I am an old man now, beyond three score years
and ten, if that counts for anything. Have I not
entered the circle of the wise? I can take my hand
off my mouth and speak. I have a history with God.
The journey was first paternal, then stormy,
at last seismic. The model that I first took
for God was my earthly father. He was loving,
dependable, fair, faithful, self-sacrificing,
though not a professed believer; a difficult
act for God to follow. I would not have been
so disappointed had the roles been reversed.
When day broke on the Jabbok, God let go
of me and limped away with my blessing;
before the sun exposed his bruised credulities:
my naive expectations, unanswered prayers,
my willing indifference that let God get away
with murder. He favored me with strength
and privilege, but seemed apathetic to the pain
and weakness of the unfortunate; did not
heed their cry for help. I could not accept
the capriciousness once released
from the false glory of being chosen.
I have wrestled with the consequences:
the emptiness and separation. I would feel
like the Sufi reed crying out because it was
cut from the river, wailing for reunion with
the beloved. But such love lives on nothing
save desperation, empty expectation, the tenacious
attraction of the ineffable meeting cognitive dissonance.
My imagination ran wild once the tether broke with
custom; yet restrained by what moves deep within
the working of my mind, the thought of my existence
within a greater shared reality from which the thought
of God could not be dislodged or banished, appearing
again and again in freedom; the unknowable coming
to expression in imagination, the image
of the past disposed of, yet retained.
In my youth, I was told what I should believe,
to do or not to do; my frontal lobe not yet
matured to judge for myself. I was told
there was New Light, more to know, to do,
or not to do. I was encouraged to find it,
perfect my character before the close of probation,
stand before God without a mediator.
I found darkness. I did not shirk from being chosen,
to accomplish what was yet unwritten. But the task
alluded me. I was not fulfilled, did not find the answers.
The search for truth has been like grasping birds
caught in a trap: squeeze too hard they die in the hand,
restrain one’s grip and they fly away.
What was written in inspired books or given
in a vision or a dream was opened to a favored
few surrendered to the Lord praying for the key,
discerning codes, a nuance of a word or phrase.
It was a work with rules estranged from reason,
convoluted in the whirl and swirl of dreams, bits
of data torn apart and fused together in an ungoverned
imagination; a work of fools driven by conviction,
but out of their minds, blinding the ignorant with a flash
in the darkness. I did not escape unscathed;
I was full of hope, calling out for affirmation.
But I was dowsed like a flame in a fire pit; my zeal
went up in smoke. I was stunned when the light went out,
but I remained aglow. In the darkest of nights I fanned
the dying coals to life; terrified by loneliness,
admonished by my arrogance.
I became a caretaker for a god who failed. I grieved for
his demise, seeing him powerless, unable to keep his word,
aware that his flawed designs were nature’s struggle for
survival–like my persistent faith seeking definition.
It took me years to come to my senses, admit to injudicious
waste of life and time, then start again retracing my steps,
not content to close my mind to the past.
Perhaps the struggle had its place in the torturous
evolution of my faith; so long pressed against the windows
of revelation that its weight shattered the glass, opening
my eyes and freeing my fettered mind. It was a bewildering
experience to be free of the truth. An intractable faith, too long
restrained, pulled me from the wreckage. In time my head
began to clear; I regained my composure. I’ve stopped
making excuses for him, defending god with a lie.
Now I can look myself in god’s eye and not blink.
What a shock it was to see myself, stare into the orb
of darkness with light of blue sky disappearing
at the edges, hurtling into a black hole
expecting that light appears beyond the horizon.
I was among the Remnant; a preposterous claim, yet
core to my identity. But the remnant sent me into exile.
I am not alone, taking my place among the seven thousand
who will not bend or bow. We are a disassembled lot,
without a leader. Our voices fade out in an empty wilderness,
in a world not yet restored after destruction. Yet, imagination
is not dead; the dream wells up in our distant inner gaze. We are
composing a new song, one familiar, having sung it for so long.
I waited for The Latter Rain. It was to fall on me.
When it did not come the green plant wilted, the fertile
ground became a desert, both leaf and soil blown away.
In faith I sowed again, watching for new seeds
to germinate, plants to sprout, supplying nutrients,
carrying water. I watched their heads push through
resistant earth, pushing stones aside to feel the sun.
