Free learning & drama resource — Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

The Bishop’s Pilgrimage Day 24th September 2016, Norwich Cathedral, Norwich

Genesis 32, 21–31 — Jacob Wrestles with the Angel

When I was asked to develop a 6 minute piece of drama for the Eucharist on the above day, using the above scripture, I was delighted and a little bit scared in equal measure. Why on earth was I scared!? After all, it was just a bit of drama to have a bit of fun with. NO. I felt it was a huge responsibility, not only to correctly interpret the text, but also to deliver something that would work on an emotional and spiritual level. I wanted the participants, congregation and clergy to be left feeling as though they had partaken in something significant…something that left a reflective and cathartic footprint to one degree or another. And my goodness, in this world that is suffocating with individualism we need, at every turn, to remember the power of truth and reconciliation as a collective spirit.

So, I want to share…

  • a little bit about the process with you
  • make a copy of the script I wrote available to you
  • and offer some simple lesson plan ideas that could be used alongside this piece of scripture.

Why? In the hope that you too may be inspired and use/adapt these offerings in your own drama, church, school or community groups.

Before I start, I am not a theologian. My creative ideas are those which have been inspired/evoked by this wonderful piece of scripture. The ideas I offer you along with the script that I wrote could be used by all religious or non-religious groups and persons of all ages.

Originally the idea was to do a 1 ½ hour workshop on the morning of the Bishop’s Pilgrimage Day — the results of this were to be performed during the Eucharist. However, what I decided to do was to work on this, over a longer period of time with some ex-students and current students of mine, because I was excited by the prospect of what it might deliver given more time. We were not disappointed.

The outcome was rehearsed and taken to the official workshop. On the day we had two members of the public who joined us and offered their own unique insight into what they thought of the story.

The age range of those involved were 18 months to 70 years of age. NB. Don’t forget it is important when mixing ages, especially if you do not know the students involved, to make sure that you follow strict safeguarding procedures to protect minors and also any vulnerable adults and children who are participating. Also, ensure that you have comprehensive application forms to allow for disclosure of any health issues, emergency contacts, permission for photos to be taken and also whether parents/guardians are happy for minors to leave the premises or your supervision unattended. As well as yourself, any assistants should be DBS’d.

I just want to say that I don’t want to superimpose fixed ideas of what outcomes should be as your journey will be different to ours. It is also good to remember that any personal matters that participants share should remain confidential.

The following is an outline of what proved to be a good catalyst for discussion and ultimately led to the script and performance.

  • PDF’s of this learning resource and script available at the end.

THE PROCESS / IDEAS FOR LESSONS

Participants — all ages

OBJECTIVES:

  • to use Genesis 32, 21–31 as a means of personal reflection and to engage with its relevance to our daily lives
  • to engage with the importance of living by core values
  • to experience the power of spirituality
  • to exchange ideas in a safe environment and with mutual respect
  • to heighten awareness of the emotions/moods required to bring a ‘truth’ to the performance
  • to express the outcomes in the form of a performance and to engage the audience
  • to introduce the concept that biblical stories are a wonderful way to reflect on life and our place in it.

OUTCOMES:

  • to have gained a greater sense of confidence in expressing personal experience and thoughts about universal themes concerning ‘fighting with ourselves’.
  • to have gained / re-engaged with how scripture can help us with personal reflection and spiritual enlightenment
  • to overcome the fear of performance in order to convey the message of the story
  • to leave the audience feeling engaged and reflective
  • To revisit or engage with how scripture can be used as a means of spiritual enlightenment.

