Surely the Lord is In This Place

Ladder of Divine Ascent, 12th cen, Monastery of St. Catherine, Sinai

Scripture Passage:  Genesis 28: 10-17

10Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. 11He 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. 12And 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. 13And 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; 14and 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. 15Know 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.”   16Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!” 17And 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.”

Jacob came to a certain place, a certain place in the wilderness. I don’t think it was a particularly holy place. It was just an ordinary place with an ordinary stone. But then Jacob dreamed. And what a wild dream that was! Now, remember the “back story” of this. Jacob is not just wandering through the wilderness to get a little exercise. He is fleeing from his family and from the hatred of his brother Esau (you know that one that Jacob tricked into giving up his birthright.) Jacob is also fleeing from himself, from his own trickery and his duplicity. Perhaps he has had enough of himself. He is at the lowest point of his life. He is afraid, afraid of what will come next, afraid of Esau, probably a little afraid of God. The wilderness was nothing compared to the fear that Jacob felt.

And then a dream, a remarkable dream, probably the world’s most famous dream, fills his night.  He dreams that a ladder or, more likely, a stairway or a ramp extends from earth to heaven.  (Although, that really messes up that song!)  And on this ladder (or stairway or ramp or ziggurat or whatever it was), there were divine beings traversing up and down.  In this dream, we on earth were not left, as we sometimes think, to our own devices, to wander in the wilderness alone, and the place of the Divine, the Sacred, Heaven, or whatever you want to call this realm, is no longer off-limits to us.  In the wilderness, the two are intertwined, a part of one another.

The point is that, when the dream had ended, God was there.  The Hebrew is a little ambiguous.  It is not clear if God was “before” Jacob or “beside” him.  I think maybe the ambiguity is the point.  No matter where we are, God is there.  And then, Jacob, this one who is always looking out for himself, is given the promise that those before him had been given—land, prosperity, presence, and homecoming.  God promises to bring Jacob home.  Jacob realizes that he has encountered God and he claims God’s promises as part of who God calls him to be.

We are like Jacob.  Sometimes we, too, are wandering in fear—fear of being found out, fear of our past and what we’ve done, fear of the future, fear of the unknown, fear that it will not go as planned.  Perhaps we are afraid of what it means to encounter God, to follow Jesus, to come near to the Cross (not the cleaned-up one…the Golgotha one).  Perhaps we are afraid that our lives will change beyond our control.  We want to encounter God, but we want to do it on our terms. We don’t dare to even imagine that we could possibly do what God is calling us to do. And so, we stay here, afraid of who we are, feet firmly planted in what we know. Maybe “fear not” is calling us to encounter the God who walks with us.  For surely the Lord is in this place and I did not know it!  I was so wrapped up in fear that I did not realize that God was holding it.

To live with the conscious knowledge of the shadow of uncertainty, with the knowledge that disaster or tragedy could strike at any time; to be afraid and to know and acknowledge your fear, and still to live creatively and with unstinting love: that is to live with grace. (Peter Abrahams)

Grace and Peace,



Scripture Passage:  Numbers 9: 1-3

The Lord spoke to Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the first month of the second year after they had come out of the land of Egypt, saying: 2Let the Israelites keep the passover at its appointed time. 3On the fourteenth day of this month, at twilight, you shall keep it at its appointed time; according to all its statutes and all its regulations you shall keep it. 

Well, we’ve been wandering in the wilderness awhile.  Have you heard God speak to you yet?  If not, maybe we’re still not traveling light enough, still dragging baggage with us over the rough terrain, so afraid that we will be without something.  I, personally, am a terrible over-packer.  It’s not so much that I’m afraid to be without something; it really has more to do with preparation.  In my swirling, sometimes-chaotic life, if I wait until the last minute to pack (which I often do), I end up just throwing things in a bag.  Without taking the time to think things through, I tend to over-compensate.  And, more times than not, the bag that I planned to bring turns out not to be big enough or I have to add another bag.

The wilderness requires preparation.  The wilderness requires that we be intentional about what it is we do.  Why do you think God was so specific about the preparations for the Passover?  The Scripture doesn’t say to make sure you cram the Passover into your schedule once a year at a time when it’s convenient or when the weather is right or when you can find time on the church calendar.  Sometimes living our faith is NOT convenient.  Sometimes it gets in the way of our plans and our lives.  Thanks be to God!

