Spring Rushing Waters Moon
Phone call today from buddy Tom Crane. In referring to the current kerfuffle within my body, those cancer cells, he said I was “wrestling with a dark angel.” That is so.
Yet what it called to mind was one of my favorite biblical passages, one I’ve written about here before and about which there are many wonderful works of art. Jacob at the Jabbok Ford.
Through the night Jacob wrestles with what the text refers to at first as a man. When the man, now revealed as an angel, sees he cannot best Jacob, he says, “Let me go, for dawn is breaking.” Jacob, strong enough to hold an angel fast through an entire night, is not willing to do that. “I will not let you go unless you have blessed me.” It is at this point that the angel, who had to dislocate Jacob’s hip to keep from losing the match, agrees: “Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, because you have commanding power with [an angel of] God and with men, and you have prevailed.” Jacob (now Israel) continues to limp the rest of his life. He names the spot Peniel, (I) saw the face of God.
Wrestling with angels is a tricky business. Just ask the Egyptians. That one, the angel of death, sometimes called Azrael, passed over the lamb blood smeared doors of the Hebrew slaves and killed the firstborn of Egypt. What would have happened to Jacob if he’d been beaten by the angel? No blessing, I’m sure.
Wrestling with Azrael, cancer forces this struggle on the psyche in the same way Jacob’s angel blocked his passage across the ford, could be represented as happening at a ford of the river Styx. Lose a match to Azrael and, to mix mythological systems a bit, you can catch a ride with Charon.
As with Jacob’s angel, no contest with Azrael will result in victory, Azrael wins all struggles in the end. But in the interim, as with Jacob’s life after the Jabbok Ford, we can go away changed in heart, identity, and fate.
Recalled as I wrote this that I had a dream:
“I was in a non-descript house or building, bare of furniture. Someone, or something, was in the basement. I could hear gun shots. I hunted for entrances to the basement and found two, one a door and one a grate.
Down there were steel pillars covered in concrete. Whoever or whatever down there wanted to bring the building down. The blue painted concrete had shattered on many of the pillars exposing steel beams. They still stood strong.
Somebody handed me a rifle. I readied myself, though frightened, to go down and save the building.”
Surely this is Azrael. I woke up before the contest could begin, so I’m going to imagine the rest.
I went down the stairs, grateful for the rifle, thankful for whoever handed it to me. But, could I use it? I’m not a man of peace exactly, but I’m not a man of violence either. Still, desperate times. The basement had a little light, enough to make shadows. Gunfire echoed more loudly as I got to the bottom. Whoever it was, was serious.
The gunfire stopped. “You shouldn’t be down here.” A voice cold and firm. From the depth of the shadows. “Leave now and I won’t destroy you. Not right now.”
OK, I thought, back up the stairs. This is too scary. However, I didn’t move. I lifted my rifle and aimed it toward the voice. When I pulled the trigger, it clicked. A rifle with no ammunition. Well, that settles it. Back up the stairs. Nope. Stayed. Scared, but unwilling to give up.
The gunfire did not resume. The air had faint patterns of blue dust from the pillars that had been shot up. The silence was complete. No voice. No evidence of another.
My feet began to move before my mind caught up. Whoa, I thought, feet where are you going? I knew, though. Straight toward the depth of the shadows. I heard what I imagined was a rifle clatter to the ground. Hmm. Even up, I guess.
“Come no further unless you want to meet your end.” Cold, firm. Closer.
My mind said, back up the stairs. My feet kept moving until I lost sight of them in the darkness of the deep shadow. Heart racing, adrenaline swimming through my bloodstream, setting me on fire. We closed.
How long we struggled, I no longer remember. He was strong. Much to my surprise, so was I. We went back and forth, pushing, straining legs and arms, trying to gain an advantage. This was all in the darkness of the shadow. I could not see him and I assumed he could not see me.
Oh. Wait. Not a he. At one point, arms locked together, we touched at the chest. Breasts. A woman! Didn’t change my situation. She was still there to bring down the foundations of my life.
This went on. And on. I grew weary. So did she. Panting, both of us. Our moves more feeble. She touched my left shoulder and my left hip. Pain. Agonizing pain. Giving up not possible, I hung on, endured the pain, chose it.
Isle of the Dead, Arnold Bocklin
“We must end this,” she said.
“Not until you stop. I need those pillars, I can’t let you wreck them.”
“If not tonight, later. You know that.”
“Of course. Yes. I know. And when it’s time I will not fight you, but come willingly.”
She dropped her hold on me. My shoulder and my hip blazed. The adrenaline was gone. I felt weak. “You must bless me and I will leave.”
Later, back up stairs, the door to the basement closed and locked, I sat at a small wooden table, drinking coffee. I had a new name. Just like Jacob.