We are not alone

by Sarah Daigen - July 20, 2014 A reflection on Genesis 28:10-19a Listen to the audio recording

“Wherever you go, there you are”. This is the title of a book on mindfulness meditation by John Kabat-Zinn, and what a great quote it is. It’s a favourite of mine, because in my mind, it represents two important concepts. Its first meaning, and its original one I believe, signifies the importance of living in the now; wherever you’ve been and wherever you’re going, you’re here now, so you might as well make the most of it. The relevance of this is clear to our Scripture reading today, as Jacob, in his travels, finds God in a most unexpected place.

I myself have come to read a second meaning into this quote over the years however, and it, too, resonates with meaning in relationship to Jacob’s journey. To me, this quote also speaks to how we can’t run away from our troubles … often times, when we try, we find they come along with us. Our weaknesses and struggles are a part of us as surely as our strengths and triumphs, and can be impossible to shake, no matter how far we might try to run or how deeply we might try to hide.

But, in a way … “Wherever you go, there you are.” Couldn’t we modify that a little, to a much more comforting thought? One similar to that expressed in today’s Psalm? “Wherever you go, there is God.” God is with – and within – all of us. God is the joy we experience in the good times and the lessons we learn through the hard ones. God is with us, whether we stay close to home or travel afar, and whether or not those travels are by choice, or out of necessity, like the journey of Jacob that today’s scripture reading explores. God is ever-present and always with us, even in our less-than-perfect moments. After all, as the Psalmist writes, “If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.”

As we consider Jacob’s dream in today’s Scripture reading, offering reassurance that God was with him, both in the place where he rested his head currently and, in time, in a safe, ‘promised’ land where he could finally settle, it behooves us to remember the reason that Jacob was on the road to begin with. And it wasn’t because he was a nice guy. After having deprived his older brother, Esau, of his birth right, he was on the run, fearing his wrath. As we investigate the ancient family stories of Genesis together, this is not one of those warm fuzzy, ‘big hug at the end of the half-hour sitcom’ moments by any means … nor was Jacob a brilliant example of a loving brother. And yet, with him on his journey, “Surely God was in this place, even though [he] did not know it.”

I can just imagine Jacob’s reaction to this vision of the Holy in this context. On the run, having committed a deplorable act against his brother, homeless and alone, making his proverbial ‘bed in Sheol’ with a rock for a pillow … and yet here he is, face-to-face with a being who knows his most secret thoughts and deeds, from whom there is no hiding. Frightening indeed.

And yet … at such a time of schism in his family, might he have found comfort in the presence of the God of his father Isaac, and his grandfather Abraham? That connection to people, and a place, to which he could no longer return? And the reassurance of God’s words … that he would be with him both here, in this holy yet uncomfortable place where he rested his head on a stone, and, in time, in a safer place where he could settle and establish a new family … perhaps built on the old traditions he brought with him from his forefathers, Abraham and Isaac?

God would be with him on his journey, as God is with us today. But we should understand as well, in the context of the age in which this story is told, that this would have been a novel idea. The ‘God’ or ‘Gods’ of Jacob’s era were often associated with geographical areas, local gods worshipped by people who, perhaps, didn’t travel particularly great distances. This is one of the first times we see in the Bible the idea of a travelling Divinity, one that would remain present amongst our ancestors, and us, even as they – and we – roam. This was an important point in its context, and one that would ring through the generations of Jacob’s descendants, particularly as they found themselves enslaved, in exile, or oppressed … in Egypt … in Babylon … under Roman rule … God was with them.

And, at a time when Jacob, travelling essentially as a fugitive, was unable to take his nearest and dearest with him on his road, he could at least know that God would be there … a Divine family tradition of sorts he could hold to even in his darkest hours, a connection between where he’d been, and where he was going; something, in this day and age of interconnectedness, that we often take for granted.

