God's Presence in the Darkest Moments

God's appearance in a burning bush teaches us to be present with and provide comfort to all who suffer.


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God calls us by name so that we light up the world with the unique capacities and gifts with which we are endowed. If the bush suggests that God is present in the low places, the stars suggest that we must be present in the dark places. Wherever there is human suffering and degradation, wherever a heart is broken or a soul abandoned, there are we summoned by God. This is the calling of the Jewish people--to testify and to demonstrate that love and kindness are possible even amidst the thorns, even in the heart of darkness. Perhaps this is the deepest level of the covenant between God and the Jewish people--we commit to lighting up the darkness together.

If, with Moses, we return to the bush for a moment, we discover another radical truth about God that we must seek to emulate. God is totally present in the midst of human suffering, and yet God is not consumed in the process. That divine truth is in turn a human challenge--to be present without being consumed, to bring love to the darkness without being destroyed in the process of so doing. Sadly, it is all too easy to err in one extreme or the other--to be so concerned with self-preservation that we are never present, or to be so obsessed with the darkness that we are consumed by it. The Torah does not offer any easy solutions for how to do it, but in the model of God at the burning bush, the Torah suggests ever-so-subtly that it is possible to be present without being destroyed.

To take the covenant seriously, then, is to travel with God to the low places, and to travel for God to the dark places. Not to celebrate or glorify the dark, and not to romanticize it. But to be present to it and in it, and to do what stars do--to bring glimmers of light, and intimations of the divine, even and especially to the most "Godforsaken" places on earth.

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