Lent Series

Soul Wrestling

The First Sunday in Lent

February 21, 2021

Soul Wrestling

by Dawna Wall

The Wilderness holds answers to more questions than we have yet learned to ask.—Nancy Wynne Newhall

It is often unsettling to realize anew that the distance from joy to despair is so short and also so long. Jesus, in offering himself for the cleansing ritual of baptism, has listened for and heard deep inside his soul that he is beloved and this knowledge spurs him toward the soul wrestling that devastates and renews. Soul wrestling is a familiar story in Scripture—we think of Jacob and the angel, of Hagar in the wilderness, of the many unnamed women and men who cry out, reach toward the healing love of God and limp forward, changed and blessed.

In our wrestling places we might ask for a sign, a promise, some hint that the anguish of this present moment is not all there is. Mark’s Gos-pel shrinks the story of Jesus’ wilderness time to a few sentences, but between the lines there is a world of experience. As there is with ours too. “It’s a long story,” we might say, without telling it. That’s where Jesus is—coming to terms with the hunger of body, mind, and spirit and, as he wrestles, reciting to himself the promises of Scripture that he knows by heart. All while listening deeply to what God is revealing to him in the wilderness.

As we seek to live well through Lent, we too will need to confront our wilderness places—wrestling again and again with the insecurities, the frustrations, the hungers that leave us feeling less than and not enough. Like Jesus we listen and watch for signs, in glimpses of rainbows, in refrains of Psalms—words and images to help us remember the way from despair to hope. 

Poet and theologian, Pádraig Ó Tuama writes, “To engage with the text this way requires careful and heartfelt reading, noticing the nooks and crannies where the imagination can lodge, paying attention to the curi-osities that emerge and creating a stopping-point there” (Daily Prayer with the Corrymeala Community, p. 61).

Honoring the stopping points, the rest areas, and the lookouts are all opportunities to assess where we are on our faith journeys. How we live well in the midst of deep sorrow and unexpected joy. Making space where our “imaginations can lodge” and engaging in curiosity as we look around and listen for where we have been, where we are now, and where we are going, are all ways that we honor those angular parts of our stories, the wrestling and the resolution. 

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