As some of you may or may not know, my youngest son shares a name with this ancient Patriarch of our faith. Like his namesake, he was also a second-born son. My Jacob, luckily, seems to get along at least a little better with his older brother than the Jacob of Biblical times, although at almost four years old we’re still working a bit on the sharing thing from time to time. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t had a journey. We adopted him at nine days old, and, for a myriad of reasons, he has had no contact since with his birth family (other than our oldest, with whom he shares a birth mother).

Nonetheless, we have strived, since, to ensure that both of our boys are familiar both with where they come from – in terms of sharing what stories we can about their family of origin, and their Jamaican cultural background – and where they are now, in one mixed bag of an Interfaith Jewish and Christian nuclear family with more grandparents than they could have ever asked for. Those lessons become even more important when the road we have travelled as a family – namely, the 401 from Kitchener to Ottawa – has taken us to some physical distance from many of our relatives and closest friends. But our boys’ connectedness to their past, present, and future – to the love that led them to our family, and the love with which we try to nurture them today, is, in my opinion, the very definition of Bethel – the place of the Divine.

And now, in just six weeks’ time, my Jacob is starting out on a new adventure as he begins junior kindergarten. Now, this journey won’t be as lonely as the one embarked upon by the Jacob of old. Young Jacob’s dad and I will be with him – in many respects – the whole way, and his brother too, quite literally, as they will be attending the same school. And trust me, there is, at this time anyway, no trepidation in Jacob’s mind at all about this new experience he’s about to embark upon. But as with all great adventures, amidst the excitement and the fun, there will come moments of uncertainty – and it’s a great comfort to me to know in those moments that Jacob is surrounded by a Holy love that goes with him. Maybe God won’t exactly send holy angels up and down the stairs of Jacob’s school at those times to drive the point home, any more than the cross I described at All Generations time, that I now wear around my neck, necessarily provided some kind of supernatural protection from danger in my cousin’s travels. But just as it served for her as a reminder of the love of those who gave it to her, and the God it represented, Jacob, and his brother Liam, will both be held up by the love and the lessons learned along with their family and friends. They can feel free to fly off and explore without running away, because we will do our best to make sure they always have a safe place – a Bethel – in which to land.

And in this day and age, after all, isn’t that all that we want? It is a really unique time, here in the 21st century, for one’s sense of community, of connection. On the one hand, planes, trains and automobiles have made it incredibly easy to move away from our roots. Families and friends scatter, and we are no longer tied, as people in Biblical times were, to one or maybe two geographical areas. Our little unit of four has family ties as nearby as Cornwall and Montreal, and as far flung as California – and that net only gets wider as one considers friends and ‘chosen’ family. And yet, with the Internet, with Facebook and Twitter, with Skype’s video-chat technology, it is, in many ways, easier than ever to stay in touch with our roots while building our own new lives. And, as the New Creed with which we are so familiar suggests, no matter how far we roam, “We are not alone. We live in God’s world.”

Today’s Psalm points out that even if we feel disconnected from God, God knows us, loves us and accepts us, no matter what. The ‘bad’ news, in that sense, is we can’t hide from God. The good news is we don’t have to – there is nothing we have to hide because there is nothing about us that God doesn’t already know, love, and understand. Much like a compassionate parent, there might be times we are aware of God’s wishing for us to do better, to reach beyond our ego to our best selves, to the Divine within us. I can’t imagine Jacob’s greed or selfishness being the particular traits that most connect him to God. But God is still with him, prepared to keep him safe on his journey and guide him into a better time and place, and into his true birthright –and honestly, the birthright to which we – all of us, even still today – have a claim. Not the birthright Jacob duplicitously stole from his brother Esau, but the birthright of God’s eternal presence and love that we still reap the riches of today, even in our scariest moments, even when we make mistakes, even big ones, even when we are most at loose ends. No matter how far we roam, we do indeed live in God’s world. We are not alone. Thanks be to God.

I invite you now to join me in singing about that special relationship that Jacob – and we – have shared in with God since ancient times, as we grow “Nearer, My God, to Thee”, at Voices United, #487.


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