This is the story of Jacob’s vision of “the ladder to heaven”, in reality in Hebrew more a stairway. The image seems to be drawn from the ziggurat, a structure in the ancient world which was a tall triangular building with steps going all the way to the top. Symbolically, one could scale heaven in the ziggurat while in truth one still had not reached the clouds from its top, let alone the dwelling place of God.
When Jacob has this vision he is on run from his brother. Although the authors of Genesis make it pretty clear that Jacob is having a special calling from God and we know he will be the ancestor of the people of Israel among whom Jesus will be borne, to this point Jacob has shown no real awareness of God. In fact he is on the run due to cheating his older brother Esau out of the family inheritance. Now Esau in a fit of rage has called for Jacob’s blood and Jacob has turned tail and run.
This is a moment of fear and desperation for Jacob. He has tried to turn things to his advantage, and all his best laid plans have blown up in his face. Everything has dropped out from underneath him and he appears to have no future.
We go through times like that don’t we? Where one moment we thought we knew where our lives were going, and then suddenly everything changes. We’ve been down the road that began with us feeling we were in charge of our destiny only to have our control slip out of our fingers like grains of sand when we finished the unexpected turn that lay ahead.
Sometimes it is something we have no say in – such as health crises or debilitating illness we face or those close to us face. Other times we are like Jacob and are facing the natural consequence of our own actions. In either case, it is easy to throw up our hands and give up hope.
So God allows Jacob to see behind the veil – to see that in this dark and lonely place God is at work. Jacob sees that in even this dark place a stairway to heaven exists, an open place where he can discover the Sacred and be transformed.
I believe that what is true in that moment for Jacob is true for each one of us. In each circumstance we face if we but have eyes to see and ears to hear it lies a stairway to heaven, an open space where we can encounter in, with, under, and through what we are going through the sacred breaking through.
It is often hard for me to see and believe it when I or someone I love faces heartache like chronic illness or unexpected loss. Yet I see it every day in the lives of others I support as a pastor and chaplain. I see how the Sacred One is present with, in, and under the most heart-rending crises embracing, enveloping, and transforming those who face those moments. If it is true for them and for Jacob, then I can know it is true for me and those I love. Each moment if I open myself to it, I can discover the Sacred presence of God that gives life and new beginning in my situation. This is true in humdrum days, in moments of great joy & promise, and in my darkest hour.
Let us open our eyes to such moments. Let us trust their presence when we cannot yet see or experience them. Let us be those ones who help others lift up their eyes to see the open path before them, the ways the Sacred One is stretching out sheltering wings about them, when they cannot yet see.
Your progressive redneck preacher,