A week or two ago, I posted a picture on my Facebook of my dog at sunset. I don’t post a lot of things on Facebook; I’m kind of a lurker there, actually. I love to read good quotes, see beautiful pics and watch funny videos. But whenever I’m about to post, I second guess myself. Is this funny? Will people take it the right way? Have I said anything that would offend? Well, as you know, it is impossible to please everyone! Therefore, I very rarely post unless it’s vacation pictures or pride in my children.
However, on this particular night, the sunset was beautiful. And my dog, Molly, had just had her haircut and was looking cute (and acting calm enough for a picture). So, I snapped a few. When I had one of her looking at me, I loaded it into FB and gave it a quick caption. “Molly at sunset. A beautiful end to a beautiful day.” Posted. Cute. Who can have a problem with it? And then I looked again. On the right-hand side of the picture there was a black, shadowy figure, very small, mostly out of the frame. It looked like a person bending over. Yes, indeed, I had captured a person bending over to leash her dog, but only her backside showed. Perfect “end” to a perfect day?!?
What is my deal? No one wants their backside showing in a picture! Thankfully this person is in the background and is very small. (No one who has seen the pic seemed to notice.) As I read the Exodus 33:12-33 passage for this Sunday, backsides are all I can think about. I don’t mean “behinds” or “ends” so much as having a backside view. When we are on the backside of something, we feel we are on the wrong side. You never want to go to a concert or a play and sit behind the stage. Even though you can hear the music just as well there, you went to see the faces of those people on stage. You want to see the scenery, see faces and their faces as they offer depth of feeling to the words offered. If you are on the backside of the stage, you feel like you are not getting your money’s worth, you are not getting the whole story, and you are not really experiencing the artform.
Moses is talking to God on the mount and speaking frankly, a bit snarky even. God has told them to go but hasn’t shared who the guide will be – and Moses isn’t having it! And God basically says, “Okay – I’ll do what you ask. I will go with you.” You see, so far, Moses and co. have been in the desert long enough for the people to create and dance around a golden calf, for Moses to break the tablets, and for the Israelites to incur his fury. So he’s on the mountain with God trying to figure out a way forward. He’s not happy. (Maybe it felt like 2020 feels?!?) So when God says God will go with them, Moses has another ask: “Let me see your glory.” And God agrees to let Moses see God’s goodness, God’s back rather than face. “You cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live,” God says.
Moses has basically had it. He’s not having a grand adventure but herding cats – who don’t want to be with him and who want to do their own thing (as cats do). So, he’s bold to ask for more. He’s bold to share his true feelings with God. And God grants him a glimpse. What would it mean to speak to God frankly, to let out our true feelings right now? What would it mean to get a glimpse, even from the backside?
It’s amazing that Moses gets to view God at all. Seeing God head-on would certainly be overwhelming, like looking straight at the sun from 50 feet away! Yet God offers “goodness,” enough, an accommodated glimpse. God reassures this leader that he does not go into the journey alone, that God will truly be with him. This is helpful for every leader: a reassuring glimpse.
It’s not just the glimpse that God offers, but how it is offered that draws me into this story. God and Moses are on the mountain and God carefully chooses a protected viewpoint. God tenderly shows Moses to cleft in the rock. James Howell suggests that God has designed mountains in such a way, from tectonic shifts and geological upheavals, that caves and crevices were created to shelter little creatures for places of rest and hiding in protection. “Rock of Ages cleft for me” comes to mind. He recalls this story: “St. Francis of Assisi believed, as did many medieval people, that clefts and crevices in rocks, all the way in Italy, were created at that moment on Good Friday when, just as Jesus died, earthquakes rocked the land. Medieval theologians and artists also saw Jesus’ wounds as clefts in the rock in which we hide ourselves. So lovely.” It is lovely; it feels like being cared for in the most tender way. And so, God directed Moses to this cleft where he would see God pass, only God’s backside. This was what Moses needed to continue on, to lead well, to know he was not choosing the course, but God was leading, to know God was providing protection and direction.
I’m reminded of another story of St. Francis, who went day after day into a cave to pray. When he came out each day, Brother Leo would ask him, Did God say anything? Francis said No. Day by day he poured out his soul, and day by day he always answered No. Finally, one day Leo asked, and Francis surprised him: Yes, God did say one word to me. Leo: What was it? Francis: More.
I love that. God wanted more – of St. Francis. Perhaps God has Moses come up on the mountain for the opportunity to share more, to connect more, so that God could have more – of Moses. And maybe God wants MORE of you; more you spending more time with God in a little cave, you in a quiet place, you in the cleft of a rock, you up on a mountain, you on your knees, you in the hammock, you on the front porch swing, you as you walk the neighborhood trail. Pour out your soul; God will want more. In offering our souls, perhaps that’s when our eyes are opened as we sit there in the cleft of the rock. There we get a glimpse from the backside, a glimpse that sees us through.
Bless each of you, pastors and laity, who are reading this message. If you are in need of my assistance, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you for the ways you continue to serve, to love God and neighbor, during this time. I have been amazed and overjoyed by the time spent with you in Charge Conferences we have experienced together. I am looking forward to being with each of the rest of you in Charge Conferences via zoom over the next few weeks! May the peace of Christ be with you.
If you would like to view past editions of Time with Tara, follow this link: https://harbordistrictnc.org/category/from-the-ds/