Punched by an Angel

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Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him.
Genesis 32:25

As many of you well know, it was nearly seven years ago (although it now seems so much longer) that I entered a season of anguish which, even now that I am better than ever, I am not inclined to minimize. It was an experience of deep darkness and great sadness of the type that defies description. But early on, the story of Jacob wrestling an angel in the darkness became an important and potent metaphor for me. I was in the struggle of my life, and Jacob loaned me his fierce determination, a holy refusal to give up.

On borrowed faith, I resolved that I would not let go until God blessed me. I am endlessly grateful for the ways God has done just that, in myriad and beautiful ways (most notably through my marriage to Elizabeth) that even now leaves me amazed by grace and nearly as speechless as before.

Unexpected Pain

Inexplicably, during that same time, I developed a pain in my right hip that I have been trying to both understand and manage off and on ever since involving a variety of medical interventions and high doses of ibuprofen. Finally, an MRI recently revealed what was really going on. The diagnosis: “Extensive degenerative maceration and tearing of the acetabular labrum.” The physician’s assistant who was interpreting it to me said, “Basically, you’re a mess in there.” The prescription: total hip arthroplasty. I need a hip replacement.

On April 13, I am scheduled for the surgery that will swap my injured hip with an impressive combination of titanium, ceramic, and polyethylene, something—in the words of my surgeon (words which teeter on the edge of hubris)—which “will be better than the original parts God gave you.” Additionally, he tells me that it will involve a six-week recovery period, but that I will be able to resume my work-out routine once the stiches are out. I’m happy about that, as I have a date with my daughter, and we have an appointment to climb Mount Baker in September: a hefty and enticing rehab carrot dangling in front of me.

A Trophy-Like Reminder

We accumulate reminders—some in our bodies, others in our memories—of struggles that we have endured and survived. Paul carried around a host of thorn-in-the-flesh reminders of his beatings, floggings and of once being stoned. Even after his resurrection, Jesus retained the scars of his crucifixion; in fact, some theologians suggest that they were what caused his disciples in Emmaus to finally recognize him. And Jacob. The Contender.[i] His body a repository for the remnants of a grueling midnight wrestling match, a visceral reminder of a dark and blessed night which was evoked with every wincing step for the duration of his 147 years, hobbling around with the aid of a Canaanite cane until he was “gathered to his people, old and full of days.”[ii] Trophy-like, his lingering limp was the permanent, physical evidence that he had striven with God and with man and lived to tell the story.

I am grateful for the technology and medical skill that makes my upcoming hip surgery possible, allowing me to resume a number of activities that have been significantly curtailed in recent years. I am grateful for good insurance that makes it affordable. And that gratitude mounts as I am persuaded that it is far quicker and easier to repair an injured hip than it is to heal a broken heart. And while I will no longer, presumably, walk with a limp, I will forever carry the scar which will keep me in struggling solidarity with Jacob, my brother and patron saint, who got punched by an angel but who didn’t get knocked out.

Grace and peace,

Pastor Eric

PS—I don’t believe anyone has ever written a poem for me until this month, when a dear friend sent me this hope-filled gift:


Done with wrestling

haunting inconsequential

vestiges of the past—

turn toward Peniel

God is waiting

to strive with you;

do not let go

till you are blessed;

trouble placid

baptismal waters,

then limp away


you are made whole

soon enough!

Samuel Mahaffy[iii]

[i] Genesis 32:28, meaning of Israel (see ampc).

[ii] Genesis 35:29, referring to Isaac.

[iii] Sam wrote this poem as a gift to me. He is now deceased, and I include the poem here in his memory.

Eric E. Peterson
Eric E. Peterson

is the pastor of Colbert Presbyterian Church in Colbert, WA. He is the author of Wade in the Water: Following the Sacred Stream of BaptismLetters to a Young Congregation, and Letters to a Young Pastor (with Eugene H. Peterson).

Letters to a Young Congregation

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