teaching and conditioning.
God, if we may use this word at all, doesn’t come that way to us, second hand. For the person determined to have an encounter with God, there’s no avoiding a face-to-face fight. Such a person at some point leaves everything behind to face the inevitable. Who dares to find the nature of God by daring to be alone in God’s presence?
——- ooo ——–
THE PLANET has a friend who is a former Roman Catholic nun. She left the convent after it became clear that her congregation has no place for women of good grace who saw God as love but who also not only had the ability but also the inclination to think for themselves. Such women made the mistake of keeping their brains engaged. They wanted God removed from the ugly mask the Church had for too long put on him, that of an angry, vengeful old man in the sky, delighting in sending “sinners” to their eternal torture.
Our friend’s comments on wearing the stifling habit rang so true of orthodox Catholicism: “Shut up, don’t complain, feel the guilt, and bury the pain.” The nun’s habit became symbolic of the Church’s distrust of the female. Stifle your free will, which must be distrusted, in the name of obedience. Deny your sexual urges in the name of chastity. Funnel the worldly aspects upward on the chain of command in the name of poverty, the mansions in which the bishops and cardinals lived. And by the way, you can’t aspire to be a priest.
So noble. So withering. So Catholic.
Our friend left her religious congregation, although to this day she maintains a relationship with many of the sisters she left behind nearly 50 years ago. Actually, the congregation’s authorities asked her to leave. This was the fate of many women who weren’t content to be slave brides for Christ, the “good Catholics” known more for blind loyalty to human authority than for their envisioned questioning of what God might actually be asking them to do.
Christ would have been OK as our friend’s husband. It was the grumpy old men in the pointy hats and the other abusers of authority in the Church that didn’t like fresh, optimistic, willing, and daring people like her. They wanted their rings kissed and their orders unquestioned. She was ordered out — like Jacob, only after she had left all of her possessions did she encounter God, with whom she had to wrestle.
She went on to settle in Wisconsin, marry, raise a family of four, and become a writer.
Her wrestling match with God continues to this day. It is an honest match between a couple of opponents in which there can only be two winners.
“Be-bop-a-lu-la, she’s my baby.” — Gene Vincent, a long time ago.
“OPEN THE WINDOW, AUNT MILLIE.”
LOVE TO ALL.