There's this scene from the stories of Exodus in the Hebrew Scriptures where Moses encounters God in the wilderness, embodied in a burning bush that never burns up.
More than one Jewish scholar has noted that the bush had probably always been on fire, but Moses never saw it until he was ready. I love that interpretation, but that's another Devo for another day.
God tells Moses to confront Pharaoh in Egypt and demand that the people of Israel be released from 400 years of servitude. Moses is understandably disoriented by this turn of events and asks, "Who shall I say is sending me?"
God replies from the bush, "Tell them I AM sent you."
In the Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh is a word often used to refer to God. It has multiple meanings, but the most prevalent is "I am that I am" or "to be," which implies immanence or close proximity.
Fr. Thomas Keating once wrote that he'd discovered an interpretation of the passage in Exodus which led him to believe that God was saying, "I AM for you." I have to admit, I like that a lot.
In the Gospel of John, there are seven "I am" statements made by Jesus at critical moments in the Gospel narrative. This was not a coincidence; The author of John's Gospel carefully connected Jesus' words with the Divine declaration from the burning bush.
And all of these references speak of the closeness of the Divine to us. In Jesus, materiality is connected to this idea: God in the flesh, becoming one of us to rescue all of us.
Interestingly, Hindu and Buddhist traditions have a similar kind of statement: the AUM chanting, or the OM, during prayer and meditation.
OM (AUM) is described as the hum of the universe, the essence of Being-ness. It's a vocal reminder that the Divine is all around us, in us, and through us.
According to William Braden, OM (AUM) can be understood this way:
OM (AUM) is not the immaterial abstraction which transcends the world of matter and earthly existence; it is the world we live in but do not see. It is here--no, I -Thou, and the "reality that flows."
I understand if this sounds a bit "out there" for some of you. But Braden expresses exactly what we've discussed with the "I AM." God is here, Braden is essentially saying. God is here, right now, with us.
Let's recap this a bit. In ancient Jewish tradition, in the Christian tradition through Jesus, and in Hindu and Buddhist traditions, there is this sense of the presence of God with us in the world.
And you could spread the net wider to other expressions of faith like the First Nation peoples of North America, who have a similar understanding of the immanence of the Divine.
Where does this feeling of the presence of the Divine in the world around us come from? How does it transcend religions, nationality, origins, etc.? Could it be that there is something imprinted upon human beings that provides not only a longing but an inherent knowledge of this?
I believe that every one of us, everywhere, is created with the "DNA" of the Divine imprinted upon us. We are beloved. We are cherished. And at some level, we long to believe this to be true, even when we are told we aren't beloved and that God isn't close.
For those of us who follow Jesus, the immanence of God takes on an interesting and compelling aspect through Jesus' life, ministry, death, and resurrection. It is through Jesus that we see what it looks like when God gets what God wants.
We are then called to follow Jesus' example to be healers, co-creators, peacemakers, ambassadors for God's kingdom, and so much more. And when we do, we bring the touch of the Divine in a material way to the world around us.
May it be so for you and me. May we truly become the hands and feet of a God who is close, right here with us, always.
And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with us now and forever. Amen.