Jacob’s Ladder at almost 75

Sometimes I can’t get it out of my head. I go to sleep with it. Wake up with it. Walk the dog with it. It’s been over a month now.

“We are climbing Jacob’s ladder” begs for my attention.

So this morning I surrender. What will come out on the page is a mystery until it’s written.

I ask myself, “Why this song?”

This stretch of time has been anxious. Unsettling, restless, down, bored, and struggling with my own inner demons and the bigger demons of human madness around the world.

Jacob’s Ladder has been with me my whole life, like an old friend who shows up when I need her. Like her cousins “Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child” and “Swing Low, Sweet Chariot,” and “Joshua Fit the Battle of Jericho,” there’s something about the tune that brings comfort, placing me in the good company of the slaves whose faith and hope are timeless though they themselves are long gone.

It’s the melody, the music – the language of the soul – that gets me. But it’s also the words. Words like ‘climbing, ‘higher’, ‘soldier’, ‘cross’, ’sinner’, ‘love’, ‘Jesus’, ‘serve’. Words that have stuck in my throat at different times in my life journey as either highly objectionable or as deeply expressive of what I know and feel to be ‘true’. “Jacob’s Ladder” feels like a summary of where I’ve been, where I am now, and a strange kind of invitation to resolve the contradictions as I move forward after three-quarters of a century.

So this morning and in the days to come I will have a conversation with Jacob and his ladder, stopping at each stanza and phrase to dig deeper into what is crying for attention.


Chagall, Marc, 1887-1985. Jacob’s Dream, from Art in the Christian Tradition, a project of the Vanderbilt Divinity Library, Nashville, TN. http://diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu/act-imagelink.pl?RC=54650 [retrieved August 6, 2017]. Original source: http://www.flickr.com/photos/abeppu/.

“Listen to your life,” wrote Frederick Buechner in Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation. “See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

At almost 75 and no longer climbing, I’ve been pondering grace itself.

  • Gordon C. Stewart, Chaska, MN, August 6, 2017.


11 thoughts on “Jacob’s Ladder at almost 75

  1. And there you have it, the paradoxical paradigm: Jacob’s Ladder is the axial pillar connecting us mired in mundus to the divine, but when we get on the ladder and begin to climb all orientation to space and time are suspended. Climbing is the thing. Destination is not the thing. This life is a quest for a way out of the “waste land” where rats of death skitter across the muddy flats. Escape is not guaranteed, but there is a ladder.


    • Ken, Over a long period of time I’ve come to believe that the climbing is our problem. Time and space are the gifts we’re given; the search for a way out of creatureliness is the story of humankind’s great refusal to live humbly among the rest of the creatures in neighborly love and thanksgiving. Jacob’s dream’s great realization is that “God is in THIS PLACE, and I did not know it.” The book I’ve written is in part in praise of time and place, and the search of the anxious creature to be still, and to escape the escapes into the various manifestations of the sin of exceptionalism. Long discussion! Great to connect here!


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