Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Beth-El

In Gen 28:10-19, we find the story of Jacob at Bethel. With his vision of the angels ascending and descending to Heaven on a ladder, and realizing that wherever he is is Beth-El, the house of God.

Jan Willem Kaiser writes about this as follows, (Translated from the Dutch, "De Mysterien van Jezus in ons leven," p. 144, to be published in translation as "The Mysteries of Jesus in our Life"):

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Beth-El, House of God. If Jacob had wanted only to recognize the spot, where one night he saw the Angels ascending and descending as such, than he would have set it aside from all other places on earth. That is how it is usually understood, and then we have explained it away. But then Jacob would not have continued his travel the next morning, but he would have established a cult right there on that spot. And then it would not have affected him so much in his worldview.
But the revelation that this earth, which so much seems to only be a tournament and a battlefield, a predatory realm where everyone should get what he can get, that this earth at the same time would be incomparably more essentially: House of God, Locus of His Indwelling, then this changes in one fell swoop the very foundation of our life. This demands a total change of our existence that is geared to robbery.
And not for nothing it is this Jacob, this fugitive, this clever striver for the rights of his "brother," who had the revelation of this overwhelming fact. For also he is an Arch father, that means: we are his descendants, and he lives on in us! And his "Lesson" is ours.
Unquote


And subsequently in Gen 32:24-30 we find the story of Jacob's wrestling experience with Gabriel. To which J.W. Kaiser on p. 32-34 of the same book comments:

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... Then we shiver, for holy is this place! This is not only a place of battle and cruelty, of money making and sadness, for God lives here. The Earth is the Gate, though which we can enter Heaven!
... [then he summarizes "the spirit of Jacob" as bargaining with God, and always being deceived in his working for the deceptive "uncle Laban," who of course personifies the false promises of the ego system and the world]...
Then it finally dawns on us, that with our cleverness, our effort, and manipulation we have braved God and not served him, as long as we served "Laban." That we, as in a long dark night have wrestled with an Angel, with "the Force of God," with Gabriel and that it seemed as if we would win. But that exactly in that moment our hip is dislodged, and we can no longer "hunt" nor "flee." What rests us then but to cling to that Angel and ask his blessing?...
But we will no longer be who we were before, and our new name contains the recognition of "the Force of God." (Ish-Ra-El according to traditional etymology meaning the man, he sees God. - tr. note) We have met God Face to face. And thus our soul is saved.
Unquote

The Course offers us its own "revisionist" (compared to standard Judaeo/Christian theology), interpretation of the passage of Jacob's fight with Gabriel:

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Brother, the war against yourself is almost over. 2 The journey's end is at the place of peace. 3 Would you not now accept the peace offered you here? 4 This "enemy" you fought as an intruder on your peace is here transformed, before your sight, into the giver of your peace. 5 Your "enemy" was God Himself, to Whom all conflict, triumph and attack of any kind are all unknown. 6 He loves you perfectly, completely and eternally. 7 The Son of God at war with his Creator is a condition as ridiculous as nature roaring at the wind in anger, proclaiming it is part of itself no more. 8 Could nature possibly establish this, and make it true? 9 Nor is it up to you to say what shall be part of you and what is kept apart.
Unquote (ACIM:T-23.I.4)

Kaiser as quoted above presents a right-minded reading of the well-known text of Genesis, with which we've all grown up, but yet we could not "hear," and understand. It is yet another reminder of how we can go back to all familiar stories, which we've all learnt to rely upon as witnesses to the reality of the world and the ego, and look at them with new eyes. The Course goes a step further by calling it the war against ourself, because it is only the separation thought which creates the illusion that we have a separate will, but it is clear when we read this section that the Course is in fact addressing this passage in Genesis in it, and reinterpreting a well worn familiar image, which has been so much misunderstood.

Hidden in the images is also the message that here, in Bethel, is the meeting place, and the place where we can have the change of mind, which the Course talks about. For God's House, Beth-El, is wherever we are, if only we remember who we are. And the notion that the earth is the gateway to heaven is also very much in line with the teaching of the Course, which is not a mystical path that rejects the world and the body, but a path in which we start as we are where we are and accept every life situation anew as a classroom where we can learn to accept the atonement for ourselves, which is out ticket to our home in heaven. The atonement and salvation is not tomorrow, but here and now if we should choose to accept it.

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The sole responsibility of God's teacher is to accept the Atonement for himself. 6 Atonement means correction, or the undoing of errors. 7 When this has been accomplished, the teacher of God becomes a miracle worker by definition. 8 His sins have been forgiven him, and he no longer condemns himself. 9 How can he then condemn anyone? 10 And who is there whom his forgiveness can fail to heal?
Unquote (ACIM:M-18.4:5-10)

In summary then, in Jacob we see the son (i.e. our selves) running away from home, and always on the make to stabilize his position, and always running into new disappointments. He becomes Israel, father of the twelve tribes, symbolizing the sonship in exile in the world of time and space. At Beth-El the memory of home comes alive for him, with the realization that he is never farther away from home than right here, right now. Or to think of the words of the Course:
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6 The journey to God is merely the reawakening of the knowledge of where you are always, and what you are forever. 7 It is a journey without distance to a goal that has never changed. 8 Truth can only be experienced. 9 It cannot be described and it cannot be explained. 10 I can make you aware of the conditions of truth, but the experience is of God. 11 Together we can meet its conditions, but truth will dawn upon you of itself.
unquote (ACIM:T-8.VI.9)

And in Jesus we see our brother, who has fully remembered our true home, and sees the world for the illusion of abandonment and exile that it is, and beckons us to follow him on the way home. The experience of Beth-El demonstrates that the memory of home is never altogether lost. Rather, even in the dreaming of the world, that memory is always with us, and ensures that some day we will remember who we are in truth.

Copyright, © 2006 Rogier F. van Vlissingen. All rights reserved.
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