Avoiding work is an art form. When I delivered pizza and things were slow, I might take the long way back to the store. When I worked in a warehouse, I was taught to “ghost,” which means to carry a clipboard and a pen and look purposeful. But I really honed my craft in the business world of New Orleans. With the resources of a sizeable corporation and advanced technology behind me, I could push things off forever. The key is to put the ball in someone else’s court, preferably someone really busy. You just have to ask one question and always ask via email. They won’t really understand why you are asking them, so they won’t respond immediately. It will disappear in their inbox. They might even push it off to someone else. Anytime someone asks what’s going on with that project, you say, “I sent Darlene an email with key questions two weeks ago, but haven’t heard anything. I’ll follow up with her today.” I’ve bought myself another couple of weeks. This was especially helpful on projects that I didn’t want to do in the first place.
Moses has a project he doesn’t want to do, but he doesn’t have email. He uses a tactic that I have also used: “It’s not that I don’t want to, I just think the networking team knows more about getting a new T-1 line. I mean, I can call our vendor, but if they have any questions, I won’t know what to say. Don’t you think it would be better to have someone else do it?” Moses is clearly making excuses. His speech about his lack of eloquence is actually quite eloquent: “O Adonai, I am not a man of words, not yesterday or the day before yesterday or even now that you have spoken to your servant, for I am heavy of mouth and heavy of tongue.” After a little more discussion, God relents by assigning Moses’ brother to help out. Wait, did we know Moses had a brother? No, we didn’t. It’s as if he were created out of thin air to fill a need.
We do the same thing. We are afraid that we won’t be enough. That we’re incompetent. That someone will hurt us or betray us or control us. So we create someone else, a persona to face the world, a mask. This mask protects us. It is probably an image that is the exact opposite of whatever we don’t want people to see. If we fear being unworthy, we become helpful, sacrificial. If we fear meaninglessness, we infuse everything with meaning. Our lives are sad letters that we write to ourselves. If we fear deprivation, we fill our lives with grand experiences so that, if we are ever alone with ourselves, we can always say, “Remember when…” Because that is the greatest fear: being present to ourselves and to the world, being exactly who we are for the life we have.
What else do we notice from today’s story? What was Moses really afraid of?
How does God respond to Moses’ excuse?
Is Aaron bad? What is your Aaron?
What are you afraid of?
When are you unafraid?
When Moses fled to Midian, he had a pretty good gig. His father-in-law was the priest of Midian. He had a flock of sheep to tend. A wife. He probably thought he would stay there. Raise a family. Build a house. Join the country club. But God had other ideas. God saw Moses’ anger when he killed the Egyptian. God saw his willingness to intervene when his people quarreled with one another. God saw him drive away the shepherds that were harassing the women at the well. God knew who Moses’ was. Moses was the image of God: a liberator. The challenge was in getting Moses to realize it, to snap out of the life he knew to the life he could have and the life he could bring to his people.
That is God’s challenge for us. I don’t know if there is a singular purpose for each of us. I don’t think time and space are organized in such a way that there is one thing for us to do and, if we miss it, we are consigned to wander. However, I do think there is a person we are meant to be and that, in fact, we are. But we become confused. We know how precious that person is, so we try to protect it. We construct a mask, a persona to deal with the world. Then we think we are that mask; we forget who we really are. We even forget that there was ever anyone there at all. But God remembers. As God did with Moses, God knows who we are because we are the image of God. Maybe not a liberator. Maybe a creator like Elohim. Maybe a nurturer like El Shaddai. Maybe a servant like Christ. Maybe a source of wisdom like Sophia. Maybe a judge like the Son of Man. Maybe sustenance like the Bread of Life. Maybe a revelator like the Light of the World. Maybe a seer like El-Roi. There is something that you are to be and, in fact, already are.
Lent, as we have said, is a time of preparation. It is a special time of year that we set aside to focus, but this work can be done any time. And, although God’s task for us is to discover the image of God, rest assured that God gives us everything we need to accomplish it. The first step is to question the demons: Who are you and where are you from? If we ask this persistently, we will begin to see that the voices are not who we are. We will begin to cultivate an interior observer. In time, we will see when the inner observer feels safe and alive. In time, the inner observer can come out without the mask, confident and secure, without fear.
For me, this is when I create. Painting, cooking, writing – each of these things is when I feel the most myself. The more time I spend doing those things, the better I feel, the more capable I feel of facing the world. And in those times, I find a purpose. I am aware of when the world needs to be made anew and I am prepared to do something about it. It doesn’t mean I don’t make mistakes or get depressed or feel stupid. But I know who I am and what I am here to do. It also doesn’t mean I’m incapable of doing things outside of that comfortable space. When I didn’t know who I was, when I was filled with fear, it was easy to think that I was nobody, that there was no place for me outside of the persona I showed to the world. All those things that seemed to pull me away from myself – keeping schedules, planning ahead, meeting new people – dragged me into a dark nothingness. Now there is an anchor. I can make choices about when those other things are life-giving, when they create space for me to be myself. I can go out from myself and come back to myself without fear of destruction.
God gives us what we need in this task because what we need is God and God is in us. Each of us is the image of God and the image of God calls out to God. Sometimes we may hear it from inside. But sometimes, it is the kind voice of a friend or neighbor or stranger. Sometimes, it is in the desperate wounds of the world. Our task is to listen and to answer, to be the person we were made to be for the life that we find ourselves in. That is salvation, for each of us and for the world.