From a Lenten Chapter talk given to the Trappistine Nuns of Mount Saint Mary’s Abbey, Wrentham, Massachusetts

All week I have had Moses on the brain. Perhaps we all have – it’s that time of year, after all, when we are led once again through the well-worn pages of Exodus. Every morning at Vigils, we wait for the next installment of a story we know by heart, almost as well as our own life story. In a real sense, it is our life story – the story of the people to whom we belong, with whom we identify, because we too have been called to be God’s people. And no matter how many times we hear this story, it offers us fresh insight and new hope. It tells us that God is still at work among his people. He still longs to speak to us, to reveal his presence, to transform our lives. He doesn’t give up, no matter how stiff-necked we may prove to be!

Moses is one who almost didn’t get a chance to live, but was drawn out from the reeds by a princess. One who grew up in privilege, and yet knew his own people were suffering. He killed a man, was found out, and fled. God found him when he wandered unknowingly near the mountain. A voice called out of a bush that burned, “Moses, Moses,” and unlike Adam, Moses did not hide. He was ready with, “Here I am!”

Something in us – in all of us, no matter our checkered history – is waiting to be found by God. We inherit from our first parents a certain ambivalence about the trustworthiness of God. Faced with an unworthy image of our creator, we shrink from him. We may spend years, even decades seeking to evade him. On the other hand, we may spend years, even decades searching for we do not know what. At the right moment, when we are ready to be found, God finds us. His voice awakens something within, releases some hidden source of life and energy, and before we even think twice the words are out of our mouth, “Here I am!” How long have I been waiting to be called like that. It feels as if the very words brought me into being. I may have only the vaguest notion of who this is calling, of what this encounter will mean for my life. But I am here. I am ready.

Ready to be found, but not yet ready to be sent, Moses had his excuses. His response to God’s call to lead the rescue of his people includes five big “buts” – But who am I? – But what am I to tell them? – But what if they don’t believe me? – But I can’t speak in front of people… – But please send someone else! And yet, despite his weakness, he went. He went not as a strong and confident person, but as a weak one held up by God. In the power of God, he stood before a people in despair and spoke of God’s favor. He stood before a tyrant and spoke of God’s wrath. He led the people out of Egypt, through the Red Sea, through fear and doubt, hunger and thirst, battles without and conflicts within.

We tend to think that we’re supposed be able to take on life’s challenges flawlessly and with panache. Effortlessly, even. I believed for at least the first 25 years of my life that a day would come when I would plateau, having gained enough knowledge to coast, and would no longer need to worry about anything I might face in life. Silly me! Sooner or later, we need to accept that learning to live is a lifelong process. My high school motto was “Remember to Learn to Live” – and now I ask myself if I even began to scratch the surface. We have to learn on the job. I was once given this word of wisdom: “Your ongoing formation consists in the events of daily life.” It can be hard to say yes to something new, something unfamiliar, something that calls for gifts we don’t see in ourselves. But it is the same Moses who stuttered and made excuses who became the vehicle for God’s salvation. Continuing to grow means that we will always be starting over, trying again, asking ourselves what on earth do we do now. Moses proves to us that it is possible to grow into a task, a role, to face daily challenges, demanding relationships, and be formed by them. He shows us that we can be led beyond our wildest dreams if we are willing to let go of our fear of failure. If we are willing to be an instrument in the hand of God.

At last, Moses and the people reached the mountain, in fulfillment of the promise God had made to him. It was a circular journey, in one respect. Finding himself once again on the same holy ground where the voice had first called him by name from the bush, he approached this time with uncanny confidence. This is a Moses unafraid to be enveloped in the mystery of God. He climbed that mountain and passed into the midst of the cloud, and there he stayed for forty days and forty nights.

Have you found yourself at a familiar turn in the road, and thought to yourself: I was here so many years ago, and here I am again. It is the same, but everything is different. I am different. How has this happened to me? How is it that I can carry burdens that would have crushed me, face situations I would have run from, open myself to experiences that I could not have endured? What have you done to me, God, that I can stand before you in this place? Who have I become?

On the mountain, Moses’ inner life opens. He has discovered almost by accident and without expectation that God now considers him “my intimate friend.” Out of Moses’ heart flows his deepest desire: I want to be with you! I want to know you! I want to see you! God grants that his beauty pass by, that Moses may see, from his place in the cleft of the rock, something of God from behind. On his return to the people, he did not realize that the skin of his face had become radiant while he conversed with the Lord. He shines from the inside out.

If there is one word to treasure from Moses’ story, it is this: “you are my intimate friend.” I think we should claim this, embrace it. It is overwhelming in a way, and yet it is not too much. It reminds me of a phrase Fr Isaac used during one of his retreats. He said we are cracked pots leaking God’s glory. Not because we are perfect, but because of the kindness of God, received and lived in humility.

Moses was not a perfect man, nor did he become one. His temper failed him. His impatience led him astray. He was not able to lead the people to their destination. His story is not one of ultimate success, but of graced struggle and real growth. A life placed into the hands of God. He was a sign for the greater one who was to come. On Mount Tabor, this humble man Moses was honored to be present when God in Christ showed his face to his most intimate friends, Peter, James and John. On this day of the Transfiguration, we are invited to claim Moses’ story as our own. When we were ready to be found, God called us. He led us through unimaginable challenges, unique to each one of us, and still stands with us as we face the demands of daily life, forming us by them to be ready to meet him face to face. When Jesus reveals his divine beauty to his disciples, he is saying to them – to us: “you are my intimate friends.” Let us bless God for his kindness and receive his gift with humble joy, as Moses did.

Image: Moses with the Burning Bush, Marc Chagall