I have been meditating on the journey of the Exodus in my own devotional life. These are some thoughts from that practice.
Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. 2 There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. 3 Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4 When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” 5 Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.” 6 He said further, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.
As I read this story, I do in a time of transition in my life. I just experienced the first anniversary of my late wife’s passing, a time in which I emotionally became unglued and saw some beautiful new beginnings in my life fall aside as they could not endure the weight of my pain. I just a month ago buried the dog we both had raised. As I approached that anniversary, I saw my first serious relationship since my late wife’s passing fall apart around me, in part because of that new partner having difficulty with handling me as I was in that upsurge of grief. As I sit writing, my apartment looks like a bomb hit it, as it is in boxes while I prepare for a move to Durham. The church I attend, which embraced and surrounded me as I began my new career as a chaplain, which embraced me as my late wife struggled with illness, which embraced me in the days after she passed, is also in transition. Its pastors of 30 plus years are retiring and it is in search for new leadership. And I write just days after the presidential election, and I join many of neighbors and friends in deep shock that a candidate who run on fear and spoke with great intolerance toward many people is now in line to become the president of the United States.
I hate transitions. I hate the feeling that the apple cart of my life has been turned over, that I am sitting down in the midst of uncertainties piled high. So often such times leave me certain that there has to be something come around the corner, and how can it be anything that I like? What danger lies ahead?
I wonder as I read this passage in what ways Moses likewise is shocked, thrown off, and shaken when, in the course of his daily work as shepherd, he encounters a bush that is aflame without being burned up, and stops only to hear his name being called from the conflagration. He is in a moment in which his regular pattern for life is about to be shaken. Life cannot go on as it has for him, in an even more deep and profound way than I experience my life right now being shaken from its usual pattern.
Yet Moses has the wisdom to stop, to pay attention, to look and listen to what is happening within him and all around him. He has the wisdom listen to the voice. To take off his shoes. To recognize he is in a holy moment.
For me, this morning, when I find myself in an in-between place where the patterns for living my life feel up-ended, I hear a call: look, listen, wait. Recognize you are in a holy space. A thin space, where – if you but open your eyes and ears, you can encounter the one who calls you by name. You can know you sit on holy ground.
We want, too, for this to be comfortable. But I notice how this paragraph ends – “And Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God”. How reassuring to me!
We know, most of us at least, how the story ends: Moses leads the people out of slavery, through a winding wilderness, to the promised land. Amazing things happen from this point onward.
Moses, on the other hand, is simply terrified. He knows his life cannot go as it has before. He may too wonder about his experience: Is this God? How can he know it is not a fever-dream brought on by the bright sun? His own fears and hopes?
In truth, as I try to engage the many changes in my life, I find myself afraid as well. I am not sure which of the voices crying out in my heart are the voice of the one who knows my name, the voice of the Creator calling me to life, and which are my fears, longings, doubts, questions. I at times feel I am not up to the challenge the changes I face all around me bring.
Apparently, I am in good company. Apparently, it isn’t even up to me. Apparently what counts is, whether I discern it clearly or like Moses with trepidation and fear, I am not alone. The same One who guided those who went before – from my grandma Myrtie to Sojourner Truth and Martin Luther King – is with me. As I remain open, though the way ahead is uncertain, this One can take me by the hand and lead me forward.
This may not be much. But when I let it, it can be enough.
It can be enough for you too, and all of us, as we lean into all the transitions we face.
Your progressive redneck preacher,