Bethel moments

In the Image

September 9, 2020 | Opinion | Volume 24 Issue 19
Ed Olfert | Columnist
'Wonder and awe are held in an open palm, where they can be considered but never grasped tightly.' (Image by Radoan Tanvir/Pixabay)

A story in Genesis 28 describes the patriarch Jacob stopping for the night while on a journey. His sleep includes a dream of a visit from God. In the morning, Jacob awakes and offers the profound observation, “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I didn’t know it! This is none other than the house of God!”

As a result of that experience, Jacob names the spot “Bethel.”

Rereading those words invites me to think of the Bethel moments in my life.

Recently, we received the unexpected news that a cousin had died. Yet I spent the day mostly thinking about welding; about how a significant project that I was considering might be approached; how I might successfully tackle a challenge, even though it might well be a little beyond the capability of my energy and my equipment. I raised it with my mate, and Holly succinctly offered, “Don’t decide that now. You’re dealing with Diane’s death, and your mind goes off in a direction that is familiar and comfortable, and leaves you in control. This is not a time for big decisions.”

Wisdom of almost 50 years of relationship was being held out, and my mouth was left agape. “Surely the Lord is in this place.”

A recent online meditation reminds me that a sense of wonder and awe are the best indicators of that presence of God. I think of recent and separate conversations with my two oldest grandchildren, and certainly those times were Bethel moments.

Love of God, of others, of creation, always finds its roots, its beginning, in wonder and awe. If, in fact, there is another beginning point claimed for love, it becomes something more calculated, something more about control. Wonder and awe are held in an open palm, where they can be considered but never grasped tightly.

Three grandsons came to spend time with Grandma and Opa. As the two youngest argued and tusselled unendingly, Grandma picked up five-year-old Jaxon and carried him to his bedroom for some mandated quiet time. He meekly agreed, but Grandma later discovered that his time of penitence included sneaking into his brother’s room, scooping the clothes out of his suitcase and hiding them under his bed.

A spirituality of “how awesome is this place, this person, this experience,” cannot help but get us out of bed in the morning filled with expectation.

A few weeks ago, I visited friends Willy and Dora (pseudonyms). Although they have been married for many decades, the current levels of support they require dictate that they reside in two different care homes. Due to restrictions, my visits were the first time I had seen them in many months.

Willy awaited me in a courtyard. We quickly got into his favourite topic, scripture on which he has been meditating. As I am no scholar, my responses probably tend to the jarringly pragmatic rather than ethereal, but our conversation challenged us both. We talked and prayed together, and we celebrated the easing of restrictions that permitted this time.

Then I drove up the hill to where Dora resides. Here, we visited through a chain-link fence. Dora is blind and has significant hearing loss, so phone conversations have been difficult. Now we could swap stories, joys, fears, giggles and encouragement. Because of COVID-19, Dora hasn’t seen Willy for five months and hasn’t had visits from anyone for that long. She acknowledged that this had been very hard. As a social person, she has found herself sinking into depression.

Having friends like Dora and Willy invites me into that “Bethel” awareness of God. The relationships offered fill me with wonder and awe. 

“Surely the Lord is in this place!” 

Ed Olfert ( seeks Bethel moments 24/7.

Read more In the Image columns:
‘Lining things up’
Memories of Pa
Holy curious living
How broad is salvation?
‘O, you gorgeous man!’

'Wonder and awe are held in an open palm, where they can be considered but never grasped tightly.' (Image by Radoan Tanvir/Pixabay)

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