The Jacob of Genesis 32 and Congressman John Lewis

July 29, 2020 by Lee Hinson-Hasty

“Time and again stories in the Hebrew bible invite us to imagine the many ways that people can partner with God in the management of chaos.”

Elizabeth Hinson-Hasty, professor of theology at Bellarmine University and my life-partner, writes this in her forthcoming book from Fortress Press currently titled, Dutiful Love and Mental Health: Weaving a Social Fabric of Empowerment for Individuals and Families Affected by Serious Mental Illness.

She goes on to exegete the story of Jacob and his family in Genesis 32. Jacob’s name literally means, “the heel gripper” from the story of his birth holding on to his twin brother Esau. Many interpreters focus on the personal wrestling of Jacob at a ford on the Jabbok river. Notably, it was a narrow place for them to cross over and continue to follow the holy path of their ancestors Abraham and Sarah. But notice, Jacob was not alone. His entire household was with him (Gen. 32:22) where our lection begins. Like him they must have also seen the face of God, Peniel, and labored forward on their journey with a new stride and step after this encounter with God. “Struggle,” or Israel in Hebrew, became Jacob’s new name and the name of a nation and community of promise and faith now limping forward.

Clearly 2020 has been a year of struggle and one that has marked us all, like Jacob, with some new ways of living because of it. Let’s just remember we are not alone on this journey. All of God’s good creation of community is with us in this struggle and at this narrow place, this ford, where we are about to cross over to a new reality even now and as we dare to push forward and the sun rises upon us all. (Gen. 32:31)

So when I saw the horse drawn hearse pulling Congressman John Lewis across Edmund Pettus Bridge over the Alabama River near Selma, Alabama, this week, all I could think of was Bloody Sunday, March 7, 1965. There, like so many others who marched, Lewis was struck in the struggle. None of those there as well as none of us here today is the same because of that moment. Wouldn’t this be a great time to change the name of that bridge from commemorating a confederate general to a honoring a civil rights activist, or another name that honors the Civil Rights movement?

My prayer and my call to you is to show up in the struggle whether you are directly or indirectly in the fight and be a witness and support, however you can, in the ways God is reclaiming and renaming us all. You just might be the one gift, prayer, witness and life that the ailing non-profit, suffering seminarian, and/or marginalized person leans on to continue forward on God’s holy journey.

One of the most genius and gentle persons I know, Harry Pickens, is also the most phenomenal jazz pianist I know. A few years ago we served together on a Montreat conference planning team.

We closed that event with a chant and song Harry suggested, played, and taught us to sing, a 2003 Karen Drucker piece, The Face of God. We moved around the room to come face to face with others gathered and sang and signed to each other:

“You are the face of God. I hold you in my heart. You are a part of me. You are the face of God.”

Tears of joy welled up in almost every face around that room. It was a thin place, a narrow place, a ford along the way that none of those gathered will likely forget. May that be today for you and yours and all of God’s people in pain.

Sheltering in place in Louisville, KY