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Lenten Devotions from Fourth Presbyterian Church

Tuesday, July 14, 2020  

Today’s Scripture Reading  |  Genesis 28:10–19a

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. (NRSV)

Jacob was a man of visions. In fact, not too many chapters after this Jacob has another vision, which ends with some hip troubles. But how intriguing that the image of a ladder here is used to signify the place where heaven is! The ladder holds rich symbolism in more than one faith and spiritual tradition. The Zohar, the medieval founding work of Kabbalah, compares the ladder in Jacob’s vision to an altar of atonement, a descending and ascending instrument for us to atone for and understand the shadowy parts of our nature. One commentator on the Zohar says that “when a person undergoes pain or suffering, be it volitional or circumstantial, he or she is given the opportunity to draw near to God.”

And what goes up must come down. If earth is ours to make a beloved community out of, then there should also be a descent back into ourselves and our world after an ascent of the spiritual rungs of the ladder. When I sit with my pain, when I sit with the “dark night of the soul,” I find myself drawing nearer to God since that work requires absolute vulnerability. And then it is my responsibility to use those learnings and descend back into the family of God, to use both the holy day and holy night that exists inside of my soul and bring heaven back down the ladder with me.

You are the ladder we climb. Each rung brings us closer to our truest selves and thus closer to you. You are the vision we dream in the dead of night and the waking praise we sing in the morning. You are the pillar we worship and the anointing oil we pour. Thank you for meeting us on the rungs of the ladder. Amen.

Written by Lois Snavely, Seminary Intern

Reflection and Prayer © Fourth Presbyterian Church

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