I Will Be There

IamMoses meeting God in the burning bush, asks, Who am I to tell them you are?

God replies, “I AM THAT I AM”. Another translation has it: “I AM HE WHO IS”

In Hebrew, the words are “EHYEH ASHER EHYEH” which translates as “I WILL BE THERE HOWSOEVER I WILL BE THERE”.

Nothing is more enigmatic I think than this phrase. According to the great Hebrew scholar Everett Fox, there is and probably will forever be much debate about this statement.

In Egyptian magic, to name a thing gives one the power to control it; thus Moses envisions the slaves of Egypt being able to summon this God and call upon his power. In some sense it always gives the holder a coercive ability, or at the least as Fox says, an ability to understand the true essence of the named one.

Surely that has been the goal of untold billions of believers down through the ages. We both want to grasp this God, and make him do our bidding. We don’t take kindly always to having our prayers ignored (or so we imagine).

Yet there is more. In Hebrew, the phrase is alliterative, making it in Fox’s words both important and mysterious. It both teases us with its symmetry and its illusive quality. Some suggest that the best understand is “he who causes things to be.”

Martin Buber, a great Jewish philosopher famous for his existential I-Thou, I-It dichotomy, took things in a different direction. He suggests that God is rendered as the “one who is there”, and this is the one Fox himself adopts. The verb is hayoh, being there, which coincides Fox argues with the later back and forth as Moses brings up reason after reason why he is not up to the task God directs him to. In all but one response, God answers with the hayoh verb, that he will “be there”.

It may well be as Fox points out, that God simply meant to be purposefully vague in order to show his lack of “magical”ness. It becomes the YHWH or Yehweh which we commonly understand today as the “He who creates” or “he who is”.

Buber’s argument for the “He who is there” is from a pastoral point of view, much the preferred. We long to not just recognize that our God is the Creator, but more than he is “there” for us. We seek and feel his presence in our daily lives, always available to guide and nudge us in the right direction, or conversely to raise the pangs of nagging conscience when we have strayed from the path.

We don’t of course know how Moses viewed it, but we know that he responded to the call and put all on the line to serve this God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. And his voice was, with the “God-who-is-there” strong enough to convince the people to follow him in the desert as they made their way slowly and arduously to the promised land.

We of course are in our own desert during this Lenten period, and we seek the promised land as well. Our way is sometimes slow, we have lost our way many a time. We have stumbled and fallen and feared that we did not have what it takes to finish the journey. But we are comforted by the knowledge that our God is not some far-off deity who demands our worship and remains aloof to our needs and desires.

Our God, is with us during all our struggles and long dark nights of the soul. He nourishes us and shares our burdens, and often, if we allow, takes them upon himself while we rest and refresh our spirits. His words are food for us, his love embraces us, holding us tight when we are afraid.

This is the God whom Moses brought to us. This is the God who endures, who ever was, ever is, ever will be. He is as close as your breath, and as dear as your closest human companion. She is as tender as a loving mother, as loving as them most proud father, and that cannot be changed. You have only to reach out your hand, and you will find the steady rock that you have so longed for.

God is there. He has said it. He will be there.


** The Five Books of Moses (The Schocken Bible Vol 1), Translation, Commentary, Notes by Everett Fox. ( do yourself a great favor and get a copy of this–the poetry in this translation is simply breathtaking.)

Why Do We Fail to Hear?


I watched a bit of the “family values” summit in Iowa yesterday. Most of the GOP field was there to seek the blessings of these “good Christians.”

Applause was loudest for repealing that odious marriage equality decision forced upon an unwilling electorate by “rogue” judges. Next in applause was for all efforts to make sure that “illegal aliens” were prevented from using health care and other safety net provisions of Iowa laws.

A week or so ago, Herman Cain was loudly praised for his desire to put up a 20-foot fence along the border, and electrify it so keep out the unwanted.

A few weeks before that, a gay soldier was booed when he asked would any of the GOP candidates work to undo the gains made by LGBT members in the Armed Services.

Meanwhile Rick Perry plummets in the polls for having the audacity to suggest that it would be heartless to deprive children who are citizens by virtue of birth here from college funding programs offered to non-Latino children with nary a thought.

