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Wrestling with Angels… and Steamrollers

July 1, 2012

Transformation of self implies a great inner struggle. I find myself dwelling upon this theme regularly, as we pass the halfway point in the EMBA program.

If you know your Scripture, then you will recall the story of Jacob wrestling the angel, found in the latter portion of Genesis and again in the Book of Hosea. In brief, Jacob is on his journey back to Canaan where he hopes to reconcile with his brother Esau, who was somewhat displeased with Jacob for having tricked their elderly, visually impaired father, Isaac, into bestowing Esau’s birthright upon him. As Jacob approaches Canaan, he sends messengers forth to announce his return to Esau. Esau responds by gathering an army of 400 men, well outnumbering Jacob who is traveling with his wives, children, servants and flocks… clearly, Esau is still holding a grudge.

Jacob transports his flocks and family across the river Jabbok that night and then recrosses, being now left alone and in communion with God. A mysterious being appears, who is variously described in Scripture as a man, an angel, or God. They engage in a wrestling match throughout the night. By dawn, Jacob emerges victorious and demands from this being a blessing… He receives a new name, and is henceforth known in Holy Writ as the more familiar Israel, which is generally interpreted as, “one who struggled with the divine angel”…

My own struggles with the EMBA program have resembled far more a wrestling match with a steamroller than with any being, divine or otherwise. Classes, projects, assignments and readings continually encroach upon me as a single, insentient, mechanical flow. A great heavy roller pushing ever forward in time. This is no angel. This is a steamroller. How does one grapple with a steamroller without ultimately becoming entangled and crushed? There is nothing to grab, nothing to leverage, and no real way for it to give up… Only a cylinder, smooth and of great weight… turning. The EMBA is a steamroller.

In his struggle with the angel, Jacob transforms into the Patriarch Israel. The causality is implied, if not outright taught in Scripture. Jacob the man becomes something far more than a man. He becomes a symbol, and an idea, and an ideal for his people in all the days and generations that followed to the present day. In this very moment, Jacob’s transformation has just become a part of you, as you think a little more deeply about your own struggle to transform.

Steamrollers can be just as transformative as angels, though they transform through the presentation of a coldly rational, almost Hobsian choice… move ahead with your life or be crushed into the asphalt. Being crushed is transformative… so much so that the very fear of being overwhelmed by the steamroller forces you to transform yourself: to make yourself capable of keeping pace, moving forward, building your stamina and resolve… if only to avoid becoming part of the asphalt.


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