When [Jacob] reached a certain place, he stopped for the night because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones there, he put it under his head and lay down to sleep. He had a dream in which he saw a stairway resting on earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. There above it stood the Lord… (Genesis 28: 11 – 13a)
When God meets us and speaks to us, the world becomes more brilliant. Such was the case for our brother Jacob when he fled the home of his fathers to find his Uncle Laban. In a dream, God reminds Jacob of who God is, extending the promise to Jacob that had been given to his fathers. Jacob’s human pilgrimage shifts.
For years, Kristi and I have been in the habit of “retreating” from the cares of normal life, setting ourselves apart in lonely places where we can think, meditate, walk, write, and pray. Earlier this month, we took several days to do just that. As our favorite retreat center was closed, we chose an inviting Airbnb in a neighboring town called Eureka. Close to our abode was a nice lake, walking trails, and a labyrinth. On our first day, Kristi spent time at the labyrinth, praying that God would help her live a life of faithfulness. She prayed that God would give her a sign in the form of seeing an owl. Later, as this glorious autumnal day was coming to a close, we walked by the lake. “Hoot hoot…Hoot hoot” we heard just overhead. We scanned the trees to no avail. As we turned and looked out over the lake, a large presence flew overhead, wings flapping with equanimity and tremendous force. An owl.
Eureka Lake, where we enjoyed walks and saw an owl
Labyrinth on the Eureka College Campus
Each day I holed myself up in the frigid upstairs of this humble 1920’s era home. I was reading and writing “memories,” a project Kristi and I are working on with a friend, hopefully in time yielding a memoir. I am currently writing experiences from Rwanda. It feels amazing to look back on those years, seeing pieces connect in new ways. For instance, I could see more clearly now how God had orchestrated my time there, namely my choice to stay longer. Yes, it was a choice, but God gave a "light touch" in fashioning my path. It was a joy to re-read these memories, and to write new ones. It made me felt more integrated, more whole. I spent time at the labyrinth where daily I saw a woodpecker as together we enjoyed a wondrous grove of elms. I also spent time reflecting on the life of Nehemiah, how he spent his "social capital" on the needs of the poor and marginalized Israelites dwelling in destroyed Jerusalem. “Oh Lord,” I prayed, “how can I use my 'social capital' to help others, especially the poor and the marginalized?”
Kristi walked along the shores of the lake on a bright morning, feeling the crunch of the leaves underfoot and the brisk wind on her face. She worshipped and prayed, watching the geese on the water and the juncos in the bushes, allowing the peace and glory of nature to restore her spirit, connecting her with the Lord of creation. Later she meandered through a cemetery, noting names and dates, imagining life from ages past. A large tree stood near the graves, the long roots entangling and pushing up the graves, a reminder of the brevity of life and our need for God’s perspective.
Jacob called the place where God met with him “Bethel,” meaning “the house of God.” After several days of retreat at our Airbnb, we left Eureka, our earthly loads lighter and our world a bit brighter. We all need a house where we can go and meet with God.