BY WHITNEY MORET
This summer I was on an Italian train from San Remo to Milan, moving from one foreign place to another in a series of journeys: traveling from San Remo to Milan to Parma to Bologna to Venice. Outside my window the Ligurian coast expanded against the flamboyant blue sea. My feet rested on a forty-five-pound backpack that held all the possessions I thought necessary to carry, and my mind wrestled with the prospect of being rootless and nomadic – not only for the following two months, but for the unforeseeable future of searching for a job, or, as I prefer to say, a vocation. I questioned the purpose of my travels: why not an internship? Why not work experience that would prove more impressive on my resume? Where was God this summer, and how was he going to reveal himself to me?
The answer came, as it always does, in the people I met, the new ways they challenged me to think and feel, and the way God spoke through them to call me into further community with his children. People: the way God moves through the world. I met a woman named Marisa, who showered me with unnecessary gifts even after bringing me into her home. She taught me to just give and walk away. Don’t even wait for thanks because the pleasure, the piacere, is in the generosity not the gratitude. I met a boy named Ben who showed me how anywhere can be a home and anything, even a great t-shirt or piazza, can make you happy. A little girl named Giulia taught me that sisterhood is universal, and another darling girl named Giorgia made me think for the first time like a mother. My travel mate Mel taught me about the mutual responsibility we have for each other. Jules reminded me that smiles, confidence and height are all causes for celebration, and Andrew showed me the pure joy of throwing a bright red water balloon at someone. My host parents reminded me, in that way only God’s comforting voice can, that I am well taken care of and will be wherever I go. Generosity, happiness, responsibility, community, celebration, joy, comfort; this is the God I know, who challenges me to examine myself in the faces of others so that upon returning home, the place in America, I had already found home, the condition of the spirit. God took the opportunity, when I might have seemed most alone and transitory in my travels, to meet me through the strangers along the way and provide me shelter, direction, and that sense of purpose I so desired at the beginning of my summer.
In the Exodus story, God calls a man in a similar situation of transition to speak for him through a more unusual, though no less miraculous, delegate: the burning bush. Moses asks questions and voices concerns that are not so different from many of our own: I am an unknown, a stranger, identity-less, in a place where I have no contacts, no reputation, no support. Who am I? Where am I? How do I get home? But it is here, in a moment of solitary transition, that God meets Moses and calls him to a monumental vocation of leadership, political dissent, rebellion, and immigration to the promised homeland. These are the moments, when we are stripped of the soft furnishings and comforting human connections of home, when we are vulnerable and as alone as our intimate God can allow, when we are afraid and without direction: these are the sacred spaces where God chooses us. We are not in transition; we are on holy ground. And the plan that God assigns to us, drifting outlaws like Moses, is the first of many steps in the promise of a home, the promise of finding who and where we are supposed to be.
God calls Moses by name, twice, and he responds, “Here I am!” Now, Moses just said that he doesn’t know where or who he is, but when God calls his name, at least for a moment, he knows. “I am here.” He is fully present in the moment, immediately answering a call that gives him both a place to stand – right here – and an identity that is as fundamental as claiming “I am.” The trivial questions “who am I?” and “who are you?” fall away and Moses replies with an exuberant affirmation of self and place.
While Moses falls back into reluctance and skepticism, his initial response brings him into community with God, so much so that his “Here I am” begins to echo God’s “I am who I am.” Readily answering God’s call is more than making ourselves known as willing servants of God’s will; taking that step into a fellowship with God moves us closer to knowing ourselves. Moses feels powerless, unworthy, and without a home, but God, who doesn’t define himself by those worldly markers of identity, simply is who he is. This is frustrating to Moses, to all of us who want God’s name, who want to know the plan, who want all the answers right now, but God tells Moses just to follow and have faith that God will be close at every step of the journey.
And in order to follow, Moses not only has to leave behind the home he is trying to make for himself in Midian, he has to leave behind his questions of insecurity and identity and move closer to God, move closer to “I am who I am” – an “I am” that is completely independent of accomplishment or name or position or place or reputation, and solely concerned with falling into the rhythm, however syncopated, of God’s plan. Following God’s call is about finding a home, yes, but it isn’t about finding a place. It’s about finding a person. It’s about moving closer and closer to the Godly “I am who I am” and further from the vain “I am who does this and studies this and likes this and hates this.” that is more like a Facebook profile than an identity. God promises us, like Moses, a home, but that home depends so much more on our relationships with God than it does on the arbitrary place where our bodies happen to rest at night. God is not limited by location but by the willingness in the hearts of his people.
Ours is a God of movement. God reminds Moses that he comes from a long line of movers. He is the heir of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and belongs to a lineage of “Get up and go,” even when the future isn’t any clearer than God’s vague instructions. We Christians belong to this heritage, and claim it every time we respond to need with action, move to a new place to start a new journey, or do something that frightens us because our trust in God surpasses our fear of the unknown. This story reminds us that moving around isn’t the means to a static end, but the way God chooses to enter into covenant with us and give us purpose and direction. We are wanderers, and God knows the way home.
Now I’m back in Berkeley, depending on the kindness of friends and strangers alike because I am still living in transition. I have yet to find a permanent place to live, but God be praised, because I have a home. So welcome all to this strange land. Welcome to the wilderness. Whether you are a new student setting out on an unknown course of study or a veteran student in a later walk in life, welcome to a new day full of unexplored possibilities and unfamiliar terrain. And while this essay is no burning bush and I am no divine voice, welcome to this holy ground.