Genesis 28:10-19 (NRSV)
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.
On the wall over my desk is an etching of young Jacob asleep on the ground, a ladder full of angels rising into the sky over his head. It has been a sign to me these many years, a promise in my darkest days, that blessing is never too far away. We are, none of us, so different from Jacob, really. We are all broken creatures, and we have all stolen the promises meant for others. We are on the lam, heading down the road in search of happiness, or security, or wealth. We'll find it out there somewhere, we convince ourselves. Sometimes we don't even know what it is we're looking for, and we often run till we're so tired that we just want to drop. Tomorrow we'll be on the move again.
Then one day I am awakened by something: perhaps a movement nearby, or even a familiar voice. I wonder if I'm imagining things. Maybe it's the darn rock I'm using for a pillow, I say to myself. But over me the leaves stir in the tall tree, and a wren sings her heart out. Next door the grass has been newly cut, and there is sweetness in the air. My eyes flutter open, perhaps, and up in the place where the sun is flickering through the late afternoon branches, I see wings and kindly faces. And for a moment I know this, deep in my heart: I am home. Right where I am is the very house of God, the gate of heaven. There's nowhere to go where I'll come any closer than this.
I have miles, and maybe years, to go, things still to learn. But I pick up a stone and keep it in my pocket, reach down once in a while and rub it between my thumb and fingers. Surely the Lord is in this place, I remind myself. And the voice I heard once comes to me again: "I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised."
The road is long, and I am tired, Lord. I am not sure where to go to find you. Come to me where I am, and open the door to heaven. Make this place, this day, this heart, a Bethel. Amen.
the pastor of the First Congregational Church in Deep River, keeper of an open gate