MY WRESTLING MATCH
I experienced God’s call to the monastery in 1945. The hours were extremely difficult as we rose at 4:10am, but the novice master told me I would get used to it. It is a big lie. I never got used to it. Not being strong, the early hours damaged my health, and for years I was sickly. But I loved the life and still do.
When the monks gather for prayer 26 times a week, many of the readings are biblical stories from the Jewish scriptures, the common property of Jews, Christians, and Moslems. These prayed stories resonated with my own experience namely, my call from God is a call to die. Or a call to a wrestling match with God. Wrestling became the stuff of my poetry when I began to write poetry at 75. Now 85 I have just published my third book of poetry, on the cover of which is a woman’s high heeled shoe. I am a feminist.
I do not write pious verse. Rather my model is Jacob wrestling with a man, only to discover it is Yahweh. In “God Cheats” Jacob is speaking.
When Yahweh sees that I prevail,
He cheats by unsocketing my hip.
I contended in the womb with hairy Esau and won. I’m a mirror of my foes.
Yahweh pleads: The day is near upon us,
now let me go. But still I lock Him.
In the failing mist I see His face.
Tell me your name, and I’ll let you go.
The Almighty Con thrones upon the cherubim,
names me Israel, but not Himself.
With an extorted blessing, a new name,
I walk away limping.
I identify with Abraham who like Jacob, is not a cardboard figure, but, as I imagine him, has skin, and wrestles with God, chest to chest, sweat to mystery. That Jews, Christians and Moslems understand Abraham as the father of faith I find immensely supportive of my struggles with God. In a poem entitled “The Call of Abraham” I imagine what he must have experienced when at the age of 75 (and Sarah 65) he hears an outrageous call. Abraham is speaking
Talk about imperious. without a “may I
presume?” No previous contact,
no letter of introduction
this unknown God issues edicts.
This is not a conversation.
Am I a nobody to receive decrees
from one whose name I do not know?
I have worshipped my own God.
To you I have addressed no prayers,
but quick, like sudden
fire in the forest, I hear “Go.”
At seventy-five I am supposed to scuttle
my life, take that ancient wasteland Sarai,
place my arthritic bones upon the road
for a country you do not bother
to name, there to be a stranger.
God of the wilderness,you promise two desiccated lumps they will have a son, in whom all peoples of the earth will be blessed.
You come late, Lord, very late,
but my camels leave in the morning.
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