13 But Moses said to God, “If I come to the Israelites and say to them, ‘The God of your ancestors has sent me to you,’ and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what shall I say to them?” 14 God said to Moses, “I am who I am.” He said further, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘I am has sent me to you.’” 15 God also said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the Israelites, ‘The Lord,] the God of your ancestors, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, has sent me to you’:
This is my name forever,
and this my title for all generations.
In our day and age, it sounds odd that Moses asks God what God’s name is, so that he can tell those God is calling Moses to liberate which god he comes representing. This is because in our day and age , though we have varied religions, we tend to think of things in terms of believing in God and not, not in terms of competing gods.
In Moses’ day, there were gods aplenty. The varied gods of Egypt, including a god of the life-giving river Nile, a god of the sun, a god of death, even the pharaoh or emperor was viewed as a living god on earth.
Which god sends me? Let me know who you are, oh God.
God’s answer is enlightening to me: Tell them the God who is the “I am” has sent you. In other words, don’t give them a name. Tell them it is the God who exists. The God who lives. The God who accompanied all of your ancestors, accompanies you now, and is present wherever things live, exist, and thrive.
I think in our experiences of loss, of grief, of threat, of trauma, it is very easy and understandable to find ourselves struggling over the question: Who are you, God? Are you there at all?
My own experience of loss at the death of my late wife, though it did not rob me of faith altogether, did shatter many of my childlike images of who God was. God could not simply be the one who answers prayers, since I prayed long and hard for Katharine to live, and yet it was her prayer – “Lord, if it ever gets to the point I cannot be with those I love, do the things that give me life, take me home to you rather than let me suffer on machines” which got answered. That experience shook me to the core. I had trouble praying in the way I did, talking to God as if a friend, trusting I would be heard, answered, led.
I still prayed, but more as a kind of meditation, breath prayer, that centered my soul, not expecting any guidance.
I remember when I began to pray with request again, looking for an answer. It had to be seven months after Katharine’s passing. Through being set up by a co-worker, I plunged into casual dating for the first time in thirteen years. I found I could do it, but quickly became frustrated with the bizarreness of the dating scene. Having a beer with a friend after a particularly frustrating date, my friend said to me “You know, I never talk like this, but maybe you should just pray to Jesus and ask Jesus ‘give me what I need here’.”
I grumbled, went on a tangent about how I didn’t think that is how prayer worked, and then on my way home, said that very prayer.
Shortly thereafter, I ended up in my first long-term relationship after being widowed with a truly amazing woman, a relationship that for the almost 5 months it lasted was truly life-giving to me. I opened up to parts of myself I had lost touch with. I had great conversation, laughter, and joyful moments of connection and adventure with this fun and thoughtful woman. Though it ultimately didn’t work out long term, that relationship was a gift that helped me come alive, find myself in new ways, and discover I could love again and be loved in return.
But a few weeks into dating exclusively, I remembered saying that prayer my friend suggested. When I did, I remembered that it was just afterward that this woman contacted me online, and it was only because of a feeling I had quit listening to after Kat’s passing, a feeling I used to connect with the Spirit’s leading of me, that I even responded to her. I had the feeling as we connected, “Talk to this person. This will be good for you both”, and only because of that feeling did I talk, meet her for coffee, and find myself falling fast into love.
For me, that experience challenged me. How could God answer this one prayer, but not the other? I don’t have the answer even now, but this experience of answered prayer helped me come to terms with the fact God was still guiding, listening, acting, speaking me even when I do not get all the answers I want.
Now, after that relationship lived out its course of life, a course far shorter than I would have wished but far longer than I would have imagined when I first said that prayer, I see how God did answer me. I learned so much about myself, about both what I need in relationships and also what vulnerabilities I carry which threaten intimacy, true partnership.
This sense that God continues to be with me, present, embracing me in lovingkindness, hearing my cries, and giving me guidance, remains with me, my experience of answered prayer helping heal this heartache.
That said, if you face questions, embrace them. This searching for who God is, how we can make sense of God in the midst of loss, change, trauma, abuse, oppression, is a normal part of the healing process. I invite you to contain to remain open, to look and ask for “who are you, God?” as Moses did.
One of my favorite spiritual texts outside Scripture is the Sayings Gospel of Thomas. In it, the author of that text remembers Jesus as saying, “Those who seek should not stop seeking until they find. When they find, they will be disturbed. When they are disturbed, they will marvel, and will reign over all.” (Gospel of Thomas, Saying 2). To not stop seeking, to not stop questioning, is key in our spiritual journey. And just as for Moses, and for me in my questioning out of grief, your questions may at first disturb you and disorient you. But on the other side of that disorientation is a greater sense of God’s presence and a deeper connection with who you are and who God is for you, if you are open to it, which opens you up, just as that Sayings Gospel suggest.
God is in our questions, in our doubts, and all around our experience of pain, loss, and new beginning.
Next time I want to talk a little bit about the name God gives – the God who is, the God who lives, and ways it can connect with our experiences.
Your progressive redneck preacher,