I have this figurine of a fighting bull in my bedroom. I bought it off Etsy this summer, though I had so little money, I couldn’t resist it. It’s hard to justify this purchase of a porcelain bull painted blue and green with serving sticks stuck in its back. It is at once beautiful, gruesome, and completely frivolous. Yet it is one of the few objects that I have any emotional connection to in this bedroom that’s half mine, half my parents.
As I write, the bull is poised directly opposite of me, head down angled to attack. Though it’s been pierced, it has not been struck down. It’s hard not to imagine it in a ring with a Matador fighting for its life, fighting as an expression of its life. I wonder if I like it so much because I see myself in the spirit of this bull.
The Biblical story I relate to most is that of Jacob wrestling God in the middle of the night and being renamed. If you know the story, you know that Jacob was winning the fight until God wounded his hip. Still, Jacob wouldn’t let go. He said, “I will not let you go lest you bless me.” In Out of Africa, Dinesen writes about this instance. She says that, when her friends would come to visit, her house would close around them and say, “I will not let you go lest you bless me.” And they would laugh and bless it and it would let them go. She says to life itself, “I will not let you go lest you bless me. But then I will let you go.”
Going back to Jacob’s story, God didn’t give him a formal blessing. Instead, God renamed him Israel “because you have fought with God and with men and have overcome.” Even though he was wounded, Jacob couldn’t let go until he’d gained something. So God renamed him, he told him who he was. He told him that he was a man who would overcome his struggles. His new name must have given him more courage to face his brother, who he had deceived years before, the next day.
I’ve always been like Jacob, demanding, stubborn and a fighter. Not too long ago Logan read me a poem about a man and God who are having an argumentative conversation. At the end of the conversation God says to the man, “You are so stubborn!” He responds, “Not stubborn, greedy.” You have a sense that he means greedy for life, not things.
Logan told me that the poem helped him to understand me more. “It seems like you are in a constant struggle with God. I think it’s because you’re greedy like this man.” I hadn’t thought of it in those terms before, but it fit and Jacob was the same. His stubbornness was really greed for life. It’s comforting that God blesses him instead of condemning him.
There is something about this bull, in its posture and coloring, in its frozen fierceness, that’s like Jacob and like me.