Moses was out on a desert saunter one day, wandering with Jethro’s sheep. Moses was leading them to the west side of the desert, to the higher elevations. So, it is quite likely that this is summer time and he is seeking cooler climes for the sheep. Horeb is the most elevated area of the Sinai Peninsula, and has the most fertile valleys in which even fruit trees grow. Water is available there and consequently it is the destination of all the Bedouins when the lower countries are dried up.
Moses is probably a long way from home in this season. Shepherds would spend weeks and months out with the flocks after the hard work of birthing and shearing was done and the home pastures were depleted. It would seem that we meet Moses at perhaps the most boring part of the shepherd’s year – far from home and most human contact, watching the sheep eat and sleep.
And so, he saunters. And a good saunter is a wonderful thing! Henry David Thoreau wrote a whole book about the art of sauntering, the art of walking in such a way as to let the mind go on holiday and receive the gifts that nature is always offering. Friedrich Nietzsche falls in step when he says, “All truly great thoughts are conceived while walking.”
While walking, mind on holiday, Moses sees something that invites his curiosity. Fire! Throughout the south Sinai Peninsula there are little bushes that the Bedouin sheep and goats feed on. And because of a lack of rain and extreme heat, these bushes sometimes unexpectedly ignite with fire and burn up. So burning bushes there are not all that unusual. But burning bushes that talk to you, give you orders and don’t burn up are unusual, even for the Sinai.
This was Moses’ epiphany. He will have other encounters with the Holy One throughout his life. But this was his epiphany because from this moment on, his life was changed. He set out on a whole new direction which he did not choose.
The Bible is full of stories of God calling people out of their everyday lives to do something for God. There are so many stories that the natural conclusion is that God is in the business of calling people out of the ordinary into what God wants to have done.
So what does it mean to be called? Does it require an epiphany? An appearance of the divine? I have more questions than answers.
I hear your first excuse already! Calling is for special people. Pastors are called to serve God, as are prophets, or priests, or monks and nuns. They are special, not like us. They are closer to God.
I wonder about that…. This call of Moses has me wondering a lot of things about a calling.
* Maybe we are all called, but we aren’t listening. I wonder how many burning bushes Moses encountered in those forty years as a shepherd before he stopped to notice this one. But he was on a walk, far from home, no one looking over his shoulder. He could just check it out. I wonder if God is constantly calling every one of the human family. But we spend so much time planning, hurrying, worrying, and living that we don’t hear the call.
So I rather like the advice of Henry David Thoreau: Take a walk. Let the mind go on holiday where wonderful adventures await, where one might meet a burning bush.
* Then there is fear. All callings are scary. It is in the nature of a call to be scary at some level. Because it changes everything. A call is something we would not ordinarily undertake on our own. It is not something we choose but something we obey, assent to, give ourselves to. And change, the act of giving up our power to someone else’s plan – that is frightening. We lose some of our control of our own lives in a call.
Yet, it is not only scary; it is also enticing. There is enough of a dream in a call to catch our curiosity and keep us in conversation. Moses’s conversation with that bush is one of the longest dialogues recorded in Scripture. Something kept Moses engaged.
And a call has resources. You are not alone. Moses was not alone. God accompanied him, spoke to him to tell him what to do. God gave him miracles to perform. Aaron was there to help put it into words.
Clarissa Pinkola Estes has written an inspiring letter to a discouraged young activist. In it she says: “Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able crafts in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind…. You are not without resource, you are not alone. Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you.”
* Do we believe that someone or something beyond ourselves has a legitimate claim on our lives? We live in an era when human freedom is hailed as the highest good. But that has not always been the case. The BBC series, the Crown and the documentary on the Windsors both track the royal family of Elizabeth II of England. One thing is clear in both series – Queen Elizabeth believes that her life is not her own, but belongs to her people. All other family dynamics or personal feelings take a back seat. Is that good or bad? It depends who you ask. But it makes me wonder if all humans lived to serve a larger cause, a broader human family, what would happen to our world?
* I am ordinary, not gifted to change the world. Here is an interesting teaching from the story of Moses. Moses was not gifted to do what he was called to do either. Moses’ spiritual gift inventory and Meyers Briggs personality type and Strengths Finder results did not a match the leader skill set. Yet he became one of the greatest leaders of all time.
So it seems that one’s gifts and talents, while wonderful and useful, are not the basis for a calling. We may have things we are naturally cut out to do. Of course we do! And those things may not be the things we are called to do.
A calling is something bigger. It is when something outside of our selves rises up and says this is what you must do. It could be something human or divine which calls (although, I would guess that most calls ultimately come from the one who is greater than ourselves). It may be that this outside voice knows something about us that we have never explored, and is calling it out of us. It may be that this bigger voice is giving us gifts with which to do a new thing. It may be that this wholly other is pulling us out of our closet of comfort to contribute something bigger to the world.
Listen to Estes again: “Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach…. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts – adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take ‘everyone on Earth’ to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.”
* How do I know if I am called? In a way, that is easy to answer. You are. All of us are called. You are all called to change the world, to co-create with the One who imagined into being the world and all that is.
Does it require an epiphany, a story of divine encounter like Moses had? Short answer: No. But I believe they are more common that we admit.
* Are we called or do we volunteer? When we volunteer, we are choosing what we want to do. It is sometimes in response to an inner knowledge that I must step up and do something. I must contribute something to this world. And so it can be call-like. But Moses certainly did not volunteer! He obeyed. And that, grudgingly. And in the end, he did exactly what was needed. And it changed the world.
Our congregation is entering a season of discernment. The Nominating Committee will be meeting in the next weeks to listen for God’s calling. It is an important task. I ask you to be in prayer for them. Who is being called to be the next leaders in our congregation? There is a mutuality in this process. The committee discerns who they sense God is calling, then when asked, the candidate has to wonder, like Moses, if he or she can say yes. And maybe we talk back, and say I will need this and this in order to say yes, as Moses did. Through prayer for the Spirit’s choice, through pausing to listen closely, through being willing to imagine that someone else, our Creator, has a claim on my life, some will be called and will enter a whole new, life-changing path.
I have come to believe that God is calling every single one of us! We don’t all listen. We write it off as a dream. Or we fill our lives with so much activity that there is no time to follow the tug on our hearts. And we are not all called to the same thing. That would be silly. Each of us has a gift to be brought to this time and this place. This gift is being called out for such a time as this! Every one of us makes a difference!
So this week, take a walk. Let your mind go on holiday and listen to what you hear. Elizabeth Barrett Browning has these phrases in one of her poems, which says it so well:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
– Elizabeth Barrett Browning
[Do Not Lose Heart, We Were Made for These Times
–by Clarissa Pinkola Estes, syndicated from moonmagazine.org, Mar 13, 2017 http://www.dailygood.org/story/1538/do-not-lose-heart-we-were-made-for-these-times-clarissa-pinkola-estes/]