And the folks who boo or applaud these things think of themselves as “good” Christians. In fact they revel in the fact. They sit in utter sanctimonious splendor as speakers soothe their occasional guilt, citing a verse here and there supposedly assuring them that charity begins and ends with the church and not with any government program. How else to deprive the  “unworthy” of sharing with those who are worthy.

Today’s reading from Exodus instructs us that far far back in Jewish history as recorded in Exodus, the Israelites were reminded that they owed care and concern for the aliens among them.

Thus says the LORD:
“You shall not molest or oppress an alien,
for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt.
You shall not wrong any widow or orphan.
If ever you wrong them and they cry out to me,
I will surely hear their cry.  (Ex 22: 20-22)

If there was any confusion on who was the alien, surely Jesus cleared that up when he taught the parable of the “Good Samaritan.”

But there is more. It is not just a matter of  “not molesting or oppressing”, as Exodus suggests. It is as Jesus suggested in the Samaritan parable and as he perfectly defined it in today’s Gospel reading:

“Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
He said to him,
“You shall love the Lord, your God,
with all your heart,
with all your soul,
and with all your mind.
This is the greatest and the first commandment.
The second is like it:
You shall love your neighbor as yourself.
The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” (Mt 22: 36-40)

The alien is our neighbor, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Now what does that mean?

Jesus tells us that this second commandment is like the first, which tells us to love God with our whole heart, soul, and mind.

So, we are to love ourselves in this same manner, and thus to the alien among us.

Why is this so?

It can only be, as far as I can tell, because God told us at the very beginning that all creation was “good”.

People often say that “God doesn’t make mistakes.” And I believe that is true. Whatever has been created was meant to be as it is. Thus we, as sentient beings, able and capable of discerning our Creator, must be what God intended. We must be in perfect way, loveable. We are worth loving. We are as intended.

Thus the  practice of some faith traditions of zeroing in on sin and our failings is patently wrong. We do fail to meet our own and God’s expectations, of that we can all be sure. But that should never over-ride the basic goodness within us as created beings.

And if we stand tall in our worthiness to be loved both by God, who assures us that this is true, and ourselves in recognition of that statement, then we are called to love everyone we encounter with that same fervor and certitude.

How many of us do that?

Fairly stated, we all fail miserably most of the time. We ignore most of the people whom we have no personal relationship with. We turn a blind eye to much of the suffering throughout the world, and indeed at home. We do this out of a certain sense of self-protection, since one would go mad if they didn’t keep themselves at least emotionally at some distance from the true misery that exists.

But most of us steel ourselves, we look away. We limit ourselves to a few gestures. We toss a few bucks in the “charity” dish on Sunday, and we make a big deal out of donating a few cans of food, or taking a turn now and then at a soup kitchen, or other public display of “giving”.

I’m not trying to judge what you do, versus what I do. I’m just as guilty of not doing enough as most are.

But we can surely stop this madness of lumping great groups of people together and claiming that somehow they don’t meet our standards of being worthy to be given to. We can surely stop declaring that “others” are not entitled to basic human decency because of the methodology of their arrival here.

One of the speakers at the Iowa forum yesterday was a man from Indian descent. He claimed to be a proud resident alien who had worked for his citizenship. He claimed that allowing “illegals” to gain state benefits of any kind in Iowa was a “slap in the face” to those of us who worked for our citizenship the legal way.

Well, I shook my head. Of course, he didn’t bother to acknowledge that his entry into this country illegally would have been a hard thing to pull off coming from India. He clearly had some real money to accomplish his dream of coming to America. He was not poor, with a large family barely making it. He did not face the dangers of trying to cross the border. He was not driven by poverty and the lack of meaningful hope for the future in his own country. I doubt that he was.

Yet he wishes to be one of the “ins” and separate himself from the “alien”. And, given where he was, and the group to which he spoke, I suspect he believes himself to be a “good” Christian.

Do you think God would agree?

The Good Samaritan by Rembrandt (1630) shows t...

The Good Samaritan by Rembrandt


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