Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Jesse Tree Day 11 -- Moses

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. 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. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ 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.’ Then he said, ‘Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.’ 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. - Exodus 3:1-6

Moses had come a long way from his earthly beginnings. Born at a time when Israelite boy babies were supposed to be killed by the midwives who had just delivered them, Moses' mother happened to have one of them who claimed to have gotten there too late to do the deed. Then he was put in a pitch-covered basket and placed in the Nile, only to be discovered and rescued by pharoah's daughter who took him to raise as her own. He grew up in privilege as a son of the royal house only to lose it when he retaliated against an Egyptian who was in the act of beating an Israelite worker to death. His murder of the Egyptian meant he had to beat feet outta Dodge and so he went as far and as fast as he could. He ended up in Midian where he became a shepherd and a husband.  The burning bush marked the beginning of another chapter in his life, one that would take the rest of his life to finish.

It must have been quite a sight, that burning bush which sustained a flame yet didn't become consumed by it.  A science program I saw showed how it would be possible, but it still seemed a bit miraculous to me. To Moses (without the benefit of Discovery Channel), it must have been awe-full, to say the last.  Then there was the command coming from seeming nowhere for Moses to take off his sandals and go barefoot because he was on holy ground. Why?  I don't know for sure, but it seems like bare foot against the ground would allow a person to not only feel a bit more vulnerable but also more connected to creation and the solidity of the earth beneath the feet.  At any rate, Moses found one of those thin places and was asked to remove his sandals.

I know that there are places I've been where I'd have been sorely tempted to take off my Birks and experience holy ground.  One place was on the shore of my river back home. It was easy to go barefoot, and almost as easy to feel the presence of God in the waves, the firmness of the wet sand and the yielding of the dry.  Another place was in the National Cathedral, a sacred place dedicated to the worship of God and the service of humankind. That is one of my very favorite thin spaces, where heaven and earth are millimeters apart. 

Somehow I don't think Moses had a lot of trouble recognizing that this was a momentous event taking place in probably a very familiar area that hadn't seemed all that strange before.  That's the thing about holy places -- they don't all have to be the scene of great bloodshed or great piety, they can be anywhere that a person can encounter God in a very real way, perhaps not as directly as Moses did at the burning bush, but in somewhat similar circumstances.

What can I learn from Moses?  Perhaps one thing is something not mentioned in today's reading and that is to stand up for what is right, even if it gets you in trouble.  Another is to listen for the voice of God with instructions  A third thing is to be aware of where I am because I can't ever tell when I might be standing or walking on holy ground.

“Earth's crammed with heaven,

And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes –
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.” 
    - Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Watch for thin spaces. 

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