“Jacob set up a stone pillar at the place where God had talked with him, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. Jacob called the place where God had talked with him Bethel.” (Genesis 35:14-15) 

By the time you read this I will be in a conference with Dutch colleagues at a monastery in Nijmegen. On Saturday we will move on and join a small Dominican community at Huissen for a day, concluding with Vespers. I am looking forward to these few days of a slower pace and a measured spirituality. It is a ‘Bethel’ moment for me. 

I wonder – where is your ‘Bethel?’ Bethel – the biblical place – has huge significance in the pages of Scripture. It is the place where Abram first arrives after obeying God’s call to leave Ur. He builds an altar there and calls on the name of the Lord (Genesis 12:8). It is the place where Jacob has his dream of a ladder reaching up to heaven (Genesis 28:18-19). He realises that “the Lord is in this place” and commits to serve God. Later, Jacob returns to Bethel (Genesis 35:1-3), having cleansed his household of all other gods and idols. At Bethel, Jacob’s name and nature and future are changed by God to ‘Israel’ (Genesis 35:9-10).  

Both Abram and Jacob hold Bethel as a special place where God speaks to them. Deborah judged under the palm trees by Bethel. Later generations sought God’s will there. Samuel, Elijah, and Elisha were amongst the prophets who ministered at and sought the Lord at Bethel. It was synonymous as a place where heaven and earth met; a place where humans could seek the Lord; a place where God’s voice could be heard.  

Bethel is a life-changing place for Abram and Jacob. It becomes a life-affirming place for Judges and Prophets and People. So where is your Bethel? Where do you go to spend time with God? Where do you hear Him most clearly? Which ‘idols’ do you need to renounce? Where do you go for spiritual refreshing? What do you do that works as a spiritual oasis for you? Is it time you re-connected with a special place or practice?  

May you find (or re-find?) your Bethel this week: a place of encounter with God; a place of healing; a place of prayer; a place of listening; a place of obedience; a place where you can be alone with God; a place where you exist for the audience of One.