In Genesis 28, Jacob reclines on a rock and has an encounter with God. The other day, I went looking for an encounter with God and all I really ended up with was a rock.
Or so it seemed at the time.
‘Now Jacob went out from Beersheba and went toward Haran. So he came to a certain place and stayed there all night, because the sun had set. And he took one of the stones of that place and put it at his head, and he lay down in that place to sleep. Then he dreamed, and behold, a ladder was set up on the earth, and its top reached to heaven; and there the angels of God were ascending and descending on it.
‘Then Jacob awoke from his sleep and said, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it.”And he was afraid and said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven! Then Jacob rose early in the morning, and took the stone that he had put at his head, set it up as a pillar, and poured oil on top of it.’ – Genesis 28:10-12; 16-18
Kent Dobson, teaching pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grandville, Michigan, invited his listeners on September 8 to do a bit of a mini-re-enactment of Jacob’s experience by going on a walk, picking up a stone – any stone they liked – and saying this simple prayer: Here I am, here You are, here we are together, to underscore the fact that God is always present, and try to enter into that reality in a practical way. He also suggested listeners take the stone home, to keep as a little reminder of the experience.
‘Sounds like a plan,’ I thought. So I laced up my hikers, clipped the leashes on two astonished dogs’ collars and headed out the door. The destination was the most picturesque park in the neighbourhood – an asphalt path that surrounds a storm water pond. (Nicer than it sounds, trust me.)
I started hunting for my stone as soon as I shut the front door: ‘These jagged little jobbies in my flower beds are kinda cool. Maybe I should pick up one of them… Nah! These were bought and paid for and placed here deliberately. Feels more like celebrating the presence of landscaping companies than God’, so I pressed on.
I saw numerous nifty little stones – some smooth, some with rough angles; some tiny and some sizable – between my house and the park, but all of them seemed humdrum and unimpressive. So I kept walking.
Once I got to the pond, I came across an abundance of rocks. Small boulders line the shore, and bits of gravel act as a buffer between the boulders and grass. But the boulders were way too big, the gravel too small.
Finally, about halfway around the circumference of the pond, I came across some stones I could work with. A man-made creek bed leading down to the pond was lined with a variety of stones that could fit in the palm of my hand, but just barely. I sat on the edge of the ditch to browse for a bit, and finally found Robsrock – it was basically triangular prism-shaped and salt-and-pepper coloured with a few reddish tones. I picked it up, and liked the way it felt in my hand. Heavy enough you knew it was there, and with enough jags and crags to show it’d seen its share of turmoil.
So I took a deep breath, closed my eyes and said, “Here I am, here You are. Here we are together,” as I held the stone in my hand. I took a few breaths, and had a good look at the scenery before standing up and heading home. I was glad to have finally completed this rockwalk – it had been on my to-do list for weeks.
The quickest way home was through a back lane – I’d taken a more scenic route on the way to the pond, but with my business complete, I decided to cut through the alley.
As I trudged home, I happened to look down at the gravel-lined ground. And I saw some pretty interesting little stones. They weren’t as nice as Robsrock, but certainly better than I expected from something as ugly and utilitarian as an alley.
“Oh, no! What if I’ve done it wrong?” I said with a bit of alarm. “God is just as present in these plain, mundane stones as He is in the heavier, flashier lump in my pocket! And come to think of it, I don’t remember feeling anything special when I was at the pond, or when I prayed Kent’s little prayer. Maybe my rock is no good. Have I missed the whole point?“
“No, idiot. But you’re starting to miss it now,” the saner part of me chuckled. (I’d be tempted to attribute this message to the intervention of the Holy Spirit, but I don’t think He would call me an ‘idiot’, being infinite in grace and patience and all that.)
As I reflected, I realized that the lack of an overtly mystical, goosebumply encounter with the Holy Spirit that day may have increased the effectiveness of the rockwalk. The whole point of the exercise was to remind me that God is with me – even (Or is that ‘especially’?) when I can’t sense Him. If I could feel His presence whenever I needed it, I wouldn’t need faith, would I?
And that little epiphany wouldn’t have come my way, as my friend Michael pointed out, if I hadn’t had a moment of doubt. (As Irish philosopher Peter Rollins likes to say, “To believe is human; to doubt, divine.”)
Rollins also spoke wisdom into my doubt about whether I’d picked up the ‘wrong’ rock in a sermon he gave at Mars Hill last year (and Kent Dobson quoted on September 29), when he declared that “Every bush is burning!”
There really is no wrong rock in this scenario. The one I chose is the right one because I said it’s the right one. The fact that I took my dogs for some much-needed exercise in a picturesque part of my neighbourhood on one of the few pleasant Calgary afternoons in October, and deliberately did some searching to find a stone I thought worthy of being a mini-monument to God, can make Robsrock more special, not less …
If I let it.
Peace be with you.