God Arrives without Angel Disguise

We continue with mystical experiences of the Bible.  After the Fall in Genesis 3 and the calling of Abraham in Genesis 12 this may be the most important hinge in the Old Testament.  God tells Moses that he is the man to defy Pharaoh and lead hundreds of thousands of Israelites out of their slavery in Egypt.  Moses’ response of course is “Not me! I am not the person for such a job!”

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What we see in the Exodus passages are people meeting the awesome strangeness and other-ness of God—an experience of the Numinous, as Rudolf Otto described it.  In Genesis after the Fall, God shows up only in disguise, so to speak: as a voice, as angels, as a vision while asleep. In Exodus the mission is apparently so critical that he shows up without disguise. There is so much at stake: His people must know who He is; hundreds of thousands of them must walk out of Egypt not only unscathed but rich; Pharaoh’s gods and magicians must be publicly defeated; the people must never forget this God is their rescuer and redeemer who can do absolutely anything; a new nation with unprecedented laws of justice, mercy, and reverence must begin, a way of life that God intends to spread over the earth and end evil forever. 

But God coming without disguise creates a confrontation with absolute holiness.  God is love, but God is also absolute goodness, and in His presence we do not need to be told that we are very much not.  Moses hides his face.  For the same reason, centuries later, Peter will tell Jesus, “Go away from me, for I am sinful man.”  

This is also the momentous time when God reveals his true, personal name, not a title. Often transliterated from the Hebrew as YHWH, it is mysterious and so is its pronunciation.  But it seems to mean “I Am Who I Am,” that is, the self-subsistent one; the only one that cannot be compared to or depend upon anything else. 

Exodus 3: God, The Fire that Never Goes Out, Speaks to Moses

Moses was shepherding the flock of Jethro, his father-in-law, the priest of Midian. He led the flock to the west end of the wilderness and came to the mountain of God, Horeb. The angel of God appeared to him in flames of fire blazing out of the middle of a bush. He looked. The bush was blazing away but it didn’t burn up.

Moses said, “What’s going on here? I can’t believe this! Amazing! Why doesn’t the bush burn up?”

God saw that he had stopped to look. God called to him from out of the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

He said, “Yes? I’m right here!”

God said, “Don’t come any closer. Remove your sandals from your feet. You’re standing on holy ground.”

Then he said, “I am the God of your father: The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”

Moses hid his face, afraid to look at God.

God said, “I’ve taken a good, long look at the affliction of my people in Egypt. I’ve heard their cries for deliverance from their slave masters; I know all about their pain. And now I have come down to help them, pry them loose from the grip of Egypt, get them out of that country and bring them to a good land with wide-open spaces, a land lush with milk and honey….


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Then Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the People of Israel and I tell them, ‘The God of your fathers sent me to you’; and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ What do I tell them?”

God said to Moses, “I-AM-WHO-I-AM. Tell the People of Israel, ‘I-AM sent me to you.’”

God continued with Moses: “This is what you’re to say to the Israelites: ‘God, the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob sent me to you.’ This has always been my name, and this is how I always will be known.

–Exodus 3:1 – 8a; 13-15, The Message

 

A Prison, a Paradise: part 2

Continuing yesterday’s installment from A Prison, A Paradise. After her near-suicide, Gay Taylor writes:

…when I came back from Tripoly, the peace of God seemed to enter my heart. I feel that it all had to happen, and happen in just that way. Nothing else would have removed the suicide-obsession I’ve cherished secretly, ever since I was a child. Those hours by the northern river had to be, when I was beyond all human help, and knew at last that God was there.  


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October 4th. Mist and cold, after yesterday’s Indian summer. It was one of the perfect days—the high tide of this present time. I went out for a walk, then picked blackberries on Periton Hill, in that far clump at the edge of the downs. For a long time I sat on the crumbling turf, sheltered from the wind, with the blue distances below, and warm sun lying over this lovely autumn land. And suddenly I was swept out of myself—knowing, knowing, knowing. Feeling the love of God burning through creation, and an ecstasy of bliss pouring through my spirit and down into every nerve. I’m ashamed to put it down in these halting words. For it was ecstasy—that indissoluble mingling of fire and light that the mystics know. There was a scalding sun in my breast—the “kingdom of God within”—that rushed out to that All-Beauty.

