A Bible Reading: Genesis 28. 10 – 12, 16 – 19 Jacob left Beersheba and set out for Harran. When he 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 the earth, with its top reaching to heaven, and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it... When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he thought, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” He was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God; this is the gate of heaven.” Early the next morning Jacob took the stone he had placed under his head and set it up as a pillar and poured oil on top of it. He called that place Bethel.
A Thought As I look around a map of Britain, there are two or three places that stand out as particularly significant to me both physically and spiritually.
The first is the little church of St Winwaloe at Church Cove, Gunwalloe in Cornwall. The church is unusual, situated almost on the beach with a squat bell tower completely separate from the main structure. Originally known as the Church of the Storms, it stands exposed to the full force of wind, sand and Atlantic surf. It’s a favourite place and we have been visiting it for over forty years, inspired again and again by its sturdy resilience since Medieval times.
The second is Norwich Cathedral, which is deeply significant as the building in which I was ordained over twenty years ago. I have been involved in many services there since. The last service coincided with their ‘Seeing It Differently’ mission outreach in 2019, which saw a controversial 55 foot tall helter-skelter erected at the West End. The stairs to the top were not quite Jacob’s stairway, but they were nevertheless a powerful reminder that we can see God from another perspective and be wowed by it. The height gave a unique ‘up close’ view of the awesome fan vaulting and intricately carved roof bosses, all depicting Biblical stories.
The third is Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, completely cut off from the Northumberland mainland by the tide twice a day. The priory was home to St Cuthbert and the Lindisfarne Gospels, and stands at the end of the 66 mile St Cuthbert’s pilgrim way from Melrose Abbey in the Scottish borders. Walking the final two miles across the sands in 2010 in a howling wind and driving rain made me feel like a real pilgrim, and became an important symbol of overcoming the tough things in life when we visited again soon after our daughter Anna’s death in 2014.
Jacob too met with God when he least expected it. Dreaming as he slept out under the stars, he recognised God’s presence in that place and built a stone altar there. He turned his surprise into praise for God’s awesomeness. Describing it as the house of God and a gateway to heaven, he named the place Bethel and it became an important place of worship.
I wonder what your special places are? How have you unexpectedly met with God there? Why not turn your thoughts to worship with praise and thanksgiving.
A Prayer Holy God, awesome and majestic, thank you for meeting with us when we least expect it. May we be ever open to your presence wherever we find ourselves. Amen.
To find out more about St Winwaloe’s Church, see:
To read more about the Norwich Cathedral ‘Seeing it Differently’ mission, see:
To find out more about the Holy Island of Lindsifarne, see: