“Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, and only he who sees takes off his shoes- the rest sit around and pluck blackberries” Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Genesis 28:10-19, Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” And he was afraid, and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” So Jacob rose early in the morning, and he took the stone that he had put under his head and set it up for a pillar and poured oil on the top of it. He called that place Bethel; but the name of the city was Luz at the first.
Where’s the holiness happening?
God making promises to be with Jacob, to give land, to protect.
While Jacob is on the run from his brother, estranged, God calls him family, gives him place.
The Lord binds himself to humanity, to the earth through covenant, choosing to determine a future dependent us.
Jacob, while anything but an example of morality, is faithful enough to recognize holy ground.
The ladder has traffic coming from heaven to earth, angels offering witness to God’s incarnate intentions.
“It’s not disbelief that’s abhorrent to God, but indifference” (Unknown). Indifference to the most holy obvious, indifference to the most holy ordinary.
Annie Dillard recalls, as 6 years old, growing up in Pittsburgh, a place seemingly forsaken of revelation, of hot metal bridges and cold polluted rivers. There, she loved to hide pennies in the smoky city- along a sidewalk, in a crack, under a sycamore root. At the beginning of each block, she would draw arrows and chalk directions saying, “Surprise Ahead!” and “Money this Way!” Then little Annie would go and hide, not to watch, but to wonder about each person receiving a gift from the universe.
Jacob was a criminal and a crook, a scoundrel and a scallywag, but he woke up to the pennies of heaven, the shiny coins stacked at the earthly bottom of every ladder for the world to see: living water and casting nets, wicked weeds and olive branches, narrow gates and eastern stars, lost sheep and white doves, farm hands and day laborers, widow’s mites and treasured pearls.
“Earth,” says Barbara Brown Taylor, “is so thick with divine possibility that it is a wonder we can walk anywhere without cracking our shins on altars.”
Yes, to be Christian is to study our scriptures, to systematize our theology, to true our moral compass. But even more, to be Christian is to be a people who are easily astonished, who practice awe, who indulge in wonderment, who arrive in Bethel to stack stones in reverence to a God hiding in plain sight, who declare, “Surely, the Lord is in this place.” This place (the sanctuary), this place (the Church), this place (Asheville), this place (you and me).