And though when evening falls, a stone my pillow shapes, the vision of our kingdom calls and here a Bethel makes.
Every time I sing these words from a hymn called “In lonely mountain ways” (Hymnal: A Worship book #580), I feel nostalgic for my alma mater Bethel College located in North Newton, KS.
The Bethel in this hymn is not of course referring to the four-year Mennonite liberal arts college in KS, nor is it referring to the Evangelical Bethel College in Mishawaka,IN. Bethel, long before it was a college, was a town north of Jerusalem featured prominently in the Old Testament. Bethel, which in Hebrew means “House or household of God,” is where the Hebrew people met and deepened their connection with God. More specifically, Bethel is where Jacob dreams of a stairway to heaven (long before it was a rock song), with angels ascending and descending on it, and the Lord standing above it (Genesis 28:10-22).
Lest we at Bethel begin to feel smug about our school name, Bethel was also a place of idol worship and corruption, at least according to the prophets. Students at nearby Mennonite Brethren-affiliated Tabor College took pride in referring to Bethel as Beth-HELL, while holding up signs quoting Amos 4:4: Go to Bethel and sin!” (I don’t know what this says about me, but I felt extra proud when draining three-pointers right in front of these sign-holding Tabor students.)
It might sound presumptuous to think of one’s alma mater as “The House of God.” Then again, the Bethel household, meaning the people that make up this community, continue to enrich my life and my ever-evolving connection with God. This household continues to travel with me even when I’m far away from its physical campus.
Speaking of this traveling household, a small, but significant part of the Bethel community will be at Rainbow this weekend in order to lead us in our Palm Sunday worship service.
I never sang in the Bethel College Concert Choir (I was too busy trying to make three pointers), but much like our Rainbow Choir, I feel a deep connection, a deep yearning for God, every time I hear them sing.
Who knows? Maybe this Sunday we will have our own visions of a stairway to heaven with angels ascending and descending on it. Who knows? Maybe Rainbow will a Bethel make.
For additional reading about the Concert Choir, click here: Concert Choir press release