Originally written 10:35 PM Friday, September 25th, 2009
[It is dark. I am alone. Everything I have and love has been sent ahead of me. In the morning, I will go Home. I will face the Brother I betrayed, and the Father I abandoned. But for now, I am alone with my fears and my regrets.
Or am I….]
Halt, who goes there? Are you for us or for our adversaries?
Neither, but I lead those who fight for He Who Is.
Who is what? Is for us, or is against us?
[One who looks like a man steps forward out of the shadows, into the starlit clearing. Oddly, he shines as if standing in direct moonlight — though there is no moon. He is tall, well-muscled, moving with an easy grace and supreme confidence. He is dressed like me in a flowing tunic, but somehow on him they look almost regal.]
And who are you, that I should answer your questions?
[I suck in my breath. His tone is not rude or contemptuous, but neither is it submissive or curious. This person clearly knows who he is, and will not be intimidated by whomever I turn out to be.
Do I even know who I am anymore?]
I… I am one who was born to this land. I am descended from a great king who wrestled this land from the barbarians. I have endured great hardship and conquered unthinkable challenges, but all I want now is to safely return to the place of my Father.
[That last was meant to be a demand and a challenge, but somehow came out more like a plea.]
So… you say your ancestor wrestled this land from the barbarians? I represent One who has a better claim to this land than yours. Will you wrestle me for the right to enter the land of promise?
[The Land of Promise! It can’t be a coincidence; if he knows that, he must know who I am, and why I return. But if so, then why is he hindering me?]
Good sir, the hour is late, and I am not as young as I used to be. What profit is there in us fighting? Surely the One you serve knows me and realizes my claim to this land…
[At this, the person laughs. It is not a cruel laugh, but there is no warmth in it.]
Ah yes, the “claim.” Yes, He knows you, O deceiver. You put on a good front. You say all the right words, make all the correct vows at the proper altars. You thought you could earn your birthright on the cheap, by just playing along with your mother’s game. But that’s not the way it works, little man. If you want to receive the true inheritance of a son of Abraham, you have to go through me!
[At this, the person smiles. It is not a cruel smile, but there is no warmth in it.
I size him up. Clearly he is deadly serious. I shrug, strip of the tunic and gird up my loins. I may not be young, but I am tough. I have survived a great deal to reach this point. True, I am weary of fighting, but I have come too far to back down now. Besides, his attitude has really ticked me off.]
As you wish. Bring it on, Commander.
[We close. The battle begins.]
To be continued….
Wrestling, Part II
9:20 PM Sunday, September 27th, 2009
I gaze at my adversary, reflecting on all I had gone through to get here. The sleepless nights, the anguished cries. Betrayals given and received. Being an exile in a strange land was no worse than being a stranger in my home, putting on a mask to win counterfeit love from my father.
But I’m better than that. Better than he was. I’ve survived. I beaten strong men before who thought they could outwit or outnumber me.
I can take this guy…
Forgoing the customary taunts and grappling, I grab my fists, run forward and swing them both at his head. To my surprise, he neither dodges nor counter-attacks. For a moment I feel a rush of wild exhilaration, thinking that I’ve caught him off-guard and the fight will be quickly over.
But then my blow lands, and my hands sting as if I had pounded them against rock (which I have, too many times to count). The figure of a man still stands before me, who might as well be a stone statue except for the faint whisper of breath through his unflappable smile. I gave him my best shot, and he didn’t even notice!
Still he makes no move to counter-attack. Well, if he’s too tough to beat in a fair fight, I can play dirty. Many a man with a tough head is as weak as a kitten when it comes to his privates.
I close with him as if to grapple, and he obliges by widening his stance and spreading his arms to receive me. But as we close, I grab him around the neck and thrust my knee into his groin.
And again I am stopped cold. He seems to wear only a leather loincloth like myself, but for some reason his is as cold as brass and hard as nails. His only reaction to either my blow or my sneakiness is to let out a soft chuckle.
I told you I was here to wrestle, little man. You cannot fell me through the head or genitals, any more than you can use them to achieve your own manhood. You must come close, and test the strength of your arms, the sureness of your feet, and the stiffness of your backbone against mine. Let me see what you are truly made of.
For the first time, I feel a hint of despair. He is younger, bigger, stronger, and clearly tougher than I am. I have made my way in the world through cleverness and deceit, and have never had to face the bald truth about myself naked and unprotected. For a moment I waver, and for the first time consider surrender as an option.
