Sunday, September 03, 2023

Take off your shoes


There is a story in the Bible about a man called Moses. You can read it in the book of Exodus. One day, this Moses is going about his life when he is intrigued to notice a bush that is burning, but not consumed by the flames.

Now, Moses is just going about his life, but it isn’t the life he ever imagined would be his. He has experienced childhood trauma and bereavement in adulthood; been rejected by his adoptive family and his family-of-origin. He has built a new life in a far off, out-of-the-way place. In some regards, we would say that his life has become smaller. From another perspective, we would say his life has grown, to accommodate the grief within it, to make space for living despite it. This is what surviving bereavement, of any form, does within us. We are changed, a change that cannot be undone; and yet, despite all, we are not consumed.

Moses stops and turns aside to take a closer look. And God, noticing that Moses has noticed, called out to him from within the bush, ‘Moses, Moses.’ And Moses replied, ‘Here I am.’

We note that God knows us by name, and that the place of encountering God is our life, right where we are, right here where we find ourselves, the life we have, if we are open to such an encounter. Not some other circumstance, the life we had imagined for ourselves, that we had either never found or perhaps had known but had subsequently lost. Some unreal life we grasp at that has no substance. No, but rather, Here I am.

The first thing God wants Moses to know—other than that he is known—is that he must take off his sandals, for he is standing on holy ground. What is this strange command, if not the revelation that God does not want anything to come between us and our standing on holy ground, not even shoe leather? And if Moses can learn how to stand on holy ground here, in this location, he can learn how to stand on holy ground anywhere. For everywhere is holy ground, created by God and giving rise to reverence whenever that is recognised.

Moses asks this God, what is your name? And God responds with what is often translated into English as I AM WHO I AM, but can also be rendered LET THERE BE, AND THERE WAS, as in, ‘And God said, “Let there be light.” And there was light.’ In other words, this God is the one in whom is both existence and purpose. The one who comes to liberate his people into life and into the purpose of love—which, though we resist the thought with every fibre of our being, is sufficient purpose to order the world rightly.

This morning when the church in our neighbourhood were gathered together out of our lives—which for many of us are not the lives we imagined, for some of us include the pain of watching marriages approach their slow parting by death, or some other trauma or bereavement—I invited people to take off their shoes and walk about on the lawn outside, right there in the middle of the service of Holy Communion (Eucharist, Mass). It was a joy to see several take up the invitation.

Photographs: two different depictions of the burning bush in stained glass created by Leonard Evetts for St Nicholas Church; and also, a photograph of my bare feet on the vicarage lawn, after the service.

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