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Blackberries photo by Yolanda Leyva on Unsplash

Periton Hill photo by Patrick Fore on Unsplash

A Prison, a Paradise: Suicide

“Is life worth living?”  French atheist Albert Camus and the American philosopher William James had little in common, but they agreed that this was the fundamental question. 

Loren Hurnscot was the pseudonym of a woman named Gay Taylor.  She published her memoir, A Prison, A Paradise  in 1959, focusing on the history of a destructive love triangle that entangled her life for many years.  Its aftermath was suicidal despair and a desperate search for peace of mind and truth.  In this passage she is about to commit suicide by drugs and drowning in a river; mystical experiences followed, as we see here and in the next installments.  

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Just at dusk, I was there on the rock by the river.  I had to wait in the woods for people to go.  There was silence at last.  I burned a card–the nine of diamonds–that I had seen in a street in Bloomsbury and picked up, out of some queer whim, wondering why it was not the nine of spades. The subcurrents of lunacy had been swaying through me for a long time. 

The sheer evil of the place was growing.  The water was still and oily below the spume.  “If a man fell in there by sheer accident, he’d be damned for a thousand years,” I thought.  I felt the presence of past suicides, evil and despairing, all round me.  “Is that the company I’m going to keep?”

jack-b-465257-unsplashThe last light died out on the grey-green woods.  I sat on, on the rocks.  It was time.  Was it time?  And suddenly I knew that if I did this thing, I should be making an unbreakable link between myself and all the evil in the world.  It came over me, blindingly, for the first time in my life, that suicide was a wrong act, was indeed “mortal sin.”  In that moment, God stopped me.  I did not want my life, but I knew I was suddenly forbidden by something outside myself to let it go. 

I cried hopelessly for a long while.  I looked again at the water, and thought of the Dial in my bag, that I’d meant to swallow to deaden consciousness.  A tremendous “NO” rose—within me?—outside me?  I don’t know.  “I can’t do it—I’m held back—I know beyond all doubt that it is absolutely wrong.”

Some blind instinct made me pull off my “disguise.”  It began to rain.  There were seven shillings in my bag, dark was falling, and I was two hundred miles from home.  I walked back to the village in the darkness, sobbing and talking to God.  There was no earthly help for me any where, but I knew I was no longer alone; that God was there.  It had always been pride that had held me off from Him.  Now it was broken the obstacle was gone.  One is never simple enough, while things go well. 

“I’m in your hands,” I kept whispering.  “You stopped me. You must show me what to do….” 

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The universe contrasted with infinite personality

Continuing from Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love.

And He showed me more, a little thing, the size of a hazel-nut, on the palm of my hand; it was as round as a ball. I looked thoughtfully and wondered, “What could this be?” And the answer came: “It is all that is made.” I marveled that it continued to exist and did not disintegrate, because it was so small. And I was answered in my understanding: “It exists, both now and forever, because God loves it.” That is, everything owes its very existence to the love of God.

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In this Little Thing I saw three truths. The first is that God made it, the second is that God loves it, the third, that God sustains it. But who is this maker, sustainer, and lover I cannot tell; for until I am completely one with Him, I can never be fully at peace or happy: that is to say, not until I am so joined with Him that there is absolutely no created thing between me and my God.

We have got to realize the smallness of all the universe, so that we can see it as nothing compared to God, in order to love and be one with God, Who is uncreated. This is why we don’t feel easy in our hearts and souls: We seek rest in those things that are so trivial they possess no peace at all, and not seeking to know God, who is almighty, all wisdom, all goodness. For He is our true rest. God wants us to know Him, and it pleases him when we rest in Him. Nothing less will satisfy us.

 

“It is all that is made.”

It may be the most well-known mystical vision in the western world: the entire universe, round as a ball and the size of a hazelnut, being held in the palm of the hand.  Julian of Norwich was born in 1342 and lived as an anchoress–sort of like an extreme nun.  On what seemed to be her deathbed she had a series of 16 visions. She was miraculously healed and spent the years afterward reflecting upon the meaning of the visions. She eventually composed them into a book, Revelations of Divine Love, written in the simple English of the day, not Latin.

That was Middle English, the language of Chaucer. I have used the public domain translation by Grace Warrack and updated the language for modern ears, with the help of Clifton Wolters’ 1966 translation. 

