I know I have written similar posts before, but every time Jacob's wrestling with the Presence of God (Genesis 32: 23-33) comes around in the readings, I am just overwhelmed by the intensity of the passage as a model of prayer.
The incident happens at night, signifying the obscurity of the experience of prayer. Our intellect before the Divine Light is like the physical eye staring into the sun; it is blinded and becomes nearly useless; nothing can be made out in the intensity of the light. Divine Illumination is so bright that we only experience it as an interior darkness.
Jacob asks two things from the Presence with Whom he wrestles. He asks for a blessing, and this he receives in the form of his new name, Israel. Within his new name is his vocation, his calling and privileged role within the history of salvation and the economy of grace.
He then asks to know the name of the One with whom he is contending, and this he does not receive. "Why should you want to know my name?"
So it is with us in prayer; we receive one thing but not the other. Through prayer we receive the blessing of our vocation. Perhaps we will know only the very next step, but this is how it is with God. God is in eternity, and exists in an eternal Now, the nunc stans of the scholastic theologians. But this too is part of God's mercy; if our whole journey were revealed to us ahead of time, many of us would leave the path in dread. Nevertheless; this is the primary grace of prayer: to hear the quiet but insistent voice of God within.
But the Presence itself remains mysterious; indeed, He will seem ever more mysterious and alien over time. Our minds yearn to understand the experience of God, and this is nothing to be ashamed of, because it is the nature of the mind to want to know. But the understanding of the Presence retreats from us, and many times we leave our prayer blessed, but feeling as if we know less about who God is than when we started. "Why should you want to know my name?"
Finally, Jacob leaves the experience injured. Having been struck in his hip socket, he goes through the world with a limp from then on. So it is with all who set themselves earnestly on the path of prayer; the experience of God opens up a new wound in our being, and we are pierced with the knowledge that the world in which we have lived thus far is not the last word. We have lost the innocence of those who go through this life knowing only the visible world. As Ben Kenobi put it so well, "You have taken your first step into a larger world." After we become true practioners of prayer, we will always limp a little bit in this world, because from then on we will a always be alien and stranger.