Then I gaze at the confident smile on my opponent’s face, and anger rises within me. What does this pretty boy know of suffering? Surely he never endured the long fruitless years of labor of my quest for a bride. He never felt the shame — or triumph — of stealing the birthright from an undeserving brother. I may have scars, but I’ve earned them fighting for what I believe in. Or at least fighting for myself, which at the end of the day was all I could count on.
And now he has the gall to stand between me and what’s rightfully mine. Throwing caution to the winds, losing myself to the rage that fills my veins, I charge…
At first, I think I may actually win. He seems just a hair faster than me, only a feather’s worth stronger than I am. We are locked together in a militant embrace, almost perfectly balanced. If I can just sustain my initial rush long enough, perhaps I can overpower him. I give it everything I’ve got, trying to force him off his feet. Almost…
But no. I just can’t quite overpower him. Panic sets in, as I’m sure he’ll sense my weakness and throw me to the ground, exposing my shame and impotence once and for all.
But an odd thing happens. He struggles and strains against me seemingly as hard as ever, yet still just the tiniest fraction more than my current best effort. And so it goes. When I gather my strength and push with all my might, I always seem on the verge of trumping — but never quite make it. Conversely, when I seem at my lowest ebb and just about to fall, somehow he’s never quite able to summon the strength to take me all the way down. Somehow he always manages to push me just as far as I could possibly go — but no further.
I grit my teeth, and persevere. The night turns towards dawn. I have long since given up hope of defeating him, but I am too stubborn to simply give up and let him win. As long as I have breath within me, I must keep fighting. Because that is who I am.
Then something happens. As the first fingers of light touch the east, my opponent acts troubled (for the first time, since my attacks worried him not at all). I can barely see him, as my arms are locked around his waist, and I am leaning into him with all the weight of my legs.
Enough! he cries, and brings the edge of his hand down on the side of my hip. I cry out in pain, as my leg feels like it has been dislocated. Nonetheless, I refuse to give up. I clamp my arms harder around his leg, and gaze up to his face to unloose one final challenge before he metes out whatever fate he thinks I deserve. I mean to seem fierce, but I feel more like a small child on his daddy’s leg than anything else.
Then I catch my breath. In the pre-dawn light, I see his face clearer than I have the entire night. What I thought was a youngster looks down on me with eyes older than the hills. What I had interpreted as mocking self-confidence now appears as a compassion bigger than the sky, and a sorrow deeper than the ocean. It is like something I’d seen once before, but only in a dream…
I duck my head, but do not loosen my grip. He speaks:
It is enough. The night is over, and I will contend with you no longer. Release me, and go on as you were.
My body cries out for relief. Even my spirit exults briefly, since he was the one who asked for quarter, meaning I am technically the victor.
But I know better. During the long night of my soul, I discovered just how feeble my strength truly is. All the anger and passion, all my self-confidence and self-will — all are as nothing before this Being to whom I cling.
I no longer want to continue as the man I was. I want what this Man has.
“No,” I say, respectfully but firmly. “I will not leave until you bless me.”
He looks at me thoughtfully.
And who are you, that I should bless you?
“They call me Cheater, the one who’s always looking for a loophole to get what I want with the least possible effort, an angle to make me look good without having to pay the full price of obedience.”
No longer. I name you Fighter, because you were created to fight, and you have. The battles you’ve fought in your life were all preparation for this one, the battle against God — and yourself. You have won this night, not because you defeated me, but because you refused to let go, even when that would’ve allowed you to claim a hollow victory.
I stare at him amazed. “Who are you, that you know my purpose and my history?”
Do you really need to ask? Receive my blessing:
Hear me, you who fight with God. The night is over, and the true light has come. No longer will you walk in the darkness of self-will and self-indulgence. You are a chosen warrior, a precious stone in my hand, fitted to my sling. I will tell you where to go, when to sit and when to stand, when to turn to the right or the left. I have called you by name, and you are mine. No longer will you be called “not my people”, for I will write my name on your forehead, and my law upon your heart. You are my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased.
Arise, take up your birthright, and walk.
The dawn breaks. The Being who blessed me is no longer here. But I am not alone. I never was.
Slowly, I limp forward to meet my destiny…