I have tended the garden, seen it through to harvest,
my own thirst slaked by drought.
I Afflicted My Soul, an exercise of ignorance,
existential abuse. It had no purpose. Frustrated,
I determined to be true to myself, knowing who
and what I am, that individual consciousness,
a construct of certainty, moving through a changing life,
constant in a stream of memory, unwilling to let go
of the past and fly away with the future. I focused on faces
of the known, those before me, lost, despicable, arrogant
as I, yet human as God, a new world incubating in their eyes.
In the Time of Trouble I answered my own cry;
I would have welcomed help had someone dared
to listen. I sought out seclusion, where none could hear
my cry of dereliction. When the affliction passed,
I secured my resources. New light came, not by
revelation, but desperation. Who am I that I search
for God following my own steps? God is everywhere,
and nowhere, nothing and everything. If he dared
to face me, I would fight him yet worship at his back,
retreating. I’ve risked everything to turn him around.
I have gone through The Shaking. With the trauma gone
I was left while god fell through the screen. I grasped at his
receding form falling through the earth; I could not save him.
How strong I have become, Standing Before God Without
A Mediator. My strength is drained after overthrowing god;
it wanes at the persistent demand of the unknowable seeking my
allegiance. Now my weakness is before me; it need not
be brought to my attention. Now the terror of the void,
the shivering of space alien to my being. We cling to life
by our fingertips, believing in survival, love, and justice,
hoping against all evidence to the contrary.
Yet, I will not let it go. Can one search for God alone;
grasp the meaning of a Savior? Come little crippled
ones, we will make the best of it. Take the broken hand of God,
made strong by head wounds. We will go together through
the night until our eyes accustomed to the darkness see the light.
My mind is troubled by my newly found autonomy;
I did not wish it. I was content to be a servant.
With a thought I changed the world, myself, and God.
And now, I must answer to myself. I cannot leave
the paper blank, the verse congealed and dead; once
written, it imprints upon the universe. I cannot bring it back.
I grope for Presence; I feel it like a silk cloth brushing my face
in darkness; Incarnation surging through my mind,
inciting me to write an awe-filled thought. I am haunted
by a metaphor for faith beyond history and dogma,
unencumbered by the truth, fearless of the terror
of deep time and space, sustained in feeling deathless.
At the rising of the moon, I am called by the eerie howl
of the mother wolf, the alpha female. She found me, a child
abandoned in the wilderness. She could have consumed me,
but grasped me gently in her crushing jaws, held me by stiletto
fangs; she softly lay me at the entrance to her den.
She bared her teeth at her mate, warned the pack with a snarl
when they approached to feed on my bruised body.
She suckled me with her pups until I had strength to stand.
She took me to a high place from which I saw the world
of humankind. When I turned to look for her, she was gone.
I listened to the story of their Savior; a second, written first,
before the beastly tale of evolution changed the plot,
put me in my place, reconfigured God by human thought.
They are of the same genre. When I look into the Savior’s
face, shaped by conflict, wounded and despised, I see the
mother wolf, the glint of evolution shining in her eyes,
the violent one who suckled me, saved me from extinction.
They are aliens, occupying in the midst of enemies,
surviving at the margins of creation, tempting chaos;
affirmations in denial, dissonant voices
refusing to harmonize with the choir of oblivion.
In this wide world stalks the mother wolf, acting
contrary to her viciousness, against which all struggle
to survive. Her howl fills the night sky, calling to me
from beyond and within. My hair stands on end; my skin
tingles at the thought of her universal presence prowling
through my mind. She is dreadful but wonderful;
I am filled with awe at her yellow eyes reflecting starlight,
dancing with the moon. I call back to her, giving thanks
for saving me from the pack, the fearsome forms stalking
at the edges of life; she is among them feeding on her prey,
those compassion selected out, fit for extinction.
When my body fails and lifeless falls upon the ground,
she again will find me, and take me to the entrance
of her den; waiting for the rising of the moon.
—A. Josef Greig, Ph.D., is professor emeritus of religion and philosophy at Andrews University. This is part four, continuing his poetry cycle, "Day Break on the Jabbok."
Image: Paul Gauguin, Vision of the Sermon (Jacob Wrestling with the Angel), 1888.