* to encourage a reasoned awareness of how our beliefs impact the way we interact with the world around us
* to foster intelligent and open dialogue
* to inspire a sense of spirituality that has real meaning in day-to-day life

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Exodus 3-4: Purpose, Passion, and "Calling" Come from Within (no shrubbery conflagrations required)

Moses’ story continues in Exodus 3-4, in which he is called by God to return to Egypt and negotiate the release of the Israelites from the country. When Moses argues that he isn’t capable of the task, God teaches him some magic tricks (gimmicks that were known by other “sorcerers” of the time). When Moses still resists, God angrily suggests that Moses’ brother Aaron can help. God also promises that there will be “dramatic displays of power” that will convince Pharaoh to do what God wants, and that God will forcibly keep Pharaoh stubborn until the displays of power have run their course. If Pharaoh acquiesced after the first couple of plagues, it would be like the audience leaving before the grand finale. As icing on the cake, God promises Moses that the Egyptians will heap wealth upon the Israelites when they leave, going so far as to label it a robbery on the part of the Israelites.

Then there is this tricky little scene that is so fraught with pronouns and euphemism that every translation says something slightly different. Basically, when Moses fled Egypt and ran to Midian for safety, he married Zipporah and adopted the cultural and religious practices of the Midianites. As such, Moses’ son went uncircumcised. When Moses and his family set off for Egypt, after God has gone through a great ordeal to convince Moses to even consider the journey, the Lord decides that Moses’ son needs to die because he wasn’t circumcised. So, with her son in the throes of what appeared to be a life-threatening illness, Zipporah gave in and circumcised her son. Depending on the translation, this was either something done with an understanding of symbolic ritual, or it was a repulsive act she performed out of desperation for her son’s life. Either way, once he’s circumcised, the boy gets better.

The matter of free will is certainly central to how things play out for the character of Pharaoh, and there will be plenty of opportunity to explore that in later passages.  Having established the character of the biblical patriarchs and their god in our exploration of the book of Genesis, it is not of utmost importance to go through each verse in meticulous detail to point out further moral, ethical, and psychological issues with the narrative and its characters.  It is more useful to look beyond the assumptions of the text and draw spiritual insight that can be meaningful in everyday life.

Accepting that the divine is something within us rather than outside of us, there are some significant ideas in Moses’ confrontation with the divine that are worthy of consideration. The divine is displayed as a burning bush which is never consumed. Fire can be frightening and fascinating. We talk about a people having a “fire in their bellies” or being “on fire” for a particular cause because we recognize the similarities between actual fire and human passion. Passion for an ideal or for another person can at times be frightening as well. It may threaten to overwhelm us and take precedence over everything else in our lives. Some of us tend to be afraid of being controlled by our passions, but it’s foolish to try to ignore them completely.

The things that we are passionate about stem from our essence. They are deep truths about us becoming manifest. Everyone isn’t passionate about the same things or in the same way, but there is something that burns within every person, untamed, unquenchable, and ultimately unavoidable. When we stoke our passions, they burn brighter, and when we ignore them, our own energy and sense of purpose gets consumed. There are ways to focus our passions and maintain them in a way that doesn’t run roughshod over every other aspect of our lives. However, in order to manage that fire, we have to embrace that it exists and that it is divine.

To say that the passions we have are divine is to acknowledge that they originate in that place of deep truth, beauty, and creativity within us. If it seems that the most obvious way to express our passions is to do something harmful to ourselves or another human being, we are missing something. The fires of our true passions are not about gaining power, but rather they inspire us to exercise the power we already possess in a meaningful way. That may seem like a challenge sometimes, but the reward is authentic connection with ourselves.

When Moses asks the burning bush for a name, the response is “I am who I am” (depending on the translation). While this is often interpreted as an indication as to the character of the Israelites’ god, it is also a healthy point of view for us to adopt about ourselves. We spend so much time worrying about being healthier, skinnier, more beautiful, wealthier, happier, more socially connected, more influential, more knowledgeable, more vindicated, and on and on. We are who we are. We can aim for lofty goals, provided those goals are tempered in the reality of our capabilities. That is precisely what our passions drive us to do. But any time and energy we spend detailing the ways in which we don’t measure up to some arbitrary ideal is squandered time and energy.

All of us can name some essential truths about ourselves. They may be character traits or things we experience for just a moment. We may think of them as positive or negative, but truth is simply true. If a person is sad… or unsociable… or fearful… or obese… or angry… or whatever, judging that state of being as inappropriate or wrong is a denial of truth. People are able to take action and make changes, but in order to travel to any destination, you have to be aware of your starting point. You are who you are. I am who I am. That is a divine truth.

Acknowledging who we are includes acknowledging the passions that blaze within us. If your passion is making birdhouses, it doesn’t make sense to spend all of your time campaigning for a political cause. There are other people who are passionate about various political causes, and it wouldn’t make sense for them to spend all of their time building birdhouses. Other people do not have to validate who you are. Who you are is simply true. People will not always agree on what is most important in life, in politics, in industry. But no one can determine what is most important to you except you.

Like Moses, we often make excuses as well. Fire is scary. Passion is scary. Truth can even be scary if we are accustomed to thoughtlessly accepting other people’s opinions as our own truth. There are plenty of resources on the market to help people stop procrastinating, stop making excuses, and take action. The key is that you know when you are making excuses. You may fool yourself into thinking that the excuses are true, but the part of you that burns with inspiration knows better. The truth of who you are is not a secret to you, although for some there are decades of excuses piled on top of that unquenchable fire.

Within each of us, that which we call “divine” burns with a passion for something that honors the truth of who we are in congruence with the value of every human being. It may be birdhouses. It may be freedom for people suffering in addiction. It may be dancing. You are who you are. You know what your excuses are. You can be done with them whenever you are ready.


  1. Excellent connection between the burning bush and an individual's passion/truth/essence. Plus- I am who I am - a timely reminder for me. I've had that tacky measuring stick out lately. Thank you! I envision a world in which more people embrace that divinity is within.

  2. My cursor locked up and wouldn't let me edit my previous comment before I posted. I wanted to change that to ALL people and to put a period on the end. :)

  3. I never replied to this comment when you posted it, but I am looking back through things now and have a sense of comfort and hope at reading your words. It's a nice reminder that there are other people sharing in a common vision.