When I was thirty-one, God sent me a bodily sickness, in which I lay three days and three nights. On the fourth night the priest gave me the Last Rites, because those with me were certain that I would not to live till day. But after this I lingered for two more days and nights, and on the third night I was sure I was dying, and those with me were certain too…

My parish priest was sent for to be at my death. By the time he arrived, my eyes were fixed and could not move. I could not speak. He held the Cross before my face and said “I have brought thee the Image of thy Maker and Saviour: look upon it and be strengthened.”….

After this my sight began to fail, and room became dark about me, as if it were night, except in the Image of the Cross which somehow was giving off light; and I could not understand how that was happening. Except for the Cross everything else in the room was horror, as if it were filled with demons. After this the upper part of my body began to die, and I could hardly feel anything, and my breath became shorter and shorter. I was certain I was dying. And in this moment suddenly all my pain was taken from me, and I felt as fit and strong as ever…..

[The visions begin. She has a vision of Jesus dying on the cross, and she receives insight about the Trinity and then Mary, the mother of Jesus. Then this.]

….At this moment our Lord showed me a spiritual sight of how intimately he loves us. I saw that He is everything that we know to be good and helpful. In his love he clothes us, hugs us, holds us tight, because of his tender love, never to leave us. As I saw it he is everything that is good. 

And He showed me more, a little thing, the size of a hazel-nut, on the palm of my hand; it was as round as a ball. I looked thoughtfully and wondered, “What could this be?” And the answer came: “It is all that is made.” I marveled that it continued to exist and did not disintegrate, because it was so small. And I was answered in my understanding: “It exists, both now and forever, because God loves it.” That is, everything owes its very existence to the love of God.

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Through Mine Own Eyes, Part 2

Continuing Katharine Trevelyan’s experience in the garden at Coombe from her “autobiography of a natural mystic.” The book was originally published as A Fool in Love in 1962. Trevelyan came from a prominent British family. Her uncle was the noted historian George Macaulay Trevelyan. She dabbled in anthroposophy (a belief system C. S. Lewis was well acquainted with because of his life-long friendship and debate with Owen Barfield). Before the 1958 experiences recounted in these installments, Trevelyan had joined the Church of Christ but had become disenchanted with its divisions.  This is the second of three installments. 

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Every flower spoke to me, every spider wove a miracle of intricacy for my eyes, every bird understood that here was heaven come to earth. Turner must have been seeing the skies as I saw them then—living cloud shapes crossing and recrossing each other as though conversing inform or singing in color.

But there was something more wonderful than the Light within the light – more wonderful than the standstill of time. It was that God walked with me in the garden as He did before the Fall. Whether I sat, whether I walked, He was there – radiant, burningly pure, holy beyond holy.

When I breathed, I breathed Him; when I asked a question, He both asked and answered it.

My heart was unshuttered to Him, and He came and went at will; my head had no limit or boundary of skull, but the Spirit of God played on me as though my mind were a harp which reached the zenith.

sora-sagano-449514-unsplashPhoto by Sora Sagano on Unsplash

Through Mine Own Eyes

From Katharine Trevelyan’s above-named autobiography.  This is an example of a mystical experience that transforms nature itself.  “Seeing face to face at last” is likely a reference to the Bible’s I Corinthians 13, Paul’s famous chapter on love: “For now we see only a reflection as if in a cloudy mirror; then, we shall see face to face.”  More from this experience of Trevelyan will be published next time.

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When I knew myself as nothing but a prize fool in love, I took my pain and foolishness in both hands and quite simply offered them to God, whom I recognized through this last anguish to be the backcloth of my life and my eternal love.

What followed was beyond me to understand.

Whether it was predestined or whether the Heavens had been waiting with an open question to hear an uncomplaining acceptance of this last sorrow, I cannot say.

It felt as though an infinitely complex machine had in all its parts, between one moment and the next, clicked silently into gear and started to work with inexorable power.

I saw face to face at last.

Light streamed down from the sky such as I have never beheld. The sun shone with a new light, as though translucent gold were at its heart. I saw not only the physical sun, but the spiritual sun also, which poured down on me as I walked in the garden at Coombe.

The wonder was beyond anything I have ever read or imagined or heard men speak about. I was Adam walking alone in the first Paradise. That it was a garden near the outskirts of London in the twentieth century made no difference, for time was not, or had come round again in a full circle. Though I was Adam, I had no need for Eve, for both combined within me. Marriage and maternity fulfilled and surpassed, I had run beyond womanhood and become a human being.

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Photo by Mehdi-Thomas BOUTDARINE on Unsplash