Do you ever have anxiety dreams? Like dreaming you have a deadline you can't meet, or have to take a test you're not ready for?
Here's one. I'm back in seminary. I've worked for years at my training. It all comes down to a final exam, and if I don't pass, I don't get ordained. I am handed a piece of paper with the final essay question. Just two words: "Explain God."
Explain God?!?!?! You've gotta be kidding me! Then I see the fine print: "Use both sides of the paper if necessary." If that dream was true, I never would have been ordained.
You can't explain God. God is by definition beyond human understanding. There's a little poem from the 17th century:
God far exceeds the word that can ever be expressed;
in silence God is heard, in silence worshiped best.
You can't explain God -- you can only experience God.
Moses did. He encountered God in a burning bush on the holy mountain. And when Moses asks God for his name, what God says is a little hard to understand. No surprise, since you can't explain God. God says something like, "I am," or "I am what I will be," or "I am what I do." God seems to be saying to Moses, "You'll find out!"
In other words, you can't explain God -- you can only experience God.
This narrative of the burning bush is one of the greatest stories of the Hebrew Bible. The Jewish tradition -- and our Christian tradition, too -- not only tell stories...we tell stories about stories. Here's a story about the story of the burning bush.
Long ago, a Gentile came to Rabbi Joshua and asked about this story of Moses and the burning bush. "Why did God choose a thornbush, of all things, as the place from which to speak to Moses?" Rabbi Joshua said, "God chose the humble thornbush to teach us that there is no place on earth without God's presence...not even a humble thornbush."
You cannot explain God -- you can only experience God.
And we can experience God anywhere. Moses met God in that bush so that Moses could see God everywhere. Jesus met God at the river and in the desert so that Jesus could see God everywhere. Then Moses and Jesus taught their disciples the same thing. Holy ground is everywhere.
This is the holy land and the holy moment. If we experience God in church, it is so that we can meet up with God out there, too. If we find God in the sacrament of bread and wine, it is so that we can see all food and all meals as holy. All ground is holy ground.
I've got a ton of happy memories of the children of St. Mark's. I remember an Easter season years ago. The altar was gorgeously decorated with an Easter garden. When it was time for the kids to come up from Sunday school, one of the little boys impulsively broke away from his mom. He ran down here to the front.
He saw the big, beautiful Easter banners, and all the candles, and all the flowers, and a little fountain of water. And he shouted, "Oh, wow!"
It was his way of saying "Alleluia," I think. He was on holy ground.
I hope we can all have the feeling from time to time...a moment we are overcome by the sacred, and then, silently or aloud, we shout, "Oh, wow!"
I wish we could be aware all the time of the wonder of creation. I wish we could be aware all the time of the wonder of our Creator. I wish we could be aware all the time of the wonder of our own lives.
We are always on holy ground. One of the best ways I can think of to build this awareness is to pay attention to the natural world. After all, nature is the art of God the Creator. I know people who call the woods their cathedral. I know of a great 19th-century preacher who said, "Of all man's works of art, a cathedral is the greatest. A vast and majestic tree is greater still."
Robinson Jeffers, a gifted poet of the 20th century thought about the vast universe of billions of stars and galaxies discovered by astronomers. Earth is just a pale blue speck in all that infinity. And Robinson Jeffers wrote this: "It's only a little planet, but how beautiful it is."
There is a Navajo prayer I often recite on my walks:
With beauty before me, may I walk
With beauty behind me, may I walk
With beauty above me, may I walk
With beauty all around me, may I walk.
As God said to Moses, "You are on holy ground."
And as one of the St. Mark's kids said, "Oh, wow!"