Sunday, July 20, 2014

We Are Climbing Jacob's Ziggurat

Jacob’s Dream, Our Dream - Genesis 28:10-19
Jacob lays his head on a stone to sleep. He is on the lam. Under the advice of his mother Rebekah he flees the wrath of his brother Esau. Here the story is somewhat complicated. Sometime before Esau, the older of the twins by virtue of being first out of the womb, gave up his birthright for a pot of stew. Now, more recently in the saga, Jacob connives with his mother to secure that same birthright through a ruse – tricking his aging and now blind father Isaac  - “he who laughs,” he who saw the knife in his father Abraham’s hand about to come down on him save for the grace of God and a ram caught in a nearby thicket – by impersonating Esau with an animal skin to make him seem like “an hairy man.”

Esau is angry – angry enough to kill his brother. It’s another Cain and Abel story of sorts. Except that Jacob survives and eventually reconciles with his brother – a parable for our time, no?

So as he lays his head down on a stone to get some rest one could say that Jacob is in a hard place – literally. We can imagine all that is running through his heart and head: deceiving his father, a father who has no doubt carried the burden of his own challenging childhood; stealing from his brother; plotting with his mother; meanwhile, Esau marries Ishmael’s daughter – Ishmael being father Abraham’s first son by Hagar, banished by orders of Sarah, and one day the patriarch of Islam. A parable for our time, no?

Jacob is on the run. He is in a hard place. We have all been there before.

So he has a dream. The Hebrew word pronounced khay-lem means to dream, but originates from a root word meaning to bind or to make dumb i.e. unable to speak. The word is also derived from a word that means “swirling” as with sand. Jacob whose heart and head are swirling is suddenly struck dumb, he is bound in a dream. It is a vision really – one might even call it a mystical experience. He sees what we have come to call a ladder, but it seems more likely it was a kind of ziggurat – a stairway – the original stairway to heaven! Angels are ascending and descending between heaven and earth. Perhaps this is always happening and only now when Jacob is in a hard place – between rejection and acceptance – can he see this. Angels are always coming and going.

Angels carry messages from heaven – from God. In this moment, his head on a stone, his heart and head swirling with all that has transpired in his family life. It is in this moment that he sees – “The Lord stood beside him.” When we are in such hard places it is necessary to see and remember that The Lord stands beside us.

The Lord speaks. “…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…I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Message delivered. Message heard. Jacob cannot speak until he has heard the message – he is bound, khay-lem. Mystical experiences are like this. There is nothing to say in those moments when the ineffable opens itself to us. Or, do we open ourselves to the ineffable? Or, does being in a hard place open us to see and hear what is there beside us all along?

As he awakens from this moment of mystical vision, Jacob speaks. “Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it!”

There are so many distractions -so many that we do not know that the Lord is in this place – this place where we find ourselves right now. Even when we are in a hard place. Most especially when we are in a hard place – when we cannot tell a pillow from a stone.

“How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.”

That is where we are – this is where we stand. Day and night, night and day – we are in the house of God standing at the gate of heaven. The Greek word is oikos – now a popular brand of yogurt. Oikos means household. From this word we get oiko-nomos, the laws of the household, or in English, economy. And there is oiko-logia, or study of the household, or in English ecology. In Hebrew it is, of course, Beyit, which in its construct form is Beth – household of – the household of God. We sometimes call this the universe.

Jacob places a stone and anoints it with oil to remember the place….and calls it Bethel
“the Household of God”

Jacob’s vision- here we are in God’s household, our “fragile island home,” the Earth. You would not know this by the way we behave in it, nor in the way in which we treat it. How we behave with one another and how we treat this Earth, our home for we know not how long, lies at the very heart of this ancient saga of a young man on the run.

How might we understand ourselves, how might we treat others if we were to remember we are in God’s household, the Lord stands beside us, God’s messengers are forever in our midst to bring us words of comfort, challenge and inspiration? How might we treat the Earth if we were to remember it is God’s house, not ours?

If you ever feel sad
And the whole world is driving you mad
Remember, Remember Today
-John Lennon

May we remember Jacob and his dream. One day we too shall be climbing Jacob’s ziggurat. This stairway to heaven is right in front of us day and night here where we are – God’s own household. Beth-el.

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