What struck me while barbequing the garlic and lemon chicken thighs wasn’t the allure of grilling odors and sizzling sounds, but the burning bush ten feet away–it’s winged branches full of lush green leaves that in three months time would turn a bright red fall color.
Moses wasn’t grilling chicken when he came upon the famous burning bush, as foretold in Exodus, but he did have a revelation. God wanted him to lead the Israelites from their captors in Egypt. In spite of his doubt and reluctance—“…I am not eloquent [but] slow of speech and tongue…please send someone else”—God convinced him that he was the man for the job.
My burning bush was visible through the smoke of the grill, and wasn’t aflame, nor did I hear the voice of God. My grilling utensil didn’t turn into a snake, and my hand remained free of the leprous sores that Moses experienced as God gave him proof that He was who he said He was—“I am who I am.”
I do share a kinship of doubt and reluctance with Moses. If God’s voice had spoken to me through the lush green leaves of the bush my response would have been the same—“not me, send someone quicker in speech and tongue, someone more eloquent than I.”
Though I experience this doubt about the existence of God on a daily basis, a recent memorial service for a close friend’s father brought the issue front and center for me. I was asked to give a reading of the 23rd Psalm—The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; he maketh me to lie down in green pastures—a song celebrating fearlessness, contentment, comfort, goodness and love while being still and restored in God’s presence.
On each side of the stage at the front of the church a video screen featured a still image of Caravaggio’s painting, The Incredulity of Saint Thomas. As in the painting’s title, it is incredulity that Moses may have felt, Thomas certainly did, and I do with regularity.
I didn’t feel fearless, content, or comforted by the Psalmist’s poem, which I silently rehearsed (Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I fear no evil…), as I focused on Thomas’s extended right hand, which reached to probe Jesus’s wound.
Pastor Craig, in the worship service preceding the memorial, had made reference to Caravaggio’s masterpiece, which depicts Thomas’s unbelief. He also quoted Frederick Buechner’s statement: “Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep—doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”
I suffered a similar restlessness while sitting in the third pew awaiting my designated time to take the stage to read the beloved Psalm. When that time came, I stepped up to the podium, passing the Caravaggio painting and bearing my doubt with me. The recitation of David’s words was well received by the family and congregants gathered to celebrate a loved one’s life, reinforcing a feeling of hope of God’s existence, and, more importantly, that their dear departed relative was in good hands.
One week later, while tending to Sunday’s dinner on the barbecue, and admiring the spring lushness of the burning bush in our backyard, I revisited Moses’ experience at Mt. Horeb. Through the painting and words of Caravaggio and Buechner, my own journey of doubting, questioning, and reluctance, led me to what’s possible, including the existence of a caring God.
This may be a fleeting disposition, but there will be more barbecues with accompanying smoke and “flame,” a burning bush bringing challenging stories to mind, and awakened states to remind me that “ants” existed thousands of years ago in the Sinai peninsula as they do today in Ferrisburgh, Vermont.
I’m listening, God—help ease my unbelief.by