Jacob’s Ladder

Jacob’s Ladder

During a recent road trip in which I probably didn’t bring enough music to last us (and by probably, I mean definitely) we stumbled on to this charming country song by Mark Wills on one of the random CDs that I brought!

We liked it a lot! It’s a sweet love story about a two young people — Jacob and Rachael — who fall in love with each other. The problem? Jacob is poor while the girl is very rich. Because of this, the girl’s father refuses to let them together, since he thinks Rachael can do better. So late one night, Jacob takes a ladder, climbs up to Rachael’s room, and they both run away with each other. Then, later, the father reconciles with the couple, and everyone lives happily ever after!

The chorus goes like this:

So late one night by the harvest moon
Jacob climbed a ladder up to Rachael’s room
He knew his place, it was right beside her
Step by step up to her world
Head over heels for a brown-eyed girl
And gettin’ caught didn’t seem to matter
‘Cause heaven was waitin’ at the top of Jacob’s ladder

A very sweet song, right? But, it also alludes to several biblical stories! After all, Jacob falls in love with Rachael — just as Jacob, the son of Isaac and one of the patriarchs in the Old Testament — falls in love with Rachel when he meets her at the well, as described in Genesis 29. And Rachel’s father is also very reluctant to part with Rachel!

Still, while I’ll probably babble about the meeting at the well in another future blog, I wanted to focus on that idea of Jacob’s ladder. See, the title of the song, “Jacob’s Ladder” alludes to a strange and extremely vivid dream that Jacob had where God spoke with him. Because, according to the bible, heaven was really at the top of Jacob’s ladder!

The story goes like this…

NABRE

Genesis 28

10Jacob departed from Beer-sheba and proceeded toward Haran. 11When he came upon a certain place, he stopped there for the night, since the sun had already set. Taking one of the stones at the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. 12Then he had a dream: a stairway rested on the ground, with its top reaching to the heavens; and God’s angels were going up and down on it. 13And there was the LORD standing beside him and saying: I am the LORD, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you are lying I will give to you and your descendants. 14Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and through them you will spread to the west and the east, to the north and the south. In you and your descendants all the families of the earth will find blessing. 15I am with you and will protect you wherever you go, and bring you back to this land. I will never leave you until I have done what I promised you.16When Jacob awoke from his sleep, he said, “Truly, the LORD is in this place and I did not know it!” 17He was afraid and said: “How awesome this place is! This is nothing else but the house of God, the gateway to heaven!” 18Early the next morning Jacob took the stone that he had put under his head, set it up as a sacred pillar, and poured oil on top of it. 19He named that place Bethel, whereas the former name of the town had been Luz.20Jacob then made this vow: “If God will be with me and protect me on this journey I am making and give me food to eat and clothes to wear, 21and I come back safely to my father’s house, the LORD will be my God. 22This stone that I have set up as a sacred pillar will be the house of God. Of everything you give me, I will return a tenth part to you without fail.”

As can be expected for such a strange and vivid dream, there is much artwork by artists envision this wild vision. But the one that caught my eye the most was this one, by William Blake.

Jacob’s Ladder, by William Blake, c. 1799-1806. Private collection.

William Blake was a strange person, though brilliant in his creativity — not only was he a fantastic painter, but he was also a fantastic poet as well. In fact, before I knew him as a painter, I knew him as a poet. His poem, The Chimney Sweep, has appeared in several great poetry anthologies that I own. Not only that, but the poem also deals with the idea of a transcendent dream in which someone meets up with God and receives a vision of comfort. 

The artwork is strange, for it gives us a glimpse as to what the supernatural world might be like. While we sometimes feel isolated or in darkness in the world, as Jacob is portrayed to be, there is an entire supernatural world that we do not know really anything about that encompasses us always. 

We know, of course, that we are part of the Church Militant — that is, the part of the Church which is living out our mortal lives and fighting sin as we go along, blind to the supernatural goings-on around us. There is also the Church Penitent — those who are trapped in Purgatory and waiting to be freed so as to be received in Heaven.

But, the Church Triumphant — those that are in Heaven? That is harder to understand. Though Jesus gives us parables to try and understand what to expect — for instance, He tells us that He is going before us to make a room in His Father’s place — we still don’t really know what to make of it. As is repeated throughout scripture, in both the Old Testament and the New Testament: “Eye has not seen, ear has not heard.” 

Yet, even though there is a lot we don’t know, sometimes we will experience a strange, unexpected, transcendent experience in which we are certain that we have met up with the divine in an almost miraculous manner. 

So, what are we to make of these odd experiences? 

And here, Jacob shows us exactly what to do: to praise God, to respect that He is with us, and to follow Him. 

Anything else is superfluous.

Dear Jesus,

Thank You for being with us always. Let us to respect Your Real Presence in our lives and help us follow You.

Amen.

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