POSSIBLE PROBLEMS TO OVERCOME:

  • different religious beliefs or no belief
  • different levels of biblical understanding
  • working with a broad range of ages

Ways to overcome:

  • use the scripture as a story to be discussed as opposed to it being a bible class. You are not there to preach, you are there to inspire spiritual reflection.
  • Some translations refer to Jacob wrestling with God — but for the purposes of this exercise refer to Jacob as wrestling with an Angel. With the variety of abilities, understanding and beliefs that you may be dealing with, an Angel has greater potential, I feel, to open up the concept of spirituality and mystery as a universal theme to all.
  • build confidence by working with individual strengths within a team environment
  • ensure that all feel an important and relevant part of the journey. Listen to all with an open heart and respect.
  • use a simple translation with easy to understand language. Especially if you are working with all ages and abilities.
  • explain to students that you are using this piece of scripture to explore what it means to ‘battle with ourselves’.

LET’S START…

1. INTRODUCE THE STORY TO THE GROUP

Keep this very simple. Use a simple translation of the scripture and read / summarise this to your group. I would advise starting at Genesis 25 to get Jacobs journey into context. Summarise up to the end of Genesis 31 and then maybe read the rest of the story to the group. To keep the language simple and accessible to all ages and abilities maybe check out some online Children’s Bibles to see what works for you. Pass any suitable links onto them so they can read at home if they wish.

(At the end there are some suggested reading links)

2. START A GROUP CONVERSATION

  • What do you think of the story as a whole?

Make sure you make notes throughout this process as participants will always surprise you with their answers. This could be something you could use later on.

Now focus on Genesis 32 v 22–31

  • What or who does the Angel represent?
  • What do you think the story means?
  • What lesson is the Angel teaching Jacob?

Elicit responses and be careful not to dismiss any replies as this will destroy confidence. Always finish with a ‘well done’. Some responses we got were:

  • The Angel is God’s messenger
  • The Angel is your inner voice
  • The Angel is your conscience
  • The Angel is a mystery
  • The Angel is a bright light of hope

3. CONSIDER AND DISCUSS THEMES

  • Is it ever right to take something that doesn’t belong to you?
  • The consequences of lying.
  • Facing up to your mistakes and responsibilities.
  • The power of forgiving yourself. What are the consequences of not forgiving?
  • The power of forgiving others. What are the consequences of not forgiving?
  • Accepting it isn’t about what you want it’s about what you need. Are you being taught a lesson?
  • Fear

Once themes are established work in smaller groups to explore further how these themes are explored in this scripture — with particular reference to Genesis 32, 21–31

Then get each group to share their thoughts.

4. HOW IS JACOB’S STORY RELEVANT TO EACH ONE OF US?

Now start a group discussion about how Jacob’s story is relevant to each one of us. Maybe elicit answers by getting students to consider how the themes already discussed relate to our own lives. Once again after the group discussion you could put participants into smaller groups.

5. WHAT DOES WRESTLING WITH OURSELVES ACTUALLY MEAN?

Put the following to the group to elicit a response

  • What does ‘battling with ourselves’ mean? Are we battling with our ‘conscience’? With ‘God’? Some ‘mysterious force’ that is trying to fill us with light and understanding?

Maybe consider saying that whatever our understanding of it is it is surely a force for good that is battling with us to get us to face up to and resolve the things that are making us feel so traumatised inside. The Angel is symbolic of all of those things. The Angel is symbolic of light, hope and understanding if only we allowed ourselves to face our fears by reaching out to the light for help.

  • Why is facing up to our fears so hard to do?
  • What keeps us awake at night?
  • Why is it important to accept that we can’t always have what we want? And if we don’t accept this what might the consequences to us and others be?
  • Why is it important to face up to our mistakes and failures?
  • What are the damaging effects of not being able to forgive ourselves and others?
  • What negative emotions are created by themes already discussed? What are the spiritual consequences of dealing with negative emotions? (Make a note of these emotions as they will come in handy later when developing character.)
  • How can fighting with an Angel help us to release ourselves from the spiritual pain that negative and troubled emotions can bring?
  • How likely is it that you will be happier if you face up to your fears, mistakes and troubles?

Once again after the group discussion you could put participants into smaller groups.

6. OPEN UP A DISCUSSION TO CHECK CONCEPT

  • Thinking about everything we have discussed. Would you choose to remain troubled and fearful by refusing to face up to your troubles and pain or would you rather face the light, however hard the internal battle is, by acknowledging, accepting and forgiving in order to move on?

