Julie Payne Britton is a Member-in-Discernment in the Franklin Association of the SNEUCC. She’s spending the summer sitting beside the sea, preparing to write her ordination paper.
Scripture: Genesis 32:21-32 (NIV)
That night Jacob got up and took his two wives, his two female servants and his eleven 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 humans 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.
Reflection: What Are We Missing?
When interpreting this story, everyone talks about Jacob and of course the man/angel/God. But what happens when we listen to those lurking in the margins? What happens when we look for the forgotten ones who live behind the text?
Over there! Can you see them? Rachel, Leah, Bilhah, and Zilpah?!
Rachel’s face is puckered up like she’s just bit into a sour lemon. “Hello!!! Hellloooooooo!” she calls, sounding like the lady who sold Avon products across the back fence when I was growing up. “Can you hear me? Hello!!! Can you hear me?!” Her voice gets louder with each call. Leah jumps up and down beside her, waving her arms frantically. “We’re over here!!!!” she cries. And there’s Bilhah who scoffs at Rachel, “Honey, you don’t know the first thing about being invisible…” Zilpah just blows a raspberry and doesn’t bother saying anything. She’s too used to being disposable.
“Finally!!!” Leah says as we draw near.
All through that long night, we sit with the women, their sons, and children of other genders. There’s an old woman there too. She has stars in her eyes, tattoos on her face, and hands as worn as a tattered quilt. She pats the dusty earth beside her and we sit awkwardly, our bodies unused to the hard ground.
They offer sarsaparilla tea and honey cakes. Rachel serves Zilpah and Bilhah first. “We’ve learned about right relations in this wilderness,” she says, handing us our cup.
At first, we all just listen to the fire crackle and hiss, sipping tea from the well-worn earthen cups. Maybe we’re shy. Or maybe it’s been too long since they had a guest at their table. The old woman speaks then. “Tell me,” she says, “tell me everything.” And we do.
We talk about our fears for our children and grandchildren and the fate of the planet. We lament the rising wave of hate playing out across the bodies and lives of our trans and non-gender conforming siblings. We share our loneliness and the way hopelessness keeps knocking at our door. We tell of mental illness, family discord, failing bodies, and all the rest. We can’t quite believe we are talking so freely but the words pour out like water. Leah gently rubs our back as we talk. Bilhah leans her shoulder against ours.
“Now you must listen to my daughters,” the old woman says. And we do. We hear about the day Bilhah and Zilpah were ripped from their families, their home, and sold into slavery. Our hearts break open and we weep. We listen as Rachel and Leah talk about their relationship – the decades of competition and rivalry - and the way it changed with a forgiveness practice. We hear so much more too.
As the fire dies, the old woman cups a gnarled hand around each of our cheeks in turn. “You are loved down to the very marrow. You carry my blessing in your bones. Remember this.” Now our tears take flight like great blue herons at the water’s edge.
All too soon, dawn rises and the camp starts to stir. Rachel peers across the river. “What’s himself been up to all night?” she asks. “Who cares?” Leah laughs.
The old woman just nods her head, smiling.
Author’s Note: I give thanks for Rev. Dr. Wilda Gafney’s Womanist Midrash which empowered this use of ‘sanctified imagination’ when approaching the sacred text.
God of thin places and forgotten peoples, help us remember that you come in many forms and are always talking about love. May we recognize you within ourselves, one another, and at work in the world. Thank you. Amen.
New Prayer Requests:
We ask churches and church leaders to join us in the following prayers either by sharing them during worship, printing them in bulletins, or sharing them in some other way. To make a prayer request, please contact Marlene Gasdia-Cochrane at email@example.com.
Prayers of Intercession:
- For the people of Ukraine whose lives continue to be shattered by war, as well as the many landscapes that are currently embroiled in conflicts.
- For those grieving or suffering due to the ~24,700 gun violence deaths that happened in the US since the start of the year.
- For those concerned about keeping church congregations and property safe.
Prayers of Joy and Thanksgiving:
This Week in History:
August 2, 1934 (89 years ago): Chancellor Adolf Hitler becomes absolute dictator of Germany under the title of Fuhrer, or “Leader.” The German army took an oath of allegiance to its new commander-in-chief, and the last remnants of Germany’s democratic government were dismantled to make way for Hitler’s Third Reich. [History]
“Study the past if you would define the future.”
July 31, 2023