Thursday, October 02, 2008

Our Stories of Self

Moses' calling on Mt. Sinai is a miraculous theophany that illustrates the way in which an encounter with the Divine can utterly disrupt our lives, shaking us to the core and leading us into an unimaginable new directions.

When Moses encounters the Divine in the midst of swirling fire, the first question he asks, is “why me?” Like most prophets, Moses is more than a little shocked that God has chosen him and doubtful about his own ability to meet the challenges that lie ahead. “Why me?” Most of us at some point have asked ourselves this question, haven’t we? Why me?

For Moses, this was a particularly apt question. After all, Moses was the adopted son of Pharaoh. Why would he be chosen to lead the revolt, the exodus? Why would he be charged with the responsibility of the people he once oppressed? The story of oppressors turned liberators and outsiders made insiders is a familiar theme isn’t it? It is after all the story of our faith tradition.

In the text that follows, Moses asks God more questions. Why me is just the beginning. Moses wants to know why these people? The Israelites? Really? Why them? Why us? It is not enough for Moses to know why he has been called and why the Israelites have been chosen. So what? Moses wants to know why now? Our people have been enslaved for decades. Why now? What difference does my calling make, what difference does my community make, if not called to action now? Why me? Why us? Why now?

These three questions might sound familiar to you? Remember last week I closed the sermon with the three questions from Rabbi Hillel, “If I am not for me, then who will be? If I am only for myself, then what am I? And if not now, when?” These questions arise out of the very fabric of the Jewish heritage and frame for the community an identity rooted in self, known in community and made real through action. Why me? Why us? Why now?

In today’s reading these questions arise in the context, not of indulgent self-examination, Freudian therapy or guided meditation, but rather are forced upon Moses through a radical experience of the Divine. Moses’ own self-examination is mandated by a divine disruption in his life as planned. Why me? Why us? Why now?

Theologian Paul Tillich, refers to this type of experience as ontological shock. Ontological refers to the very state of being, of existence. Shock refers to the state of being thrown out of balance, shaken down to its foundations. Ontological shock happens when one is confronted with the ultimate and one’s relationship to it. Moses had an ontological shock at the burning bush. Thrown out of balance, shaken to the core, Moses forced to make a choice in the face of God’s calling.

While both of these stories tell tales of external, tactile, engagements with the Divine, most of us experience ontological shock in more subtle ways. Although there may be no burning bush or booming voice from the heavens, each of us nonetheless has had a moment of epiphany. Of revelation. Each of us at some point has had a moment of a-ha, in which we understand or sense what is and what is not, when we realize or apprehend who we and what we are called to do. Sometimes we recognize these moments as they happen, but all too often we only see their significance in hindsight.

These encounters with the divine, these moments of ontological shock and divine nudging, are only part of the process of the construction of our stories of self. Moses could have chosen to walk away from the Divine, ignore God’s calling and do something quite different. When faced with a revelation whether it be about the world, or God, or ourselves, we always have a choice to make. It is in these discrete moments of choice, whether conscience or unconscious, that our values, hopes, dream and aspirations are revealed.

It is what we choose to do with these revelations that make all the difference.

To answer the time honored questions of why me, why us, why now, we must turn to moments of choice, to our own experiences of ontological shock. Some reverberate through our lives with a loud crashing cacophony, others leave us in the silence of simple questions and hidden answers.

By answering these questions we are able to articulate our values, identify our hope, and inspire our dreams. By answering these questions we discover a renewed sense of purpose and untapped reservoirs of energy for action in the world. It is hard to be part of a community of struggle if we cannot remember what brought us here in the first place.

Our stories are powerful for they not only help us articulate our own sense of self and passionate commitments, but they lead us to understand the connections between ourselves, community, world and ultimately God.

Part of our Sabbath journey at CWM is intentional effort to cultivate calm and gain insight so that we as a community might be renewed for action in the world. This insight, however, must begin with each one of us. For the church is not a building….the church is a people. Each of us sitting here today constitutes the Body of Christ. Indeed, the story of CWM itself arises from the individual stories of us…the hands and feet of Christ here in this place.

Why are you called to do what you are called to do?


Clix said...

Why are you called to do what you are called to do?

Honestly? Sometimes I think it's just God's sense of humor. ;)

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