Traveling in this wilderness requires that we pack light, that we leave ourselves nimble and with enough room for what we find.  The truth is, God is always speaking to us in the wilderness.  God is always speaking to us everywhere.  But in the wilderness, unencumbered by our baggage and our creature comforts, we finally hear.  In the wilderness, we have to be aware, we have to be prepared, we have to present.  The way we prepare for the wilderness, the way we be present in the wilderness is to become aware of everything, to hear every sound as if it was our first sound, to taste the dust as it flies up and makes its way between our lips, to feel the thirst in every molecule of our body, to know what we need and to, finally, need it.  Preparing to travel light, preparing to feel, preparing to thirst is how will finally pay attention to the God who has been speaking all along.

On this Lenten journey, this Wilderness Season, I hope that you have packed well and only brought what you truly need.  I hope that your bag is light enough for you to keep moving, to be prepared to encounter God at every turn.  See, God is speaking to us at every turn.  But in order to encounter God, we have to pay attention.  Martin Buber said that “all actual life is encounter.”  The wilderness journey will teach us what we need to encounter the God who is with us always.  In the barrenness, we will learn to hunger.  In the drought, we will learn to thirst.  The wilderness teaches us to encounter; the wilderness teaches us how to feel, to live.  But we have to travel light.

God…awaits us every instant in our action, in the work of the moment. There is a sense in which [God] is at the tip of my pen, my spade, my brush, my needle—of my heart and my thought. By pressing the stroke, the line, or the stitch, on which I am engaged, to its ultimate natural finish, I shall lay hold of the last end toward which my innermost will tends. (Pierre Teilhard de Chardin)

Grace and Peace,


Staring Into the Face of Resurrection

Snake (Coiled) Scripture Text:  Numbers 21: 4-9
From Mount Hor they set out by the way to the Red Sea, to go around the land of Edom; but the people became impatient on the way. The people spoke against God and against Moses, “Why have you brought us up out of Egypt to die in the wilderness? For there is no food and no water, and we detest this miserable food.” Then the Lord sent poisonous serpents among the people, and they bit the people, so that many Israelites died. The people came to Moses and said, “We have sinned by speaking against the Lord and against you; pray to the Lord to take away the serpents from us.” So Moses prayed for the people. And the Lord said to Moses, “Make a poisonous serpent, and set it on a pole; and everyone who is bitten shall look at it and live.” So Moses made a serpent of bronze, and put it upon a pole; and whenever a serpent bit someone, that person would look at the serpent of bronze and live.

Well, as if we weren’t having enough problems in this wilderness! It seems that all through the Scriptures, there is always lots of complaining going on in the wilderness. The people complained because there was no food, so God gives them manna enough for an army. They complained that there was no water, so God tells Moses to strike the rock and the waters supposedly gushed forth. The complaints continued. Nothing was ever enough. Nothing was ever right. The one here always sort of cracks me up. “There is no food and no water!” “Oh wait, there IS food but we don’t like it.” (OH, that’s the REAL story!) But, regardless, this is the oddest passage. Without its mention in this week’s Gospel passage, chances are we would have avoided including it in the Lectionary altogether.

But in their defense, the wilderness sometimes seems to be unending torturous despair. The people are weary; they are frustrated; and they are no longer convinced that their leader really knows where he’s going at all. So, of course, the group that doesn’t like change, that wants to go back, becomes louder and more influential. I don’t know. I’ve always thought that perhaps the poisonous snakes notion might have been a little over the top. I mean, sure…complaining…bad, poisonous snakes all over the place…REALLY bad. You know, there is just something about a snake that commands your attention.

So God comes up with the oddest solution. Make a serpent of bronze and put it on a pole and when someone is bitten by a snake, have the person look at the snake. Well, that is very strange. Essentially, God’s antidote for the snakes is a snake. So, let me get this straight. The more we look at our fear, at our evil, at those things that invade us, at those things that plague us, the less hold they have on us. I think the point is not the snake; the point is what God does with it.

