Taking the time to find God
We never know when things will change. We may be serene, following familiar routine, comfortable with the familiar, and not expecting an intervention that will unfold into a dramatic series of changes. But often God has other plans.
Consider Moses: seemingly settled and sedentary as a shepherd, he now has the encounter that changes his life. While pasturing his father-in-law’s sheep, he came to a place where he sees a bush that burns yet remains intact.
In this moment that Moses first learns the name of the God who has called him to go to Egypt and effect the exodus, who has called him to go to Pharaoh and demand that he “let My people go.”
“I am YHVH; I appeared to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob as El Shaddai, but my name YHVH was not disclosed to them.” (Exodus 6:2-3) YHVH might mean something like “The One who causes what is to exist,” despite the normal (and rather dry) rendering into English as “The Lord.”
If we can’t be certain what the actual Hebrew name for God means, we can turn instead to where it is disclosed: the burning bush.
What seems of significance here is the Torah’s insight that God will be present as God chooses to be present; not as we might choose, expect, or demand that God be present. So often, when we place questions before God we do so with so many assumptions, or with an expectation of an answer. What Moses may be teaching us is that we may get a response rather than an answer; we may get an acknowledgment that we warrant God’s attention, but we may not necessarily get an answer to the question we asked.
Moses could easily have said: “YHVH? What are You doing here in a burning bush? Why aren’t You in Egypt saving Your people?” And that seems to be exactly the point: God turns out to be where and when we perhaps least expect to find God, even in a burning bush,
Tradition relates that many other people passed by that same burning bush but did not notice that anything unusual was happening. God was waiting for someone to be alert enough to the possibilities of the unexpected, and that someone turns out to be Moses. “I will turn aside now and see this marvelous sight, how it is that the bush is not consumed.” (Exodus 3:3)
Rabbi Lawrence Kushner teaches that it takes a fair amount of time to deduce that a burning bush is in fact not being burnt up. You have to be in for the long run, not the quick disclosure. Moses not only had to be alert to a new possibility, he had to have the patience to let God emerge in the circumstance in which he, Moses, found himself.
These two qualities: openness to finding God where we did not expect to find God, and patience in the uncovering of the layers of experience in which God may be found, are not exactly the currency of popular spirituality. Quick-fix religion, feel-good musings about angels and spirits, and easy answers to hard questions seem to be the marketable religious commodities in our society.
But perhaps from the experience of Moses we can learn the wisdom of listening for God on God’s terms, rather than our own, and of taking the necessary time to find God — rather than expecting immediate and easy answers to hard and lasting questions. And perhaps then, we can take advantage of the possibilities of being surprised, and of finding our way into new and unexpected paths, leading to new destinations.