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July 15, 2018: Leaving Penuel

by Mother Diana

Joining you as your new curate feels like the attainment of a long-sought dream. At last Sunday’s Forum, I showed some slides of the countryside in Maryland where I lived for a few years. I called my presentation “Leaving Penuel.” Penuel is a place east of the Jordan River where Jacob wrestled all night with an Angel of the Lord. Some people say Jacob wrestled with God; in any case he was metaphorically undergoing a great spiritual transformation. I too feel that way.

Jacob, having married Rachel and Leah in Harran, was bringing his large family home to Canaan. The night he camped out at Penuel, Jacob was nervous and afraid. His brother Esau was coming with an army of 400 men; years earlier Jacob had swiped Esau’s birthright. Jacob now anticipated the worst. Running away from Esau after the theft, Jacob had heard the voice of God promise him great things, as angels descended and ascended a ladder into heaven. Now, however, Jacob had to face the consequences of his actions. Whether God would remember the promises made years earlier wasn’t clear.

I felt similar conflict when I moved to rural Maryland eight years ago. I had made an escape like Jacob—selling my house in the DC suburbs, leaving my job in the tech industry. God had made me a sort of promise too. He promised to love me despite all my recent bad decisions. I wrestled days and nights during the years in the country. My battle was not with God but with my doubt about God’s generosity. Jacob knew he’d wrestled with the Infinite because the Angel left him with a limp. I didn’t have anything so concrete. What I held onto—and what I still carry—was a sense of God’s love and grace that cloaked me like an invisible robe.

This sudden awareness of God had appeared to me during a yoga class as I tried and failed to resolve a series of poor choices I’d made. I cracked like a dry board, and as the late Leonard Cohen said, that’s where the light came in. From that break followed study in seminaries and internships in churches, years of failure and success, and finally ordination at the National Cathedral this past June.

After the long night of spiritual wrestling, Jacob changed his name to Israel, meaning "one that struggled with the divine angel.” You all at All Souls have given me a new name, too: Mother Diana. I hope it will mean one who serves and loves.

Last Published: July 12, 2018 11:15 AM
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