‘Yahweh & the Seraphim’ Quiet Day: Session Two
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 19 & 20
The first time Moses meets God, it is in blazing light at the foot of the mountain. This time, it is on the mountain itself, in a dense cloud, the mountain wrapped in smoke; and in time, the encounter moves into thick darkness.
The movement is from seen to unseen.
The movement is not from mystery to greater revelation, but from revelation to greater mystery. This is as true for the New Testament, which moves from the Incarnation (seen) to the Ascension (unseen – blessed are those who have not seen and yet believe), as it is for the Old Testament. The purpose is not that we get to know God better, but that we open ourselves more fully to love, growing to trust the God we can only ever know a little, better.
God draws close. But there are limits to how close humans can get to God, and live.
God speaks, and gives words. Words that will be cut into stone, just as the sides of the mountain itself are carved in ridges and gullies, hiding places in which to shelter and outcrops from which to survey the people spread out below, at least when the cloud has lifted.
God cannot be known, only loved. Cannot be possessed, only entered-into. Stepping into the thick darkness, trusting that there will be solid ground beneath your feet. One cannot prove or measure God before putting one’s trust in him.
The words are given for us to enter-into, in trust. They do not, for example, list wrongful use of the name of the LORD your God, nor offer any explanation as to why you shall not make wrongful use. Instead, they draw us further into mystery. What might happen, if we dare to remember the Sabbath day, and keep it holy? What might happen, if we dare to not covet? The people respond to this degree of un-knowing with unholy fear: Moses exhorts them, ‘Do not be afraid.’
This is the way of living with God in our midst. Reverently. Aware of our God-honoured limitations, and of God’s steadfast love.
The words, the mountain, the darkness all point to something more. To the unutterable. Untouchable. To super-saturated light in which we are blind and yet aware that we are not left alone. For God has come down to us.
And we are called to come up the mountain.