Here I Am! God of the Present Tense

If you could peek into the minds of people around you, chances are you’d find very few of them completely absorbed in the moment they are living right now. Some may be replaying a conversation they just had, thinking of all the things they should have said. Others are dreaming about a person they’re excited to see, and what outfit they should wear (or buy). A few might be going over a presentation they’re about to make, just to be sure they’ve got it down. And at least half the population is thinking about a sports team, and why in the world they gave away that point.

Our minds meander from the past to the future, with only brief stops in the present. Most of our emotions are tied to something that was or will be — until that rare moment when something demands all our attention, propelling us to live entirely in the now. These can be our most promising moments, for it is in the now that God can be found.

Henri Nouwen writes, “If we could just be, for a few minutes each day, fully where we are, we would indeed discover that we are not alone.”1

When we clear our minds of past and future thoughts, we can be in the moment that is, and this, Nouwen says, is the place where we are most likely to encounter God.

Exodus 3 describes this kind of moment, when an eighty-year-old shepherd named Moses becomes captivated by a burning bush. Puzzled by the fact that the bush continues to flame and not burn, Moses draws near. And when he does, he hears a voice from within the bush call him by name:

“Moses! Moses!”

 And Moses said, “Here I am.”

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” — Exodus 3:4-5

With his shoes off and attention rapt, Moses stares at the burning bush. The voice continues:

“I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

All at once, Moses is jolted into the extraordinary. The God he has worshiped, learned about, and believed in is calling his name. It’s interesting to note that the voice identifies itself just after Moses is invited to stand in a new way on ground he’s been on many times before.

The common ground has become holy ground, and from that vantage point, Moses is positioned to hear and see things differently. From this point forward, Moses will never be the same.

These burning-bush moments occur in our lives when we, like Moses, are invited to stand in a new way in our circumstances, fully present in the now. Various triggers can usher us into this place — heightened fear, great joy, stabs of pain. For this reason, each of these emotions, even the negative ones, can be considered gifts, for they call us into the present by demanding our full attention.

Gerald Sittser, a theology professor who documented his process of grieving in a book called A Grace Disguised, describes this experience. After his mother, wife, and daughter all died in a crash, Sittser was overcome with three catastrophic losses all at once. Through his process of grieving, he said that over time he came to observe that deep sorrow is good for the soul for one reason — it makes us more alive to the present moment. This, he says is the “disguised grace” of loss and pain. Because we find it impossible to distract ourselves from our grief, we are forced to live more fully in the now. Though the experience is not pleasant, it is at the same time full of promise. We have the possibility of experiencing our lives in a new way, where what we see before us is more than we’ve seen before.

When we are catapulted into those moments of being more fully in the now, while nothing around us may change, what’s inside us creates change. We are invited to exist in a different way in our circumstances and, like Moses, to draw near to hear the voice of God. In so doing, we position ourselves to have our story changed.

As Moses stands barefoot in front of the bush, the voice continues:

I have indeed seen the misery of my people in Egypt. I have heard them crying out because of their slave drivers, and I am concerned about their suffering… I have seen the way the Egyptians are oppressing them. So now, go. I am sending you to Pharaoh to bring my people the Israelites out of Egypt. — Exodus 3:7, Exodus 3:9-10

I imagine Moses’ thoughts as he listened to these words. Without warning, he shifts from hearing God’s answer to becoming God’s answer. It’s such a subtle transition, and it’s impossible to read this account without feeling Moses’ surprise. If we had a translation of the Bible that allowed for Moses’ responses to God, we might see something like this:

I have seen the misery of my people. (Good.)

I am concerned about their suffering. (Even better.)

I have seen the way they are being oppressed. (Finally!)

So now, go. (Wait…)

I am sending you. (What?)

Moses learns in this encounter with God that being alive to the present opens us to possibilities we never imagined — not all of them comfortable. Sometimes we want to close our eyes after they’ve been opened, to wish we hadn’t seen or heard the voice beckoning us. By being present to God in this moment, Moses is given the opportunity to trade in his small story for a much bigger story. His decision at this bush will determine his course. It’s a great illustration of the risk and the excitement of living in the now.

We may wonder why God didn’t call Moses when he was in his prime — positioned in the palace of Egypt, a “second son” to Pharaoh himself. Instead, Moses is called to the job of his life after losing his family, his home, and his people, and wandering forty years through the desert as a lowly shepherd. Like many of us after we’ve been through grief and trauma, Moses had created a new, much smaller life for himself. It wasn’t great, but it was comfortable, and he knew what to expect — until now. God has just handed him an invitation to a bigger story with his name on it.

Sittser writes, “It may be that the present contains the secret of the renewal of life we long for, as if, in looking under the surface of this vast sea of nothingness, we may find another world that is teeming with life.”2

By being present at the burning bush, Moses is given a glimpse of another world and is invited to become a key player in it. If he accepts the invitation, he will begin a brand-new chapter in his life.

1. Henri Nouwen, Here and Now (New York: Crossroads, 1994), 22.
2. Gerald Sittser, A Grace Disguised: Expanded Edition (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 76.

by Laurie Short (Authour of Finding Faith in the Dark)
Here I Am! God of the Present Tense Here I Am! God of the Present Tense Reviewed by E.A Olatoye on July 30, 2016 Rating: 5

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