Moses, hearing the voice of the Lord from the burning bush, said to him, “When I go to the children of Israel and say to them, ‘The God of your fathers has sent me to you,’ if they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ what am I to tell them?” God replied, “I am who am.” Then he added, “This is what you shall tell the children of Israel: I AM sent me to you.”
Exodus 3: 13-14
We can at times read the Hebrew Scriptures with more than a touch of envy. It seems that the principal characters in the stories have an encounter with God in which God tells them directly what they are to do. And even if such a direct dialogue with God seems impossible, we can long for a tradition by which, in the words of Tevye in Fiddler on the Roof, “ everyone knows who he is and what God expects him to do.”
But that reading of the Scriptures is little more than the projection of our desire for clarity and certitude. For Moses, the encounter with “the Lord” is very much an encounter with Mystery. He receives his call but he receives no clear definition of its Author. As Abraham before him, Moses is serving a call from Being itself, not from an anthropomorphized deity. For Moses there was as yet no “tradition” to tell him who he was and what God expected of him. He commits himself in faith to follow the will of another, of The Other, whose reality he experiences but whose name he shall never know (or even attempt to utter).
At a point in life we shall, each in her or his own way, have to surrender what we have taken to be our life into the hands of the Mystery. We have no choice about this; our only choice is how we shall do it. How do we practice for that moment when our distinct and separate life ends and we are drawn into the heart of all that is? Perhaps it is by giving ourselves over now to the moment and its call to us. It is serving the persons and situation before us with whatever we have to give right now, without any real sense of its ultimate significance of value. It is remaining within our own limits, and fears, and desires as we attempt to do what we can and give what we have to the call of the moment, in full knowledge of the reality of our own smallness.
The sociologist Ernest Becker says that we don’t so much fear death as we do our own insignificance. We so fear being insignificant that we refuse the awareness of our own smallness. Although we are small, however, and although, in its larger sense, we don’t even know what we are doing, we are not insignificant. For, we experience, as did Moses, that we are loved and called in our very smallness. Most of us will not be the historical figure that Moses is, but we have faith in God’s love for us, and we are no less called to serve the design of the Mystery in our own unique way. In all likelihood this will not be with a grand gesture but rather with a self-abandonment from moment to moment that will culminate with our final abandonment in love to the loving Mystery from whence we came.
Faith as contemplation does not communicate facts about God but is an experience of God’s self-communication. “Faith . . . communicates God Himself to us” (C.12.4). Therefore, to grow in faith is to deepen our awareness of and attentiveness to God’s indwelling presence. It is a “habit of soul” or a habitual state of consciousness (A.2.3.1). The knowledge that faith provides is intuitive. It is like peripheral vision; we do not clearly see the object that is in the corner of our eye but are certain that it is there. This is why John says that faith “brings certitude to the intellect [but] does not produce clarity” (A.2.6.2). Allowing oneself to be led is the central act of faith for John. The journey of faith is following that intuitive sense of what God wants us to do; it is heeding the heart’s still, quiet voice; it’s the willingness to relinquish control. “As regards this road to union, entering on the road means leaving one’s own road” (A.2.4.5). This is what John means when he says that faith is like a guide to a blind person. To live by faith is to be willing to be led and instructed by Another (A.2.4.2). What God instructs us in is “the perfection of love” (N.2.5.1).
Marc Foley, OCD, The Ascent of Mt Carmel: Reflections, pp. 108-9