Sunday, August 27, 2017

A Tiger by the Tail?

Moses sees a bush that burns but is not consumed, and he must investigate. It's what he finds on his investigation that changes the course of the rest of his life. That life-changing moment is the subject of the reading from Hebrew scripture for Proper 17(22)A/Pentecost 13A (Exodus 3:1-15).
Abraham Rattner. Moses and the Burning Bush. 1971. Wool tapestry. For a report on a 2008 show of the tapestries, see: http://www.tampabay.com/features/visualarts/tapestry-and-fiber-arts-are-featured-at-leepa-rattner-museum-in-tarpon/642791
American-born artist Abraham Rattner created a tapestry of the subject. Titled "Moses and the Burning Bush", the design places Moses kneeling before a mass of fire colors. Moses looks directly up at the sight (often he is looking across a landscape at the tree/bush), his hands in a prayerful gesture. The angel of the Lord (3:2) has come all the way out of the bush and stands behind Moses, perhaps whispering in his ear.

The fire-colored area does not have the leaves, trunk and branches of a usual bush. What is there are hands (of God), suggested in about a dozen line segments, and red lightning bolts. One of the most interesting moments in the design is the place where the figures on earth touch the figure in the fire. The touch is accomplished when the left hand of Moses (the presumption that this is Moses' hand is based on the color similarity between the raised hand and the hand of Moses that is fully visible) very gingerly reaches up to barely grasp a lightning bolt that appears to be an extension of the heavenly hand.
The key word is gingerly. Moses has not reached out to heartily grasp the hand/lightning/fire of God. His thumb and middle finger are hovering over the end of the bolt...just about to close the tiniest bit and have hold (however timidly). Perhaps Moses understands that reaching out to hold God's hand is like having a tiger by the tail. Or like sticking your finger in a socket.

What Moses - and we - need to remember is that God isn't requiring Moses to go it alone. God's purpose isn't to zap power into Moses or burn Moses to ash. God offers Moses the power that is needed to do the task that is before him. Not a volume of power (a gallon, a quart, 5000 watts) but rather power as presence.  I will be with you, God says (3:12).

Moses is probably right to be hesitant to take hold of God's power. The God who will lead people to freedom is not the teddy-bear-best-buddy-perfectly-manageable God. We might all be a little more deferential to the power of God. But we can also remember that God's power is promised to us as well. I will be with you, God says. Yes, with you.

For thoughts on the Mark version of the gospel reading (Matthew 16:21-28), click here.
For thoughts on the epistle reading (Romans 12) for this week, click here.
This week on Art&Faith Matters' Facebook page, some word thoughts. Click on the link below.

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