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. 2There 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. 3Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.” 4When 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.” 5Then he said, “Come no closer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.”
We sometimes miss that nuance when we read this story. I think I read this for years as if this miraculous burning bush was placed right in Moses’ path, impeding his way, something that he could not possibly miss, perhaps something that he would just trip over if he wasn’t paying attention. But the passage says that Moses had to “go over” or turn aside to see it, had to actually get off the path that he was on to see this incredible sight.
Here is Moses, who has led his flock to a place “beyond the wilderness”. I’m not sure what that is. But it’s apparently a place to which only a journey through the wilderness can take you. If it’s a literal place, then it’s WAY off any map that we have. I think it’s more than likely that it’s the place to which you come when you yield to the wilderness, when you let yourself relinquish control and let go of what you are holding so tightly, when, finally, you trust God enough to turn aside to see what God has in store for you. But, whatever this place is, Moses is leading his flock off the beaten path into a mysterious and unknown place right up to the mountain of God.
And there, off the path, not where he could stumble over it, but where he had to leave his planned pathway to investigate, he sees it—a bush blazing brightly with a fire that did not consume. This was beyond what was normal. Well, needless to say, his curiosity was piqued. He needed to know more, needed to get a closer look. So he steps toward it. And then he hears his name. “Moses, Moses.” Startled, Moses stammered out a meager response: “Here I am.”
Now in that moment, I think it’s probable that Moses didn’t even completely understand what was happening. After all, remember, in early Hebrew thought, if you see God, if you hear God, you die. And then this great voice tells him to take off his shoes, to take off his shoes because he was standing on holy ground. Holy ground? Well, it was ordinary a minute ago! How did it get to be holy? And then God tells Moses what Moses is called to do. This shepherd, this ordinary person standing in bare feet on the side of what used to be an ordinary mountain is called to deliver the people of Israel, to lead them to freedom. This is Moses’ commissioning. And somehow he began to process and understand what was happening. So, he began to take control of the situation and try his best to get out of what was happening. After all, Holy Ground is a dangerous place. For there, you touch the Divine and are changed forever. There is no going back.
Our Lenten journey is one that will take us beyond the wilderness, to a place where you will see and know things that you’ve never seen and known before, to a place where you will finally turn aside from your plans, from your routine and, there, find yourself standing on Holy Ground.
Holiness comes wrapped in the ordinary. There are burning bushes all around you. Every tree is full of angels. Hidden beauty if waiting in every crumb. Life wants to lead you from crumbs to angels, but this can happen only if you are willing to unwrap the ordinary by staying with it long enough to harvest its treasure. (Macrina Wiederkher, A Tree Full of Angels)
FOR TODAY: Journey to a place beyond the wilderness, beyond the place where you have so far allowed yourself to go. Then turn aside.
Grace and Peace,