Last week I served as camp pastor at Camp Friedenswald in southern Michigan. Eve and Lily attended as campers and Abbie and Ila and I got to enjoy the “Peaceful Woods” and join in the action. It was a lot of work – ten sermons in one week – but also provided a beautiful change of scenery. Friedenswald is filled with natural beauty and lovely people.
Although the story didn’t come up during the week, one of the scriptures that came to mind multiple times was the story of Jacob’s ladder in Genesis 28. In that story Jacob is on a journey away from home and comes to a place where he rests for the night, using a rock as a pillow. As he sleeps he dreams of a ladder bridging the heavens and the earth, with angels (which can also be translated as “messengers”) ascending and descending between the divine and human realms. Jacob wakes up and declares “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it.” He sets up his rock-pillow as a pillar of remembrance and renames the place “Beth-el,” which means “The house of God.”
It had been a long time since I’d spent a week at a church camp, but last week reminded me that there are indeed places that carry a sense of specialness. Places not just for getting away from the buzz of life, but places where we are propelled to truly experience Life. Places where we more easily encounter the transcendence and beauty of the sacred, where the veil between the heavens and the earth grows thin, and we are better able to hear and receive messages that speak to our souls. The pillar we set up in that place can serve as a reference point throughout life, a solid thing, where Reality revealed itself to us in a deeper and livelier way.
I consider Friedenswald one of these places and am hopeful that the children of our congregation are able to have a formative place like this that they return to. And not just children. I’m hopeful we are each given several Beth-els throughout life, which show us that there are messengers all about, ready to teach and guide us along the journey.