Blessed and Wounded Painting [Explanation and Story]

Blessed and Wounded Painting [Explanation and Story]

Can you imagine fighting with all your might through the whole night? Can you imagine wrestling with God?

The story of Jacob’s pursuit of the blessing of God contains so much symbolic richness and even more relatability.

We Christians believe that there is nothing we can do that makes God love us more or less than He loves us at this moment or any time. This story is unique in that the fight for the blessing isn’t about earning God’s favor, it’s about the unexpected ways in which blessings are revealed to us.

The common temptation is to believe that God will automatically fix all our problems and that life should be easy once we surrender to the Lordship of Christ.

The truth is that blessings often come amid some of our darkest experiences and are not a reward for good behavior. Sometimes, life leaves us battered and bruised, yet we later realize we weren’t abandoned or forsaken like it felt. Then, on other occasions, we are left wounded so deeply that it temporarily blinds us to how God has actively and intentionally blessed us.

The tension between the pain and the bliss is the living paradox of the faith journey.

I took a break for several years from painting religious themes because they were too spiritually heavy for me to enter. I felt a certain peace to get this painting out of my heart and onto the canvas.

The story in Genesis 32:22-32 of Jacob wrestling through the night with God has been one of my favorite Biblical stories for years because of the vivid angelic imagery.

Almost finished

Countless reflections have been explored, but Scott Cairns’s memoir Short Trip to the Edge has a quote that captured my heart. Here, an ordinary Athonite monk uses the story of Jacob and the stranger to illustrate for Cairns a mystery of the life of prayer.

[Father Iakovos] placed a hand on his chest, just above his abdomen. “You have to hold on to Him,” he said, “with all your strength…. You have to plead with Him to meet you here…. And when He arrives, you must hold on to Him and not let go.

Like Jacob,” he said, “you must hold on to Him…. And like Jacob,” he met my eyes with new intensity, “you will be wounded. Like Jacob, you must say, ‘I will not let You go unless you bless me,’ and then the wound, the tender hip thereafter, the blessing…. He is everything,” Father Iakovos continued, “and ever-present.

He is never not here,” he said, touching his upper abdomen, “but when you plead to know He’s here, and when He answers you, and helps you to meet Him here, you will be wounded by that meeting.

The wound will help you know, and that is the blessing.”

(136-137)

I understand why anyone would want to believe that the life of a believer should be easy if you follow God, but I don’t believe that is the truth of the Gospel. Life happens to us every day, and no portion of the good life comes without significant effort and even trials.

Life leaves us wounded and bruised, and it’s a challenging concept to believe that God is the one who allowed it to happen. Seemingly incongruent with a God of love.

This painting is a memorial and a celebration of the experiences where we were caught up in the desire for peace, but the Lord’s blessing came through the challenge. Similar to how the crucifix reveals beauty through the gruesome death of Jesus, this painting portrays the majestic beauty of Jacob’s encounter with the angel. Simultaneously, it holds up the elements that remind us of the pain of the struggle, and even the moment we experience just before the trauma.

 

Symbolism of the Painting

The Angel

In the story, Jacob encounters a stranger in the night and they begin to wrestle. The man is referred to as a man, angel, and God himself, depending on the translation. Jewish and Christian tradition both conclude that regardless of the details, the stranger is a representation of God.

Israel/Jacob

Jacob is compelled to fight with all his strength because he feels like everything is at risk in his life.  He is depicted as he presents himself before the Lord, bare and open-handed as he seeks the Lord’s provision. He dropped his right knee in a traditional genuflection, and Jacob has his arms outstretched and reaching for the Lord. He shows his strength is not in his work, rather it is in the trust He has that God can help him.

The Hip

The story tells us that the angel finally ends the fight by touching his hip to get Israel to stop. This “touch” leaves him badly injured and with a limp. In my interpretation, the touch is a kick inflicted through the angel’s foot. The painting shows the desire for God’s blessing on Jacob’s face because it if the very moment before he is left injured.

The Banner

The reason Jacob engages in the fight is because he is asking for a blessing from God. The banner represents the blessing descending from God the Father through the angel and moving toward Israel. Its movements flow but don’t arrive in a straight line. Banners with words have been used as a symbol of spoken blessings in Christian art, but the words are not visible in this piece to apply more particularly to the viewer.

The Water

Christian faith begins in the waters of baptism and represents the death of the old self and the rebirth into the new. In the story, God recreates Jacob by giving him a new name to Israel, similar to the rite of Baptism. In the story, Jacob is near a river, but the artistic interpretation is the correlation between the transformation and the sacrament.

Water detail

The Background

The angel states that they fought through the night until dawn begins to break when God ends the fight by breaking Israel’s leg and then gives His blessing.

The painting transitions from light to dark. The left is dawning light representing Heaven as the source of light and the origin of the angel. The right is the darkness of night that allows the stars and moon to shine. Traditionally, sacred Art uses both to represent sacred space, order, and God’s providence.

1200 960 Cristóbal Almanza
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