When I was a child, an elderly, Irish lady who lived alone in our neighborhood liked to invite me for tea. Her name was Emma. She had long, gray hair gathered in a bun and dressed mostly in white. She brewed the tea in a silver pot, poured it reverently, and when we had discussed the day and finished our tea, she would turn my cup over in its saucer and rotate it three times. Then she would read the tea leaves left in the bowl of the cup. She could see marvelous things in that cup... camels, caravans, birds, beasts, journeys, heroes, and my own future. Being a child, this was magical to me. The cup, she said, was like the dome of the sky above us. The three turns were like God who turns the dome eternally for us to read in the stars... like tea leaves... our destinies and fates. I was to take a long journey, she said, pointing in the leaves... a journey on which I would be told more wonderful stories. And I would then become a story teller too. What kind of stories, I asked. Timeless, mystical tales, she said, and she told me then the story of Jacob crossing the Jabbok River into Canaan. Jacob planned to cross the river after a night’s sleep, but that evening he met a stranger who would not let him sleep.

Here Emma alerted me to a secret. Jacob did not know, she said, that the stranger was an angel of the Lord. Remember that, she said. Anyone you meet may be an angel of the Lord. In fact, she said, when God wishes to teach us, he often sends an angel, but you should know it is really God Himself. This was astounding to me.

Jacob challenged the intruder to a wrestling match. All night they wrestled until the man finally injured Jacob’s hip. Now you may pass, said the stranger as morning broke, but Jacob still held him fast. I will not cross over until you bless me, said Jacob. So the stranger told Jacob that Canaan was the land promised to his people. It would be theirs forever... but not in Jacob’s lifetime. His people would have to continue their nomadic journey. As a sign of this blessing, the stranger changed Jacob’s name to Israel, which means “He who has power with God,” because Jacob had wrestled well that night.

Emma had many such stories. I was thrilled. You must come with me on my journey, Emma, I said... to tell me what the stories mean. Your journey will be long, and mine is almost over, she said. But you will find the meanings. And when you learn them, hold them fast. They are your meanings; only you can change them.

Now, like Emma, my journey is near its end. I have met many strangers along the way. A few were angels; one or two I thought gods. Perhaps we are all deities, major and minor. The stories were many too, the meanings sometimes clear, sometimes strange. Emma was surely an angel of the Lord in my life. Her predictions never failed as she twirled the dome of starry skies for me. The night before crossing over is a long night, and day only comes when you learn the stranger you struggled with in the dark... was you.