Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran. And he came to a certain place and stayed there that 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 to sleep. And he dreamed, and behold, there was a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven. And behold, the angels of God were ascending and descending on it! And behold, the LORD stood above it and said, "I am the LORD, the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac. --Genesis 28:10-13
Funny how our thoughts race across the horizon, especially as we try and fall asleep at night. Tucked into our beds even our feathery pillows and heirloom quilts can't seem to ease our restless minds. Our minds run across the earth's horizons to our workplaces, the grocery store, our children's school, the courthouse, our churches anxiously wanting to work out problems, details, conflicts, prayers. Leave it to back to school business, familial expectations and work responsibilities to exponentially add to our sleeping problems.
Certainly the night Jacob left Beersheba and went toward Haran, when he laid to rest that night with a stone for a pillow, his mind was racing across the horizon toward his brother Esau and their broken relationship. For hours, he endured a sleepless night, until that dream of the ladder and angels soothed his anxious spirit. This incredible story, shared in the Judeo-Christian tradition, invites all who hear it to consider a 90-degree turn of mind.
One night last year I had one of those restless nights. My mind was racing across the streets of New Wilmington where I live and praying for some broken relationships. Suddenly the strangest thing happened to me. I felt this internal 90-degree shift away from the horizontal cares of this world. My axis of care revolved from the flat plane of my horizons with a 90-degree shift looking heavenward.
Then I understood the mental shift, the answered prayer, the new axis upon which Jacob dreamed that sleepless night. The cares and sighs of this world were shifted toward the providence of heaven. That night, I rested in bed and imagined the rungs of the ladder. I had no need to count sheep to fall asleep, because instead my breaths drew inward and outward as I imagined climbing the steps of that ladder with the angels. The cares of this world subsided. As the axis of thought shifted, angels graced my sleep.
When our thoughts race across the horizon, believing we ourselves can fix all things. God tidies up the universe and spins the earth one-quarter turn on its axis. The skyline and all its worries revolve 90 degrees closer to heaven. Breathe in this revolution, God whispers, heave yourself heavenward. For here, angels ascend.
The importance of this story is not an escapism from daily reality, but instead the grace of sleep and the shift in axis of thought -- for a short period of sleep -- then propels the Jacobs of this world to go out into this complicated world mending relationships, working toward reconciliation and engaging the hard work to be done on our daily horizons.
Today, my prayer is for a good night's sleep for the peacemakers and politicians, the Democrats and the Republicans, the human rights advocates and the health care workers, the teachers and those being taught, the 1 percent and the 99. May we rest, sleep with the angels, and then wake up to a new day ready to reconcile and reorder this complicated world toward the common good.