The Stuff that Dreams are Made On A Reflection on Genesis 28:10-17
Bruce G. Epperly
Insight can come to anyone, at anytime, and at any place. Jacob was a surprising person to have an encounter with the Living God, the Voice and Vision that inspired his grandparents, Abraham and Sarah, to leave Haran in search of their promised land. Names meant something to the ancients and Jacob was not just a pretty name; it meant among other things: “supplanter,” “holder of the heel” (of his older twin Esau), “trickster,” “schemer,” and “con man.” Ironically, some translations imply that the name Jacob also meant “one who God protects.” Jacob was not the sort of person you’d enter into a business deal with – not unless you kept your eyes open and your hand on your wallet. Jacob once tricked his brother out of his inheritance, and had to skip town quickly to avoid Esau’s wrath! Later he made a fortune on a shady business deal with his father-in-law, Laban, profiting at his father-in-law’s expense.
But, somehow, even tricksters get a portion of divine inspiration. The ancients also believed in the power of dreams to create alternative realities and open up new pathways of possibilities. Long before Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung, the biblical tradition saw dreams as vehicles communicating divine wisdom to human beings.
As the story goes, the night falls and Jacob looks for a convenient place to rest. He finds a stone for a pillow and lays down to sleep. Jacob dreams of a ladder of angels, ascending from earth to heaven and then back again to earth. In the midst of the dream, he hears God’s Voice, and receives the promise of divine protection and prosperity. When he awakens, Jacob knows that he has been singled out by the Voice and Vision, and exclaims with a sense of fear, trembling, and awe, “God was in this place - and I did not know it!” Overcome with wonder, he confesses, “How awesome is this place. This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.” Jacob named the place “Beth-El” or “Bethel,” the house of God.
The Celts, who lived in Ireland and Scotland, have a word for such holy places. They call them “thin places,” environments where heaven and earth meet, and where we experience the holiness of life. William Blake, the British poet, asserted in the Marriage of Heaven and Hell that “if the doors of perception were cleansed, everything would appear to man [sic.] as it is, infinite.”
Jacob’s dream gives us a glimpse at the nature of inspiration or insight – what religious people often call “revelation.” Inspiration is global. Holiness can be experienced everywhere and anywhere. But, it is also variable and local, differing in intensity and value, and always occurring to concrete people in concrete settings. Inspiration can come through a dream, but also through what Jung called “synchronicity,” meaningful coincidences or moments in your life. Inspiration can come through hunches, intuitions, encounters, and sometimes even visionary experiences.
Jacob proclaims “God was in this place – and I did not know it!” Perhaps, every place is “Beth-El,” the house of God, the place of insight and inspiration, and we, too, just don’t know it! Spiritual experiences emerge when – as a result of spiritual practices such as prayer, meditation, worship, and hospitality, or by surprise with any preparation – we experience holiness, divinity, inspiration and love, more than we imagined. Then, we see things with clearer perception and discover the infinity of every moment as revealing the unhindered Voice and Vision.