Wednesday, 24 August 2011
Jacob named a place Beth-el (God’s house) because he’d had there his vision of angels moving on a ladder between heaven and earth and then God had spoken to him. ‘This is none other than the house of God,’ he said, ‘and this is the gate of heaven’. Thus many Chapels are called Bethels and many churches (the latest I noticed on our recent holiday in Orkney was St Magnus’ Cathedral, Kirkwall) have this text above their doors or in their porches. But it strikes me yet again reading the story at Matins for St Bartholomew’s Day this morning how wrong headed this is. Jacob is terrified when he wakes to think ‘surely the Lord is in this place, and I did not know it’, and, most crucially of all, the encounter with God came while sleeping out in the open air in a stony place. Surely the name or the text, if either is used in a church building at all, should be on the inside of the gate or somewhere similar where it can be read on the way out; there is a soemtimes terrifying challenge always to recognise the outside world as God's house. Meanwhile, the easily eroded local red and yellow sandstone with which St Magnus’ is built creates these effects around its main door.