It is notable, too, that nothing is said to imply that God destroys the snakes.  Essentially, God does not destroy the enemy—God recreates it.  Isn’t that an incredible thing?  You see, we need to recognize that the traditional Jewish reading of the “Garden of Eden” story differs from the classical Christian version.  While the snake has often been identified in both faiths as Satan (or satan), the Jewish understanding is not that of something or someone outside of God’s command or a rebel against divine authority.  Rather, it’s sort of a prosecuting attorney, entrusted with testing, entrapping, and testifying against us before the heavenly court.  It’s part of God’s way of maintaining order.  It’s part of God’s way of showing us a mirror to look at ourselves.  So, from that standpoint, these snakes or serpents are not enemies but, are rather a part of ourselves, a part of who we are, the part that we would rather not see. (And, yes, now we would rather they all be snakes rather than that!) Redemption is free but it is not given freely; one has to be willing to surrender the part of oneself that we’d rather not see. That is the only way that it can be healed.

So, did you see what has now happened to the story about “the dress”? (You know the blue and black that sometimes looked white and gold that brought the internet, social media, and the news world to its knees as people argued over the color of the dress.) Well, the Salvation Army in South Africa has come up with a stupendous global advertising campaign to raise awareness for domestic violence. There is a billboard in England that shows a picture of a bruised and battered woman that also employs the use of facial recognition technology. Each time a person looks at the billboard, the camera will take a picture of their face and the battered woman will heal a little bit more on the billboard. How incredible is that? If we look, the healing begins. (

That’s the crux. If we look at the snake, if we look at the billboard, if we look to the Cross, the healing begins. Redemption does not happen by ignoring evil or turning one’s eyes away from that which is uncomfortable; it happens by staring it square in the face and seeing God’s Presence come through as it is re-created.

Nature doth thus kindly heal every wound. By the mediation of a thousand little mosses and fungi, the most unsightly objects become radiant of beauty. There seem to be two sides of this world, presented us at different times, as we see things in growth or dissolution, in life or death. And seen with the eye of the poet, as God sees them, all things are alive and beautiful. (Henry David Thoreau)

FOR TODAY: Open your eyes. Look it square in the face and encounter God in a way that you never have before. Encounter redemption; encounter re-creation; encounter resurrection.

Grace and Peace,


The Wrestling Wilderness

Jacob Wrestles with AngelScripture Text: Genesis 32: 24-30

 24Jacob was left alone; and a man wrestled with him until daybreak. 25When the man saw that he did not prevail against Jacob, he struck him on the hip socket; and Jacob’s hip was put out of joint as he wrestled with him. 26Then he said, “Let me go, for the day is breaking.” But Jacob said, “I will not let you go, unless you bless me.” 27So he said to him, “What is your name?” And he said, “Jacob.” 28Then the man said, “You shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with humans, and have prevailed.” 29Then Jacob asked him, “Please tell me your name.” But he said, “Why is it that you ask my name?” And there he blessed him. 30So Jacob called the place Peniel, saying, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved.”


We know this story.  Jacob is running from Esau.  (You know, the brother that he duped into handing over his birthright to Jacob.)  And during the night, he wrestles.  It doesn’t fully say why he was wrestling.  Was it fear?  Was it regret?  Was it guilt?  After all, he had taken Esau’s life, pushed him into something that he was not and, in turn, became someone that he himself was not.  So he wrestles, begging for a blessing, begging for forgiveness, begging that his conscience be clear.  As daybreak approaches, Jacob is struck in the hollow of the thigh.  The blow has a crippling effect and brings the struggle to its climactic moment.  But Jacob retains his hold.


Jacob will never be the same again.  He has looked God and also himself square in the face and everything has changed.  The wrestling has been an act not of destruction, but of transformation.  Each step is now marked by the Divine touch.  Jacob becomes Israel, the God-wrestler.  He has experienced a true rebirth.  He names the place Penuel, or “I have seen the face of God”.  Not only has he seen the face of God, but his life is such now that he will continue to experience that over and over again.


The truth is, sometimes we have to get out in the wilderness to do our wrestling.  We think we can do it on our own turf, protected by our armors of plans and preconceptions.  We think we can do it according to some preset schedule.  But the wilderness is the real wrestling place.  Like Jacob, we have sometimes to go it alone, sometimes forsake all of our supplies and our help.  We have to be vulnerable.  We have to be real.  We have to strip away all of our armor.  And, there, exposed, there is nothing to hide who we are.  We face ourselves and we face God.  The wilderness is the place where we encounter God and begin to know ourselves.  The wilderness is the place of blessing.  God wants us to wrestle.  That’s why God gave the name of “God-wrestler” to God’s people.


