“…while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by.” Exodus 33:22
So what causes you to feel trapped today? What worries you the most? Is it money problems, career options, a job, your family, your children? Worried about the world’s future, the country’s? Protests are expanding worldwide over the large gap between rich and poor; what is going to happen? How can or will we survive?
In the ancient story of Moses, as we read part from Exodus 33, we see a man in deep worry and despair about his position as leader of Israel. Things have gone well for him at times, but now they aren’t so good. How will he ever lead and get the people into the “Promised Land?”
I believe there is little verification for this story as literally happening, but it certainly represents the cycles of our lives. We are all trying to escape the “Egypts” of our lives, getting across the deserts into the “land of ease and success,” where we can join country clubs, drink fine wine, take vacations around the world in Five Star accommodations, and die feeling joyful and hopeful of an even better round! Is this possible? I think so, not literally but figuratively and experientially in our minds and souls. But, how?
Moses and the Exodus is the story of our own lives. Whether as pastoral leader, school teacher, father or mother, foreman or laborer, rich or poor, working or retired, all are on a journey across the deserts of living. Beneath the experience lie the doubts, angers, disappointments, interspersed with a few times of happiness, release, and cheers. Like following favorite sport teams, hopes rise and then are dashed. So it is with raising a family, being a husband, wife, child, President or Pastor. It’s a bi-polar, manic-depressive world, a world of opposites and polarities.
If only we could know Destiny, God, the Force is really with us. We cry with Moses, “If I have found any favor in your sight, please show me your ways!” (Ex. 33:13) We can argue with Moses, “Look I have a wife, husband, family to look after. I have a retirement to worry about, health issues, a congregation to lead! Where ARE you Great One??
The Voice responds, if we take time to climb the mountain and listen, “My presence is with you! I will go with you! I will give you rest!” “Okay,” we want to say, “I hear it and it’s even repeated in the church I attend. But what can be done about stopping greed, selfishness, anger and murder among my neighbors and world? I’m not certain I can take it anymore!”
And the Voice says, “Don’t worry, be happy, make no choices, you will be alright!” “Dear God,” we want to respond, “Will you get off that ‘be happy stuff’ and just help me!” But the Voice returns; “Go to the quiet cave where I have been waiting for you and you’ll see. Wait there and I will soon pass by and you will experience my indescribable glory! You will see and feel everything but my face, and it will be enough. And yes, come back any time you need a refresher!”
Is it really this simple? I don’t know if it’s “that simple” but to me it’s the plan, the way. The world is an unfixable entity. Everything is a “stop gap” along the path of evolution toward dissolution and non-being, back toward the “Black hole” again! The secret is to understand this place, this physical world as not our home; it’s just a temporary, illusionary journey into independence, into our Ego existence, until we give it up and come back Home. After the shock of realization, the way to peace and glory is peace and glory. As the slogan goes, “Peace is the way to peace.”
Oh it is so hard to realize it can be this “simple.” Simple, but our egos will hang on for dear life! “Give up this body, this ‘beautiful world?’ Hardly!” That’s okay. You can be “right,” but do you want to be happy? When you decide to be happy, God will be waiting. Until then just keep on digging your graves and along the way, be sure to get drunk and laugh about it!
The Armenian musician/dancer/scholar turned mystic G.I. Gurdjieff established study/meditation centers all around the world. I read recently about one in South Florida. When people call there for information, the rule is, “Never return the first call! If they return the call, then answer it. Maybe they might really want help rather than the ‘Eastern Flavor of the month!’” As Seymour Ginsberg discovered, founder of Toys ‘R Us, the task of letting go our attachments takes years of tough, almost unbearable endurance. (See his book, “The Masters Speak”.)
Thousands of people seek out teachers and gurus to find the freedom and success they crave so much. My favorite story is of the man who gave up his life’s savings to journey to India seeking liberation from a Guru in a mountain cave. Finally he reached it and in meeting the Guru he asked him, “What is God truly like?” And the Guru answered, “A bubbling fountain of water flowing down the mountain.” And then silence. “Is that all??” the man asked. And the Guru replied, “Well, maybe it isn’t!”
I can’t predict or promise answers about your personal lives or even your life as a congregation called “First Presbyterians.” I can predict that it will be confusing, discouraging and surprising at times. Yet like the story in Exodus 33, I remind you that you have a Voice inside that when it “touches” your heart, you will be overwhelmed with a sense of deep Glory, Peace, and Unspeakable Joy! And with this with you, you will come to the place saying, “What difference does it really matter what else happens?
When I find myself getting uptight and stressed about things of this world; family, wife, country, First Presbyterian in West Seneca, Presbytery of Western New York, stock market, war, hunger, numerous injustices from Wall Street to back alleys, I just tell myself, “This is the way of this transitory world! Let it go and wherever you are within it, love and be kind to it with what you have!” In my favorite book, A Course in Miracles, I think often of the verse from Chapter 21, “Seek not to change the world but choose to change your mind about the world!” (v. 7) The Course also repeats over and over that my primary function here is to accept the Atonement, or the Oneness I have with God my Creator, and everything else will be okay. In early Christian writings, the Gospel of Matthew records Jesus saying, “Seek first the Kingdom of God, and all the rest will be given unto you.” (Mt. 6:33) Same idea.
As the song Daniel Nahmod sings, we, like Moses, need to just “leave the world as it is, go inside, and find my God!” For “inside there is peace, inside there is joy, inside there is more than enough, inside there is Sacred Love!”
Where is joy, love, Presence of God, the Kingdom? It’s inside. Go to your cleft in the rock, your cave of quietness, and stay until you feel it, experience it, and can leave feeling deep peace wherever you are and go. The rest will take care of itself.
Reflections given by Rev. David Persons on October 16, 2011, 10:00, at the First Presbyterian Church of West Seneca, 2085 Union Road, West Seneca, NY.