In the past first reading of Sunday Mass, God speaks to Moses through, of all things, an angel within a burning bush. Exodus reads that Moses “was surprised to see that the bush, though on fire, was not consumed,” leading Moses to take a closer look. Yeah, I’d be a little curious too. Once God saw Moses listening, He calls “Moses! Moses!” to which Moses replies, “Here I am.” God asks Moses to take his sandals off, “for the place where you stand is holy ground.” The Lord goes on to tell Moses to tell His people of Egypt that He knows their suffering and will deliver them to “a land flowing with milk and honey.” Finally, Moses is instructed to name God’s as “I am who I am.” Huh??
From defying natural chemical processes to the Rupi Kaur cameo, there is a lot to unpack in this passage. Reflecting on this narrative written more than two millenniums ago, however, gave me some surprisingly clear insight on this current year of service.
One common way that I have found to reflect on this excerpt is by putting myself in the story, a la Ignatian contemplation. This process is often used within Ignatian spirituality as a type of scripture-based prayer, one of the best ways I have found personally to connect with the Bible. In this passage, the most natural way to insert myself is by assuming Moses’ position.
So here I am, minding my own business, taking care of some family sheep when God calls out my name… from a bush… on fire. “Julian! Julian!”
“Here I am.” What else am I to say? It’s almost an instinctive response, but it can also be the hardest thing to say. When the going gets tough, when work never seems to let up, when the world’s problems seem insurmountable, wouldn’t it be so nice to just retreat into a cocoon and escape? God has higher expectations of us though. He doesn’t want us to solve all the world’s problems, though. He just wants us to show up, enlisting in His army for service. After a long two weeks of work and community, the least I can say is “Here I am.”
Now that I’ve shown up, God doesn’t hesitate to remind me of the “holy ground” I stand on. Looking around on this mountain, nothing seems particularly holy – just some brush and stones. It is purely God’s holy presence that gives this land such a designation. A long way from this Old Testament mountain, the first time I heard the term “holy ground” was in El Paso, TX on a college immersion trip to the U.S. Mexico border. There along the border lay, similarly, some brush and stones. But the thick Texas air still held the God-given dignity of each and every human that has and will pass over that very ground, making the land nothing but holy. It was a privilege to be a witness there at the border, just as it was a privilege for me to take off my metaphorical sandals and step into the holy world of my clients at Taller de José in the ministry I work in.
Then, as God tells me that He is “I am who I am,” that He needs no other Earthly adjective to describe His eternal, self-sufficient, self-existent self, I feel comfort in knowing that the Lord will forever be my support.
I won’t lie, though. Despite all this pretty biblical talk, despite knowing that I am making a difference in both the community and in myself, this year has been hard. Oftentimes, I feel more like the burning bush than anyone else in this story. Work, community, family, relationships, future planning… life can be engulfing.
My biggest takeaway from this passage, then, is that the bush (myself), “though on fire, was not consumed.” Though overwhelmed, though challenged, though enveloped in flames, God not only assures me that I will ultimately remain untouched, but that it is in the flame itself that I hear the Great “I Am” the loudest and clearest.