The season of Lent is a wrestling season.  It begins in a wilderness and ends on a Cross.  And God is there for each round of the game.  Because only those who wrestle with God understand what it means to be blessed, understand what it means to see God face to face, understand what it means to become the one that God sees with the name that God knows.


Come near to the holy men and women of the past and you will soon feel the heat of their desire after God…They prayed and wrestled and sought…in season and out, and when they had found [God], the finding was all the sweeter for the long seeking. (A.W. Tozer)


FOR TODAY:  Strip away the armor that protects you.  With what do you wrestle?  With whom are you wrestling?  Why are you afraid to wrestle?      


Grace and Peace,


Finding Enough in the Wilderness

Shifting Sands on the PathwayScripture Text:  Romans 4: 13-22

13For the promise that he would inherit the world did not come to Abraham or to his descendants through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14If it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15For the law brings wrath; but where there is no law, neither is there violation. 16For this reason it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his descendants, not only to the adherents of the law but also to those who share the faith of Abraham (for he is the father of all of us,  17as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”) —in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18Hoping against hope, he believed that he would become “the father of many nations,” according to what was said, “So numerous shall your descendants be.” 19He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was already as good as dead (for he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. 20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21being fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22Therefore his faith “was reckoned to him as righteousness.”

According to the passage, faith is and has always been the basis of a relationship with God.  (Well, duh!)  We know that.  We are told to believe, to have faith, no matter what.  And so we wander around in another wilderness perhaps beating ourselves up because it just doesn’t make sense to us.  Our pragmatic 21st century minds need proof.  We want to touch it or we want to somehow see it or AT LEAST be able to google it and get more information.  But, as Paul reminds us here, if our whole faith system depends on nothing more than adhering to some limited set of laws or hard and fast Scriptural interpretations that have been laid down by those that came before us, what good is faith?  It’s not bad, mind you, it’s just not enough.  Faith is about relationship; faith is about jumping off into the abyss of unknowing whether or not it makes sense; faith is about knowing only that what you know, what you understand, and what you’ve been told is just not enough.

Now I have to admit, I am a list maker of the highest magnitude.  There is a certain satisfaction, almost power-driven, in “checking things off” my list.  So, faith, for me, is definitely a walk in the wilderness where the winds blow the sands beneath my feet distorting my planned path, where the road winds and turns into unknown terrain, and where nothing, I mean NOTHING, is ever completed or “checked off” as “OK, I got that one”.  See, I don’t think Paul would have ever have meant to dismiss systematized religion or even the rules.  They help shape us; they give us a starting point.  But Paul is reminding us that they have their limitations.  They tend to make sense of something that, in our minds, in our limited human minds, does not and cannot fully make sense.  An authentic, growing, faith making its way through the wild terrain is one that weaves what doesn’t make sense into understanding, laughter into prayer, and grace into the everyday.  It is a mixture of sense-making and transcendence that, sometimes, on our very best days, opens us to an encounter with the Divine when we least expect it in our everyday, carefully planned, list-ridden life.  And in that moment, the path beneath us shifts just a bit as God gently moves us to face a new direction.

As the passage says, the promises of God do not come to us through our religion or through our laws or through even our reading of the Scriptures (shhhh!)  The promise of God comes to us through our faith.  The promise comes to be in the wilds of our lives when our lists cannot be completed and we can no longer control where our path leads.  The promise takes life when we encounter and know God as perfectly revealed and totally hidden.  The promise takes life when we finally know that what we know is never enough.

On this Lenten wilderness journey, we are taught to open our eyes to what we’re missing seeing and opening our hearts to the ways that we’re missing being and opening our minds beyond the boundaries that we have drawn to know that there is so much more, that what we know and what we see is never enough.  We are never called to tame the wilderness through which we journey or to try to redraw the shifting pathways but rather to believe that the Promise will be. The wilderness teaches us that faith fills the void where knowing is not enough.  And, for now, that is enough.

Let your religion be less of a theory and more of a love affair.  (G.K. Chesterton)

FOR TODAY: Put the list down. Stop checking things off.  Now let yourself travel into the wilderness where faith is enough.

Grace and Peace,