Rather than the evangelical counsels of poverty, chastity, and obedience, Benedictines take vows of stability, conversion of life, and obedience, and the call to remain in the cell is a call to stability. (Actually, you can probably see all three vows in the call to the cell, but I want to talk about stability.)
In our modern culture, we are used to constant stimulation and
excitement. Boredom is the enemy -- we are terrified of it. This
spills over into the spiritual life, and there is the danger of always being on
the lookout for the next spiritual "high". I myself certainly
spent my twenties and much of my thirties in this quest for the next spiritual
"high", for that magic bullet that would transform my spiritual
life. The right denomination, or congregation, or liturgy.
But, in reality, there is a "holy boredom" that we must experience if
we are ever to experience authentic spiritual maturity. Prayer will be
boring much of the time -- at least if we're doing it right. We show our
love for God most clearly when we pray even though we don't feel like it -- and
when we do that task that we would really rather not do, but know we
should. We must commit ourselves to the mundane, the ordinary, the plain,
even the uncomfortable. And that is found in a commitment to one's daily
Sunday, April 10, 2016
Go to the Desert -- See a Burning Bush -- God Will Call You by Name
As Christians, we are called to go out into the desert to meet God. Moses shows us what that looks like in his encounter with God in the burning bush. When we look at the burning bush, we learn the signs to recognize our own encounters with God.
You might say, "Why do I need to go to the desert? God is omnipresent – can't I hear the voice of God somewhere else?" Of course, God is omnipotent. Of course God can speak to us anywhere. The question is, rather, where can we hear God?
Moses had quite a life before he went to the desert. He was born at a time when Jewish boys were supposed to be killed as soon as they were born. He was not – he was hidden in a basket in the river, and the Pharaoh's daughter found him, and he was raised in palaces, raised to be powerful. But he felt the oppression of his people, and decided to do something about it. When an Egyptian was fighting with an Israelite, Moses intervened, and killed the Egyptian. The trouble is that word got out, and Moses feared for his life. So, broken and scared, he retreated to the desert, and took a job as a shepherd, and married.
And then one day, as he was out with his flock, the unimaginable happened – he saw a scrub bush burning – but rather than being consumed in a few minutes, it kept burning! Curious, Moses approached. And God spoke to him. God called him by name. "Moses, Moses!" Moses answered, "Here I am." Then God called Moses to take off his sandals, because the ground he stood on was holy ground. Yes – the hot desert sand, filled with scrub brush, was holy ground. And then God gave Moses a task – to lead the people of Israel out of slavery and bondage – out of Egypt – into the Promised Land. In Hebrew, Egypt, "Mitzrayim", means "narrow places" – and many Jews, as they observe Passover, reflect on what the narrow places in their lives are, and how God leads them from the narrow places into redemption. And then God tells Moses the most sacred name of God – "I will be what I will be" – a name that reveals God as the source of all existence.
And so it is with us.
In our daily lives, we are inundated with lots of voices. The voices of our friends and family. The voices of our boss, our coworkers, our customers. The voices of the media. The voices inside of us – criticizing ourselves, worrying, wanting. Yes, God is speaking – but how can we hear the voice of God over the noise that constantly surrounds us?
So we're called to go out into the desert, where the external voices are silenced. We go out into the emptiness, the dryness, the quiet – where we can hear the Spirit move, blowing as the wind. Of course, just because the external voices are silenced doesn’t mean the internal ones are silenced. The early desert fathers and mothers in the Christian tradition went into the desert, and spent the time fighting demons. Jesus went into the desert and was tempted by Satan for forty days.
But the demons aren't the only ones there. So is God.
And God will come to us, in the most unlikely of ways. In burning dry brush, which seems like an act of destruction, God speaks to us – and brings forth life in abundance.
God calls us by name – when we are in the desert, retreating from our mistakes (maybe not as bad as Moses killing a man, but still bad), fighting our demons – that is when the Creator of the Universe comes to us and calls us by name.
And we're called to remove our sandals – our defenses against the desert sand and the creatures – snakes, scorpions, thorns – that inhabit it – because only then can we be vulnerable to God, and open ourselves to the transforming power of God.
And at that moment, when God calls us by name, and we respond, the desert becomes holy ground. Not the magnificent temple or cathedral, not the palace with its soft carpets – the desert. Because all is stripped away, and we are free to face God with our mistakes, our demons – and our openness, and our possibilities.
And it is that moment that God calls us to our mission – a mission of liberation, of redemption, of bringing people from slavery, bondage, narrow places – into the promised land of freedom and abundance and the joy of serving God in a community of the redeemed. And in committing to that mission, God reveals to us the sacred name of God.
Let us go to the desert. Let us keep our eyes open for the burning bush. And let us be prepared for God to call us by name, give us our mission, and make known to us the sacred name of God.