Stairway to Heaven
In the Hebrew Scriptures' book of Genesis chapter 28 there is an amazing story that speaks to the ephemeral nature of reality, and the "thin" places that exist between "here" and "eternity."
It's also the origin for the title of one of the greatest rock-n-roll songs of all time. I'm pretty sure.
The story follows Jacob as he travels from the deserts of Beersheba (southern Israel) to Harran, an ancient city located in what is now modern day Turkey. He stops to rest for the night and then this happens:
12 He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it...
Did you see that? The text says he saw a vision of a stairway "reaching to heaven!" Come on! Stairway to Heaven? Led Zeppelin? I'm actually doing air drums and guitar right now to the chorus as I write.
In his vision, Jacob hears God say to him that he will be blessed, have many descendants, and the land he is traveling through will one day be the land where those descendants will live. Then Jacob comes to, and says this:
16 When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.”
Funny thing about this story. Jacob was running from his past, trying to discover his purpose, seeking something, anything to connect him to the Divine. He thought if he could just go back to the land of his grandfather Abraham's birth he might find it.
Instead he found it in the middle of the desert, in a "no-man's land" kind of place that was claimed and owned by no one. It was the last place on earth that he expected to find God.
And yet, that is exactly where the "thin" place between this world and the next happened to be. The lesson the story teaches us is that those thin places are everywhere, and we often don't have to go very far to find them.
I read a wonderful line from Madeline L'Engle the other day that spoke to why we shouldn't be shocked when we discover a thin place in an unexpected place---a place and a moment where we experience the glory of God, the beauty of the Christ and the presence of the Spirit. She writes:
There is nothing so secular that it cannot be sacred, and that is one of the deepest messages of the Incarnation.
When we think of the Incarnation (Jesus--fully Divine, fully human), why wouldn't a God who became one of us, who shows us that matter matters to God, be found anywhere or, as in Jacob's case, nowhere?
But our worst enemy when it comes to perceiving the thinness of the spaces around us is quite simply ourselves. We get in our own way. And sometimes we have to have all of our false confidence, misguided ideas of success, and even our typical self-centered support systems stripped away in order to be ready to see.
The moments when I have experienced the presence of God in thin places have usually been accompanied by surrender on my part. I reached the end of my rope, and didn't know what else to do after exhausting myself trying to do it on my own.
If you have been longing to feel the presence of the Divine in your life, maybe it's time to begin letting go of your need for control, and surrender the outcomes. That old platitude, "God's address is at the end of your rope," is true on so many levels.
It could be that you need to get out of your own way, in order to get a better view of where eternity is peeking through in the sacred ordinary all around you.
But when you do finally surrender... Oh, what sights you will see if you are willing!
May this be so for you today and everyday forward. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.