7. SOME OF OUR MOMENTS TO SHARE WITH YOU

During our discussions many great answers were forthcoming. Of course, many people spoke about personal issues. At the beginning of the process it is important to reinforce that you wish to create a safe environment in which people can speak freely and that any personal matters individuals wish to discuss will remain confidential. Do not press anyone to express a personal experience if they do not wish to. And of course, with mixed ages you need to be mindful at all time of any matters that may arise that are not appropriate for discussion — manage these accordingly, with sensitivity and move away from these matters with ease. It will also be a good idea to think ahead, if you do use mixed ages and abilities, of how you can re-phrase questions to accommodate for this. When splitting into groups — be mindful of making sure that the group contains a balance of abilities.

I don’t want to divulge too much about what was said in our discussions as some matters could easily be connected to an individual and therefore break trust. But just one or two things:-

When discussing what pain, suffering and wrestling with ourselves meant:

  • a 12 year old student said: to her it was simply breaking one of the ten commandments.
  • a 17 year old student said that it reminded him of the poem (by Reinhold Niebuhr):

“Give us courage to change what should be changed;

Serenity to accept what cannot be changed;

And wisdom to distinguish the one from the other.”

Now what is really strange about this is, during the Eucharist, the Bishop used this poem in his sermon, he then went on to say.

“Encounters with God and his angels and saints often brings courage to change things or acceptance of things which cannot be changed.”

  • Another adult said that the worst thing for him was facing up to the reality of the past as it filled him with a such sense of fear that he wasn’t sure he could cope with the feeling of bereavement that the loss of time may bring by facing up to something he should have done a long time ago. Which brings me to my next point for discussion:

8. THE ANGEL WRENCHING JACOB’S HIP OUT OF ITS SOCKET

Maybe ask these questions: What does the Angel wrenching Jacob’s hip out of its socket represent? Is it the case that the harder and longer you fight, to hold onto what is harming you.

Refer to the following extract (sourced here)

“ The wrestle was a metaphorical one too. Jacob was fighting an internal battle between his greatest fears; his self‐will; and the call to submit to God (the Angel). Jacob clearly put up a good fight, because it went on all night and it took God (the Angel) to wrench his hip out of its socket to defeat him — a physical manifestation of a divine encounter — that left him with a lasting limp. Even then Jacob would not let go until he was blessed — and what a blessing he received! “

Put these questions to your group.

  • Is it the very act of wrestling with the Angel, and ultimately in submitting to it, that leads to Jacob being blessed, finding peace and being able to move on? Why?
  • What else do you think it might mean?

9. DEVELOPING A SCRIPT

You could:

  • If there is time, get the participants to develop and write their own script or
  • You could write one yourself.

I will make my script available to you later on.

10. DEVELOPING CHARACTER — during rehearsals:

Edward Young playing Jacob PHOTO taken by Bev © Blank Canvas Productions ltd 2016

Now obviously this depends on what you write and how you approach your performance. But I think that it’s safe to say that all the emotions involved are negative apart from at the end when Jacob receives his blessing. So I would suggest doing some work that looks at how these negative emotions affect the body and how that compares to the effect of positive emotions.

It was Stanislavski who said: “There is an unbreakable bond between the action on stage and the thing which precipitated it. In other words there is a complete union between the physical and the spiritual being of a role”. Very true of life.

So, here’s some ideas:

  • You will have ascertained by this point the emotions that this story deals with. Emotions such as:
  • Fear
  • Anxiety
  • Jealousy
  • Hopelessness
  • Distrust
  • Forgiveness
  • Love
  • Contentment

Discuss the above by asking questions such as:

  • What effects do these emotions have on your well-being?
  • How do these emotions affect you physically?

When asking students to work with negative emotions remember it is important that they don’t relive something that has happened in their own lives. This is very dangerous. Therefore, for the sake of this we will be working with creating / reinforcing the remembering of these emotions by physical action.

