‘Yahweh & the Seraphim’ Quiet Day: Session One
The ‘Yahweh & the Seraphim’ Quiet Day at Sunderland Minster took the form of three sessions. Each began with listening to a reflection on a passage from the Bible. This was followed in the first and third session with space to respond individually: in reading the passage and the reflection, praying, journaling, drawing; or looking at the sculpture from different angles, or through coloured lenses, or binoculars. In the second session we took the different approach of group discussion.
The sessions build one on another; depend on simplicity and space; and come with the health warning that they might bring to the surface any manner of things between you and God, including deep things. So the space is to be held as holy ground, and with the possibility to discuss anything with me – as the facilitator – in confidence. As several people expressed an interest but could not attend, now that it has taken place I am posting the reflections, with a link to the Scripture stories they relate to.
Reflection on Exodus 3
The last thing Moses wants is to be found. He is, after all, a fugitive on the run. He has made a new life for himself, in the wilderness. One wonders how much he has told the woman he has married about his former life; the extent to which he has disclosed, and held back; what territory lies between them even as they lie together in the dark?
He is a man who has accommodated himself within a life he could never have imagined in his younger days. Is it a disappointment? A relief? Some indescribable mixture of the two? His horizon has shifted, his world become very small, the sky above vast.
On this day, he has journeyed beyond the wilderness, has pushed beyond the back of beyond. What lies there? The unknown, the unimaginable. The mountain of God. That is what is left, when we have wandered beyond the far edge of the margins.
Out of the corner of his eye, a blazing bush. This in itself is not unknown to him. The wilderness can get very hot, hot enough for a bush to spontaneously combust, to blaze with light and burn itself out. But not this bush: it keeps on blazing. For this, Moses must turn aside. Indeed, he is compelled to do so.
It turns out that this is no earthly flame, but an angel sitting in the branches, blazing like the sun. An angel, heralding, guarding, and standing in the presence of God. This, apparently, is what angels do. But it is God who calls out to Moses. And Moses responds, ‘Here I am.’ Here I am.
God tells Moses to come no closer. His journey, in this direction at least, has reached its end. He is to remove his sandals, the symbol of his wandering, and this is a holy moment in a holy place. Moses has come home, has returned to the fold, has been born anew.
And this causes Moses to hide his face, for he was afraid to look at God. God is unbearable.
In this place, beyond the wilderness, God confronts Moses with his deepest failure, the one that still defines him, against which Moses’ life appears Plan B, second best. It turns out that the place of failure – hearing the cry of the people on account of their taskmasters – is the very place where Moses and God stand on common ground. This is the first step in God’s plan of redemption, which will take Moses back, to face Pharaoh, in order for Moses to leave Egypt behind for good.
Is it possible that we might encounter God on the ground of our deepest failure?
Moses asks God to reveal his name. God responds, ‘I AM WHO I AM’ and my title is YHWH, from ‘to be’. I am what I am, and I will be what I will be.
Here I am. The mountain of God echoes back the words with which Moses first responded to God, ‘Here I am.’ Not because God is to be understood to be made in Moses’ image, but because Moses’ words reveal that he bears the imprint of God. And he discovers this standing in front of an angel who is worshipping God at the foot of a mountain on the far side of the wilderness.
And here we are, at the foot of a mountain that bears the inscription I AM YHWH, surrounded by flaming Seraphim.
How did we get here?
And now that you have turned aside to be here, for what purpose might God have called to you?