I will not let you go unless you bless me.
How long did those hours stretch, Jacob to a stranger’s flesh, clinging tighter as his muscles weakened, felt the strain of his back and hands and arms and still he held onto the belief that he would not let go, unless.
Unless you bless me.
Once in an Orthodox Church I was told the story of how Mary entered the temple as a child, how she ran to the Holy of Holies without any fear, how it seemed to recognize and welcome her, who would become the bearer of Christ to the world. I stood beneath the playtetera, the icon of Mary stretched in prayer. I imagine her like Jacob, muscles flexed and strained under the weight of such open hands, such reaching and presenting of Jesus to the world. I imagine her muscles ached with faithfulness, with that clinging of behold all nations shall call me blessed.
I used to promise God I’d stop asking to be blessed because I thought prayer was an ever-interceding for another. I told God my prayers were too selfish as they were, too centered on me, on a desperate desire to be better known and better know, my small muscles clinging beneath white dresses or ripped jeans or running shorts, anxious for a blessing. But I imagined prayer like a laundry list I had to keep track of, each tick of another person’s name off my tongue a checkmark, a satisfactory nod from the One who cannot be named – so I kept away from asking to be blessed. I kept away from asking for guidance, except my muscles returned again and again to Jacob’s posture, then to Mary’s, always aching with the desire to be closer.
I told God it wasn’t right, that prayer was about others, not ourselves, that it was pious of me to put my knees to the floor and name the gifts given, pray for the family and the house and the friendships and the broken bits and pieces of other stories. I thought myself good at praying in those days, when words tripped off my tongue, eloquent and sweet.
And then last week on Sunday I read the story of Jacob wrestling with the angel, alone in the night, and how Jacob held on, though his hip was out of joint, and how he said, I will not let you go unless you bless me.
And as I stood there, my voice joined in that mysterious way to Jacob’s, my hands found their way to stretch open like Mary’s –
we can wrestle, pray wide into the spaces in our own hearts for a deeper knowing, for muscles that ache with faithfulness, for hands that open towards heaven.
And not let go.