  • Get students to walk around the room. Tell them that when you shout out an emotion they need to freeze into a statue that shows this emotion. Encourage use of facial expression. Take a look. Congratulate them on their work. Now say, “unfreeze! Walk around the room and wait for the next emotion”. Repeat with the other emotions.
  • Now let’s see if we can do a similar thing but with continued movement. This time when you shout the emotion out give it a number from 1 to 10, (with 1 being the smallest and 10 being the biggest). For example, “Fear number 6” — get them to walk around the room showing fear number 6 in their body and face. Keep changing the number so they can increase or decrease the intensity of the emotion. Ask them questions that will get them to think about how the physical and emotional are intertwined. Keep repeating with other emotions.
  • Now work between negative and positive emotions so they can experience the relief on the body and mind when one goes from the negative to the positive. Maybe discuss the effects of this?
  • This time when you call out the emotion, get them to keep repeating the emotional word with the movement. For example you say, “jealousy number 1” and they then walk about the room repeating this word therefore showing the emotion not only in their bodies and faces but also their voice at the same time.
  • Encourage them to look at each other whilst saying the emotion. This will help break down self consciousness and build confidence with the spoken word. Now play around with changing the number. Now work with the other emotions like this and then going from a negative to a positive emotion again.
  • When you have cast your parts you can work this into your script in order to develop character and develop spiritual connection to story. Use the number system to play around with intensity.
© Blank Canvas Productions ltd 2016

11. WARM-UPS

Do a small warm-up before each rehearsal / performance. This will help relax, focus and warm up the body, mind and voice in preparation for the job in hand. (link to simply & easy warm-up here soon)

12. FINAL SCRIPT

Below you will find a link to the script that I wrote which was inspired by the process we went through. You will see that there is something for all abilities and levels of confidence. For anyone that doesn’t wish to speak individually they could join in as the collective voice of the actors or simply be there as a physical presence. Don’t force anyone to perform who doesn’t wish to — just congratulate them on their contribution.

Use this script as it is, adapt it or write one of your own.

With many thanks to Bishop Graham, Very Revd Jane Hedges and Revd Susanna Gunner for trusting us.

Special thanks to Chelsea Fincham for assisting and taking part.

CONGRATULATIONS to all the participants. You were absolutely fantastic and inspiring!

  • PDF of our script here
  • This learning resource as a PDF here

Useful links at the end

There is an opportunity for you to share your thoughts on this resource / project / script below on the comments page.

If you like this, please do tweet / like on social medial. Thank you. If you would like up to date information follow me on Twitter or like the Facebook page — links above.

CAST (apart from Pam, Phil and little Rose)

photos © Blank Canvas Productions ltd 2016

in no particular order:

Nathan Ross

Chloe-May Howard

Natasha Peacock

Patricia Derrick

Rachel Woolner

Edward Young

Chelsea Fincham

Connie Scott

Pam Cranston

Phil Lyons

Little Rose

WORKSHOP PARTICIPANTS

Sue Cobb

Anthony Kerissa

See performance photos below taken during the Eucharist.

Performance photos below were taken by ©Sandra J Topham 2016

  1. USEFUL LINKS

http://wonershchurch.org.uk/Publisher/File.aspx?id=129819

http://www.stjamesleith.org/multimedia-archive/wrestling-limping/

http://aleteia.org/2016/10/02/5-amazing-facts-about-guardian-angels/

http://aleteia.org/2016/10/04/wrestling-with-god-leads-to-truth/?utm_medium=aleteia_en&utm_campaign=english_page&utm_source=Twitter&utm_term=Autofeed#link_time=1475553848

SOCIAL MEDIA REVIEW

We had a wonderful time to day watching our daughter in your production today.. we were both very proud. On the way out…

Posted by Teresa Howard on facebook on Saturday, September 24, 2016


Originally published at beverleyjordan.com on November 16, 2016.