Primary Passage: Exodus 3:1-6
Take off your shoes for you are standing on holy ground. “I am who I am.” These are hallmark phrases in Christianity and Judaism. They are phrases that are deeply embedded in who we are as humans and who God is in relation to us. Take off your shoes for you are standing on holy ground. What is it exactly that makes that ground so holy? What was it about the dusty soil on Mount Horeb that caused the bush to spark, but not to burn, that caused Moses to hear a voice from beyond, beckoning him to remove his sandals? Was it the dirt that was holy? The bush? The flames?
In 1991 Korean womanist theologian Chung Hyun Kyung was asked to be the keynote speaker at the World Council of Churches. This was the first time the WCC focused their theme on the Holy Spirit. “After inviting the participants to remove their shoes, because they would be journeying with her toward holy ground, Chung began to dance and pray, calling upon the spirits of the people (departed and present) to voice ‘the cries of creation and the cries of the Spirit within it.’ She called to the spirits of Hagar and Jephthah’s daughter, of Jewish holocaust victims and those killed at Hiroshima, of the Amazon rain forest and all creation raped for money, of ‘the Liberator, our brother Jesus, tortured and killed on the cross’ (Marshall, 4-5).” After her dance and prayer, she burned the list of names and began to speak about pneumatology, saying that you cannot speak of the spirit’s work without dancing.
You cannot stand on holy ground without taking off your shoes and dancing. It’s fitting that Moses and Miriam would later burst through the sea of reeds and celebrate with a song and dance of liberation, guiding all the Israelites as they danced on new and liberated holy earth. That dancing groundedness and earthly reverence began, not on the shores of that reedy sea, but at the ashy ground of a burning bush.
And what of this cryptic cry from within the flame? “What is your name?” Moses asks the blazing bush. And the God of the fiery shrub proclaims, “ahaya asher ahaya.” Traditionally rendered “I am who I am” because the literal Hebrew does not translate into English properly. Our grammar renders it too problematic. God tells Moses, literally, “I be that which I be”…but more than that because these verbs, ahaya, indicate incomplete action. The “be” is more of a “being” or a “becoming” than a definitive “am.” God tells the puzzled Moses, “I am being that which I am being,” “I become that which I become.” God pronounces God’s own self as an incomplete action, an action in process, an action that is becoming. God’s not finished yet, Moses. God’s not finished yet! God is being and becoming just like we are, humanity in process, working together toward freeing the oppressed, our growing feet on holy ground. Take off your shoes, I’m not finished yet. You’re on holy ground, ground that becomes holy as I become holy, as you become more holy. “I being that which I being.”
When are face-to-face with the divine—our dirty feet standing on holy ground—and feeling the heat of a bush that burns but is not consumed, we have a choice. We can run away in fear. Afraid of that ambiguity. Afraid of that awesomeness. Afraid of that holiness. Afraid of our own potential. Or, like Moses, we can take off our shoes and dance with the God of holy becoming. I invite you to dance.
Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber is is a scholar, dancer, artist, and minister. She received a PhD in Art and Religion from the Graduate Theological Union, an affiliate of UC Berkeley. Angela has been a professional dancer and artist since 1999, in addition to serving as a minister in local churches since 1999. She is currently Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Wake Forest Baptist Church, Winston-Salem, NC. www.angelayarber.com