From the Book of Genesis:

Jacob left Beer-sheba and went toward Haran. He came to a certain place and stayed there for the night, because the sun had set. Taking one of the stones of the place, he put it under his head and lay down in that place. And he dreamed that there was a ladder set up on the earth, the top of it reaching to heaven; and the angels of God were ascending and descending on it. And the Lord stood beside him and said, “I am the Lord, the God of Abraham your father and the God of Isaac; the land on which you lie I will give to you and to your offspring; and your offspring shall be like the dust of the earth, and you shall spread abroad to the west and to the east and to the north and to the south; and all the families of the earth shall be blessed in you and in your offspring. 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 have promised you.” Then Jacob woke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place – and I did not know it!”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Gen. 28:10-16 (NRSV) – January 2, 2013.)
Sunlight figure on wind-swept hilltopHow many places do we go where the Lord is and we do not know it? This story of Jacob reminds me of a song we sang in the Cursillo community where I meant my wife. It’s very pretty, very contemplative, and usually sung as an accompaniment to Holy Communion:

Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.
I can feel His mighty power and His grace.
I can hear the brush of angels wings.
I see glory on each face.
Surely the presence of the Lord is in this place.

I like the song; I have good memories associated with it. The thing about the song that bothers me, however, is its linking of the Lord’s presence to a time or place of emotional or spiritual glory. Christians believe that God is omnipresent; as St. Paul said, God “is above all and through all and in all.” (Eph. 4:6) And even if we don’t quite believe that, we believe that Jesus promised that “where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” (Matt. 18:20) He didn’t promise to be there only when times were good or when people were on a spiritual high. Surely Christians gather in bad times and well as good, in times of sorrow as wall as of joy. We believe that God is present in those times, too.

It is often that we find ourselves unable to discern God’s presence, however. We find ourselves, like Jacob, not knowing that God is present. The question is how to train ourselves to be aware of the holy whenever and wherever we may be.

Here is a resolution for the New Year: to take the steps necessary to clear our consciences of those distractions that keep us from recognizing God’s presence with us. Let us resolve to turn off the cell phone, the television, the computer . . . to put down the newspaper, the book, the magazine . . . to listen carefully and prayerfully for the presence of God.

Perhaps if we do that we can live another lyric that this story brings to mind, the song Presence of the Lord by Blind Faith:

I have finally found a way to live
Just like I never could before
I know that I don’t have much to give
But I can open any door

Everybody knows the secret
Everybody knows the score
I have finally found a way to live
In the presence of the Lord

Because the truth is that surely the Lord is in all places – and often we do not know it! Let us resolve to finally find a way to live in the presence of the Lord.


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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.