On the Ladder

Often my life seems to take a huge turn and circle back to some early story I didn’t even know I was pondering. The same happened to me these past two weeks.

Two weeks ago in my homily, I told the story of Isaac and his sons, Jacob and Esau, and how Isaac in his old age mixed up the blessing and gave the younger son, Jacob, the birthright blessing. To shorten the story, Esau threatens to kill Jacob, so Isaac tells him to go to his uncle, Laban. Along the way, Jacob dreams of a stairway (or ladder) “and God’s messengers going up and down on it.”

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder…

Jacob goes to live with his mother’s brother Laban and becomes rich, but he also fights with Laban. Jacob decides to return home and reunite with his brother. As I said, that’s the short version of the story. It’s worth rereading if you haven’t read it in a while.

On his way back to see his brother, Jacob wrestles with the Angel of God, has his hip dislocated, but won’t stop struggling until the angel gives him a blessing. The angel asks his name and then renames him Israel “because you have contended with divine and human beings and have prevailed.”

Jacob fought with a lot of people.

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder…

So stay with me here.

And then, Pete Seeger died.

I came of age in the ’60s with the protest songs of Arlo Guthrie and Pete Seeger and Bob Dylan. Also with the rock and roll of the time, but right now, we’re talking Pete Seeger. So I went to YouTube to listen again as we do when recalling our youth and youthful anger. And I found a recording of Jacob’s Ladder. I hadn’t heard it in a long time.

We are climbing Jacob’s ladder….

I remembered my very young days when my sister Judy and I used to sing in church. I always had a low voice with a very narrow range and my sister the melodic voice. But I could sing Jacob’s Ladder. I loved that song. It was one of my early lessons in just-keep-going. I’ve sort of lived Jacob’s Ladder and goodness knows, did my share of fighting, both with the Divine and with human, male and female, family and strangers.

In those days, Judy and I sang the traditional ending, “Soldiers of the cross.” But I’m not as fond of those fighting words as I am, now, of the way Pete Seeger ends his version:

Brothers, Sisters, All.

We all of us climb Jacob’s Ladder in one way or another. Living demands it. Sometimes we go down and sometimes we go up. And sometimes, along the way and in the way we journey, we become messengers of God.

If you want to hear Pete Seeger sing, go to:


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