Moses, Me & The Ants

Moses, Me and the AntsWhat 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.

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  1. Jo Anne Kurman

    Wonderful story, Roger. Love this: “…doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” So that’s what those are. Peace, brother.

  2. Bud Carney

    Roger, as you know, I have had ants in my pants for a very long time. With the passage of time, either they are decreasing or they don’t bother me so much; I’d like to think that the former is the reason.

  3. Vanessa

    So glad to see that you’ve got a writing practice and also a sharing practice going here. Nice to hear from you. The blog looks really great!

  4. Roy M Carlisle

    So Roger, now you reveal your skilled sermon writing. As I have said on other posts I always find these posts thought provoking and captivating. Although I am beginning to think that there are kinds and levels of doubt. Unpacking that sentence will have to wait for another time, but I really did enjoy this new post. As ever, Roy

  5. Bud Ockert

    I sometimes feel like Moses by asking myself if I am the right man for the job. Sometimes it takes longer than it should for me to realize I am. My doubt is always there.

  6. Thomas Nola

    I’ve learned how to embrace each and every day from the moment in which my feet “hit” the floor. My thinking regarding the universe, God, religion, etc. can be perplexing to a point at which I’m not enjoying my “life of that day”. This approach in my thinking brings peace and happiness to my life enabling me to stay focused on life’s simple pleasures. My teepee is part of this approach.

  7. Colette

    I like to think that God wants us to dance with the ants in our pants to feel fully alive and engaged as we barbecue, celebrate the lives of loved ones lost, and contemplate our questions, doubts, and reluctance. Your writing puts it all together in thought-provoking ways. Write on, mon ami.

  8. Carmen Apodaca

    Roger, I read your blog while sailing down the Rhine. Internet being unreliable, I had to wait till I was home to respond. This gave me time to consider your remarks. So what is this thing we call faith? I have visited elaborate cathedrals, each honoring saints that have died for their faith. Probably the most sobering was the Jewish temple in Prague where the names of holocaust victims are written in small print. Name, birth date recorded for the world to know. These people died for their faith. So I say to myself, there had better be a God. In my heart of hearts, I know God exists. No burning bush but so many signs and blessings. I have learned to pay close attention to my intuitions. From whence do these come. I am not smart enough to travel this life alone. Angels? Guides? God? Call the higher power as you wish, but I know he/she is there.
    I find it interesting that you speak to a being you don’t think might be there.
    Thank you for the opportunity to consider my own faith. Keep it up.


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