“Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go, and will bring you back to this land; for I will not leave you until I have done what I promised you.” Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.” Genesis 28:15-16
Many of us find that “journey” is a useful metaphor for understanding the span of our lives, from birth and childhood, through youth and adulthood, to the final years of our time on earth. Last Saturday, I watched the livestreamed memorial service for Lowell Fewster, a special clergy mentor and friend to me for many years. During the service, several people commented on how he had chosen an apt metaphor for his life: “A journey without maps.” In a memoir he wrote a few years ago, he talked about what that meant to him and how he had literally traversed mountains in Nigeria and figuratively walked through unfamiliar terrain—both without maps.
In the times and world in which we are living, I especially appreciate the image of traveling without maps. None of us has lived through a pandemic before or faced decisions about how long to stay at home, when to reopen a business, or what to do to keep ourselves and others safe. No churches within our collective memory have had to take into consideration the necessity of physical distancing or the danger of congregational singing when making decisions about worshiping in person.
We were taught in math class that the shortest distance between two points is a straight line. But we know that our lives are not straight lines. Even getting to the place where we are now, individually and as a church, has involved twists and turns along our life journeys. Some of the bends were chosen, some beyond our control; some brought immediate joy, some carried blessings only visible a long time later. This part of the journey of our lives—making our way through the COVID-19 pandemic—has not been a choice or source of joy. Yes, some of us see glimpses of blessings, but I think it’s fair to say that any lasting benefits will not be clear for some time to come.
We do not have maps. But we do have a divine companion. The passage from Genesis above is part of the story of Jacob’s dream of a ladder to heaven. Jacob was on a journey. He had stopped to sleep. In his dream he hears God’s word for him: “Know that I am with you and will keep you wherever you go.” When he awoke, Jacob marveled, “Surely the Lord is in this place; and I did not know it.”
That’s the word of hope I offer for today. We are winding our way through uncharted territory. But we are not alone. God is with us and will keep us wherever we go. And, whether we recognize it or not, God is indeed in this place: in our lives, in our church, in our world. Thanks be to God.
Rev. Dr. Sharon Harris-Ewing
For those who feel alone:
Loving God, Thank you for walking this journey of life with us. Give us eyes and ears to recognize those who feel alone during this difficult time. Show us how to be companions for them, so that they might feel your loving presence through us. Amen.
Photo credit: Rev. Dr. Sharon Harris-Ewing, at Yellowstone River in September 2018