What does it mean to know God? More importantly, what does it take to form a relationship with God? Perhaps we are surprised and experience a God moment – in nature, in the moment, or in an awakening. Perhaps whenever two people come together, God is there in the conversation.
A more important question might be: Are we paying attention? Do we go through our lives asleep? Or do we just miss the subtle spiritual messages God sends us? Perhaps God lives within us and we just never notice. Maybe we see only what is straight in front of us without peering to the right or to the left. How tragic such a life might be – to miss out on the spiritual fireworks that might be just what we need to infuse greater meaning in our lives!
In our parashah we read about Jacob’s experience and his awakening to a relationship with God. We can imagine Jacob, a terrified young man, leaving home for the first time. Jacob, who deceived his brother Esau and stole his father’s blessing, is in fear of his life. Jacob is leaving Canaan and going to his mother’s ancestral home to stay with Rebecca’s brother, his uncle Laban.
Genesis 28:10-13 continues the story:
Jacob left Beer Sheva and set out for Heran. He came upon a certain place and stopped for the night, for the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of that place he put it under his head and lay down in that place. He had a dream; a stairway was set on the ground and its top reached to the sky and angels of God were going up and down on it.
What a dream! We learn from the ancient commentators that the ascending angels were accompanying Jacob to the border of Canaan, and the descending angels were taking over to offer Jacob protection on his journey. In reflecting on the metaphor of the ladder we can also learn that as we approach God we ascend one step at a time – slowly and surely. Sometimes we skip or miss a step, falling back, but we recover and keep climbing. That’s how Jacob’s encounter begins.
The story continues at Genesis 28: 14-15:
And the Lord was standing beside him and He said, “I am the Lord, God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac, … Remember I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”
None other than God has come to escort Jacob! Moreover, Jacob is able to hear and experience in a profound way that God will protect him. And in the midst of the dark of night, indeed a journey into the dark night of Jacob’s soul that would last over 20 years, Jacob encounters God. This encounter must have brought comfort to Jacob and hope – he wasn’t alone.
We aren’t alone if only we pay attention, and Jacob certainly does pay attention.
Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!” Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.” (Genesis 28: 16-17)
For Jacob, not only is it a moment of waking up but it is also a moment of awakening. Jacob has slipped. He has faltered. He knows he has been a deceiver. And yet God sees Jacob, takes note of him and promises to keep him safe. And Jacob exclaims, “God was in this place, and I did not know it!”
There are moments in our lives when we are frightened and terrified. Perhaps we slip. Perhaps we fall. We try to get up again. Sometimes are able to right ourselves, but sometimes we are not. Jacob’s story teaches us that perhaps there is always something greater than ourselves (God), and we fail to notice.
So, going back to the beginning: How do we find God? How do we build a relationship with God? We stop. We notice, and we stand ready to enter into a relationship.
Chaplain Deborah Schmidt