Give it 80% this year
Updated: Sep 3
Among the many practices of Ignatian spirituality, is the practice of using one's imagination to place oneself in a story of scripture so as to understand it more deeply, more viscerally, and in a human way. The style of writing of scripture -- and the way that we read it -- can make these stories feel a bit impersonal or can make us feel at a safe distance from them. The Ignatian imagination can put us back into our bodies and put our bodies and our hearts into the story.
You see, when we are reading a story like this, it can almost become a comedy how deadpan Moses is in his acting.
The bush blazes up into a plume of spark and ash, and the booming presence of the angel of God echoes wordlessly.
I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.
and the bush speaks to him! and it doesn't just speak, it cries out, Moses! Moses!
Here I am.
and the bush goes on, remove your sandals! this is holy ground! I am the God of your fathers! and Moses just goes:
I'm shy 👉👈
Which feels ridiculous!
The presentation of these stories sometimes takes the emotion of these human interactions, and these human and God encounters. And so I try to imagine myself into this story and give a little bit of shape and contour and color to this wild, wild story.
So I try to imagine that I am Moses, I'm in the wilderness, and I'm with these cows or sheep or whatever this flock might be. If it were really me, I imagine there's a calmness I feel being out in nature, and also a real vulnerability. I like nature, but it feels very exposing to be "beyond the wilderness", I also imagine I might be a little tense just for having the responsibility of this flock. I am minding my own business out there, and then this bush alights suddenly -- is not even burning as a normal flame -- and then says to me, I am God and I need you to liberate my people from Egypt, please.
And there are two ways I can imagine reacting. The first way is this: I'm outta there. I'm gone. I have got to go. Thanks, bye, no no, no, goodbye. The second, is just like the first but more polite. I'm immediately bargaining, whoaaaa whoa whoa, why me? Isn't there anyone else? You know what, I've got a pork shoulder in the crock pot at home, I was gonna watch America's Next Top Model tonight, I can't swing this, thank you so much, if there's any way I can help you find somebody else let me know. Bye!
We cannot know what was going on in Moses' mind or what it felt like in his body, but I can imagine what it felt like in my body, and knowing what it might've felt like in my body makes his response seem all the wilder to me. I would have run away from God-as-talking-blazing-bush. Moses went on and he liberated his people.
What we see in this story is that sometimes, God radically calls us out of our lives -- out of our habits, out of our plans, out of our expectations for how things will go -- and says, hey, I have something else for you. Will you answer the call?
We saw this with Moses, we saw this with Jesus' disciples, we saw this with Paul, God steps in and says drop everything, you have a new call. And they answer him. I am more of a Jonah than a Moses, I will get on a boat and sail away from God's call for me, rather than disrupt my plans. And it feels like a symptom of the way we organize our lives, part of that feeling in my imagined reaction to this burning bush is like, I actually cannot drop everything, I have bible study on Wednesday, and I have to lead a discussion on Tuesday, and my lease doesn't expire til August. I have people relying on me, I, I can't! I just can't! My life -- maybe our lives -- can be so packed, that I can't always even fit a coffee appointment in edgewise, much less the exodus from Egypt.
But there is a challenge from God to us, and we see it reflected Jesus' call to his disciples, in Paul's radical conversion, and in this act of God to Moses, and the challenge is this: we are to be prepared for a call from God at any time to radically rethink our ministries, our commitments, even our very lives.
I hear the voice of my old spiritual director in my head saying, "well, Ethan, we already had a Moses, you're not called to be Moses" which is a relief -- I'm not sure how it would go trying to part the Rappahannock River -- God is probably not going to call us out of our lives into the role of Liberator of God's People, but in medium ways and small ways, in individual ways, and in ways pointed at this church community, God is going to issue charges to us, and it is our work to be prepared to answer them. And if, like me, your gut reaction is usually No, that's too much, that's not my business, that's not my problem, no I gotta go, then we've got some work to do.
There's a story that I remember sometimes, and that I like to tell sometimes to keep myself honest. When I lived in Berkeley California, where I was in the town had a significant homeless population, and one day I was walking to the BART train station, and one of the guys, one of our neighbors stopped me, and asked if I had any money for him for food. No sorry, I don't have any cash on me, and he said, well I know you have a credit card on you, how about you buy me some food yourself?? And without thinking, I blurted out, I'm really sorry I'm late for a meeting at church. And he said, late for a meeting at church? And I scooted off and walked the rest of the way to the station with a little cloud of shame over me.
In order to be able to respond to God's call for us, to stop and hear what the burning bush has to say, in order even to notice the burning bushes and shrubs and twigs, to know they're speaking to us, and to heed their calls,,, we have to have the space and the time and the energy to give. We have to see God's call for us as somehow more urgent than the thing we were on our way to. We have to have something we can let go of in order to pick up what it in front of us. In order to be able to answer a new call to ministry, a newly expressed need that we are in a position to meet, we have got to have the space and time and energy to give.
So, my priestly advice for you at the start of this school year, at the start of this program year, in the midst of the freneticism of 21st century life and knowing how many burning twigs and shrubs are out there for us to notice and heed, my priestly advice for you is this: give it a solid 80% effort out there. We're so used to giving things 110% effort, we're so used to giving things 120% of our energy and being booked for 150% of our time. And I'm saying that maybe, God needs us to give 80% out there. So when God needs our attention, when a person needs our attention, when a new need is expressed in our community or beyond our community, we can show up. I think we need to figure out how to be just a little bit bored, so that when we smell smoke just a little off the path, our curiosity is piqued rather than our fight or flight, activated. Keep a little time and a little space and a little energy unaccounted for. So that when God needs you, or when God needs this church, to really suddenly show up, we can do it. So give it 80% out there and tell them your priest said it's okay. Because we need that other 20% for something, and though that bush may not have sparked yet, it will.
God called Moses out of his life to lead his people to liberation across the Red Sea, and against Pharoah and his army. There may not be a Red Sea or a Pharoah here, and thank God for it, it may not be at the scale of the Liberation of a people, and thank God for it, but I trust that sometime in the coming year, God will have a new call -- maybe just a small or medium one -- for you, for me, for us, for Trinity -- to serve, to show up, to lead, to build, to care, to create. And it's our job to notice it when it comes, and make sure there's a little left in the tank to follow it where it leads.