Our scripture reading for Sunday invites us to think about sacred places…what and where they are, how they become sacred, how we mark and remember them and what they mean to us through the course of our lives. In our reading, Jacob, in a time of upheaval and transition, encounters God in a new and personal way. This passage contains words that may be familiar to some of us, especially if we’ve sung them in the past: “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place!” Jacob exclaims these words, astonished by his unexpected encounter with God. In response to that encounter, Jacob creates a “sacred pillar” to mark and remember the event.
All of us have “sacred pillars,” ways that we mark and remember our encounters with the living God. Some of those “pillars” might be tangible, real physical objects like Jacob’s anointed stone. Other pillars might be more theoretical…ideas or values or beliefs that become touchstones for us throughout our lives.
The last few years of my life have seen a good amount of upheaval and transition and, in the midst of those challenging times, I have also experienced God in new ways. There have been days when I’ve said, “Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!” In the spirit of getting to know one another, I want to share some of my journey with you this Sunday along with the “four pillars” that have become symbolic of my encounters with God and that focus my intention for ministry and for life. I hope you’ll also think about some of your “sacred pillars” and share them with me in the near future! I look forward to being with you on Sunday!
Genesis 28:10-19a (CEB)
Jacob left Beer-sheba and set out for Haran. He reached a certain place and spent the night there. When the sun had set, he took one of the stones at that place and put it near his head. Then he lay down there. He dreamed and saw a raised staircase, its foundation on earth and its top touching the sky, and God’s messengers were ascending and descending on it. Suddenly the Lord was standing on it and saying, “I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac. I will give you and your descendants the land on which you are lying. Your descendants will become like the dust of the earth; you will spread out to the west, east, north, and south. Every family of earth will be blessed because of you and your descendants. I am with you now, I will protect you everywhere you go, and I will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done everything that I have promised you.”
When Jacob woke from his sleep, he thought to himself, The Lord is definitely in this place, but I didn’t know it. He was terrified and thought, This sacred place is awesome. It’s none other than God’s house and the entrance to heaven. After Jacob got up early in the morning, he took the stone that he had put near his head, set it up as a sacred pillar, and poured oil on the top of it. He named that sacred place Bethel, though Luz was the city’s original name.
Consider these questions:
- When and how have you encountered God in unexpected times and places?
- Did you mark those experiences in any way? How do you go back and remember them?
- Based on your life journey, your own unique story, what are the beliefs/practices/principles that guide you? What are your “sacred pillars?”
God came to me unexpected at 13.
I was 13 when God claimed me for her own. She knew me, and gradually I understood that she had always known me. Kind of like (John Wesley’s) Prevenient Grace. I was raised by parents with a religious attitude towards life, but not church. One time age 4 I was in a Unitarian church, and threw chairs around. I had only one day at Sunday school at that church. I was baptized at St. Augustine’s-By-The-Sea in Santa Monica–my father was raised Episcopalian, but church was us siblings on our parents’ bed reading the Sunday L.A. Times comics. I started looking for a place to have the experience of God (in Jung’s language) “contained.” I knew a Reform Rabbi, I knew the Unitarian pastor, I visited a Catholic Church. I am ashamed to say that one thing that attracted me to Santa Monica First United Methodist Church was the young women in the Methodist Youth Fellowship.
But it was not the only thing. Millie Stewart was the Director of Christian Education there, and she figured prominently but not insistently in my religious unfolding. She led a class in beginning United Methodist membership. I shall never forget being shocked when she suggested that “angel” could mean “messenger,” rather than a supernatural being. Later, a Youth Director named Del Riddle helped many of us dissolve rigidity and find clarity and a search for reality. Later he underwent much Tibetan Buddhist long meditation retreats, including one in a cave. I had his first teacher as my first Buddhist teacher.
Based on your life journey, your own unique story, what are the beliefs/practices/principles that guide you? What are your “sacred pillars?”
All awareness participates in sacrality. I am praying all the time. Paul said, Pray without ceasing. I don’t like much of Paul but we must love and forgive those who are against us (Matthew 5:43 ff). I like “pray without ceasing” and have folded in my experiences in mystical knowing and doing. My practice is not really a practice, it is that all the time I endeavor to pray, to be aware of the divine in each moment, each opponent, each friend, each CAW of the ravens on our street, even the roar of military planes above us here in Scripps Ranch. Prayer in recollecting, prayer in lifting up enemies and those I have sinned against, prayer in each precious moment of alive/awake/knowing. “Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God–” Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
“Joy is the infallible sign of the presence of God.” I love this! Thank you for sharing, David.