Friday, June 17, 2016

Stairway to Heaven

In the fall of 1852, the Roman Catholic Sisters of Loretto made a dangerous cross-country journey by wagon from Kentucky to the Royal City of Faith (Santa Fe), New Mexico. On the way, their mother superior died of cholera, and another nun became so dangerously ill that she had to return to their convent in Kentucky.

After two decades of diligent work and gathering sacrificial offerings amounting to $30,000 (a princely sum at the time) the nuns were in a position to engage an architect and building tradesmen to erect a chapel, which would not be like the typical adobe structures in Santa Fe but patterned after the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris, a Gothic Revival church with choir loft at the rear of the nave.

By 1873, the magnificent chapel was completed but builders had neglected to provide the space for a stairway linking the nave and the loft. The rickety ladder that laborers had used to enter the loft was too dangerous a means of ascent for the sisters or for the choir.  Though a succession of visiting carpenters had no solution, the sisters began 9 straight days of praying, until on the last day of prayer, a grey-haired carpenter, packing a chest of crude hand tools atop his donkey, arrived at the chapel, announced that he had heard of the sisters’ dilemma, and offered his services.

The delighted mother superior gave him full reign, and the carpenter painstakingly began the 8 month long project.  The sisters could hardly believe what they saw one morning as they rubbed the sleep out of their eyes and entered the chapel. The carpenter had vanished, without receiving a single penny in return for labor or materials. Instead, he left behind a spiral staircase of 33 steps, fashioned out of exotic wood, held together only by nearly invisible wooden pegs. With no banister or center support, the staircase nevertheless makes two 360 degree turns. Engineers declare that the staircase should have collapsed under its own weight, but it is still being used to this day.

More miraculous than the Loretto Chapel’s staircase is the staircase that Jacob saw the first morning after he had run away from home to escape being killed by his older twin brother, Esau, whom he had outmaneuvered both for the family birthright and the divine blessing.  Talk about primitive camping: on the way to Haran, at a place with no name, Jacob pitched camp one evening. He had nothing but a rock on which to pillow his head. In a dream that night, he saw the angels of God ascending and descending a stairway to heaven. At a time when he was estranged from his family, suffering terrible homesickness, and facing an uncertain future, Jacob sorely needed the appearance and declaration of God from the top of the stairway that He (God) would bless Jacob, give him many descendant and a land in which to live, and be with Jacob wherever he went, ultimately bringing Jacob back home. To top it all off, God said: “I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you” (Gen. 28:15).

At first light, Jacob awakens and declares: “Surely the Lord is in this place, and I was not aware of it.” Ever after Jacob and his descendants would call this place “the gate of heaven,” or as it was better known, Bethel, meaning “house of God.” As a lasting memorial, Jacob used the rock on which he’d slept as the center piece of a pillar that he would consecrate with holy oil.

Many rabbis through the ages thought that if they could find this very rock, it would be the means to a close encounter with God. But early on His ministry Jesus uses language reminiscent of Jacob’s experience at Bethel to tell Nathanael and his fellow disciples that they would “see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man” (John 1:51).

Are you between a rock and a hard place? Most of your dreams have faded into nightmares? Feel alone and wonder how you are going to go on from this time and place? Jesus is our Rock, the Connecting Point between heaven and earth; the Dispatcher of angels to minister to us; the Revealer of a wise, kind heavenly Father who is the Source of every blessing for us; and with the Father and the Spirit a Faithful God who will not abandon us before His plan and purpose for our lives is completed. Ultimately, Jesus will be the Stairway to take us home.

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