I was a great fan of the classic 80s TV cartoon “Spiderman and His Amazing Friends” when I was growing up, but there was one of the characters that I particularly aspired to be – ‘Ice Man’. Spiderman was pretty cool with all his swinging on his webs, though I struggled to see what the other ends stuck to, and tangling up the bad guys ready for the police to pick them up, but ‘Ice Man’ was the persona I assumed in the school yard at break time. Very much like ‘Frozone’ from the 2004 movie ‘The Incredibles’, ‘Ice Man’ was able to produce a constant stream of frozen water from his outstretched hands upon which to skate from place to place, slipping up criminals and blocking the pathway or projectiles of the evil nemesis of the week. It was this ability to provide his own personal path that attracted me to ‘Ice Man’ and eventually, inevitably, I began my habit of discovering the spiritual within the ‘secular’.
In Exodus 3, God calls to Moses from the middle of a burning bush. It should probably be noted that it was effectively a non-burning bush, the bush was on fire but was not burned up.
However, God calls Moses over and then says to him “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Moses was probably fairly surprised. Firstly, there was a voice coming from a bush that was on fire but not being consumed. Secondly, the voice knew his name and thirdly, It told him that the ground on which he was standing, ground he had probably passed over many hundreds of times over the forty years he spent as a shepherd, was ‘holy’.
Moses, at this time in his life was a failure. He was a prince-turned-shepherd, the very antithesis of upwards social mobility. It was the equivalent of Moses playing caste snakes and ladders and stumbling onto the snake at square 99 that took him right back to the beginning. Shepherds were, culturally, in this historical context, not far from the vagrants or homeless of our contemporary society. If you spotted a shepherd you might have crossed the track because they spent their time with smelly sheep, sleeping in the dust and dirt, tramping through dung and whatever else to take the sheep to the next pasture or waterhole.
Yet still, the voice spoke to Moses, called him by name and said: “Take off your shoes, you stand on holy ground.” Moses knew he wasn’t holy, he knew he was a murderer and a coward, he knew he was a traitor and a runaway. Moses ran to Midian to escape punishment from either Egyptian or Israelite sources, that’s not the actions of a ‘Holy’ man.
Yet still, the voice spoke to Moses, called him by name and said: “Take off your shoes, you stand on holy ground.” The Hebrew for ‘holy’ – ‘qodesh’ (incidentally, the first use of it in the bible) literally means ‘separate’ or ‘sacred’ or ‘set apart’, which wouldn’t have made much sense to poor Moses. Moses knew the ground wasn’t ‘holy’, he had walked it many times with his sheep and ground is far from ‘holy’ once sheep have trodden it down. Moses knew that this dust, mud, scrubland – wilderness was, aside of the asbestos bush, essentially, completely ordinary, very different to ‘holy’.
Yet still, the voice spoke to Moses, called him by name and said: “Take off your shoes, you stand on holy ground.”
What was God teaching Moses in this experience?
The ground on which Moses was standing was made holy not by the presence of Moses.
It was not made holy because of the place it was, because of the particular area of Midian or because of some special attributes.
Moses stood on ground made Holy because of the presence of God.
The very special thing about Moses’ experience was that God came to meet him, not the other way round.
When God presented himself to Moses, he asked him to connect to the ground on which he stood there and then, by removing his shoes.
God wanted Moses to appreciate the ordinariness of the ground on which he stood, the ground on which he walked and worked, the ground he was accustomed to, familiar with, comfortable on and to connect it to the place to which God was calling him.
God was asking Moses to connect with God in the place he stood and connect that place with where God was calling him to be.
The same call comes to us too, not just echoing through the centuries and the scriptures but clearly, boldly in the here and now of our everyday lives. God calls to us in our lives and in our places of work, rest or play and speaks the same sobering, yet vibrant and exciting words.
Do you constantly feel or have you been constantly told that you are ‘too old’ or ‘too young’ or ‘too worldly’ or ‘too spiritual’ or ‘too clever’ or ‘too thick’ or ‘too good’ or ‘too bad’ or ‘too liberal’ or ‘too conservative’ to be connected to the mission of God?
To each of you, God says: “Holy Ground” The ground on which you stand is made holy not by your presence, not because of where it is, but by God’s presence as he comes to you to meet you where you are.
What’s your position or place now and where do you think you are heading?
What is your whole life circumstance in which God comes to you and says: “Holy Ground”?
What can you see now that can connect to somewhere God might be calling you to?
Can you hear the love call of God saying: “Take off your shoes, you stand on holy ground”?
How could you find ways to listen out more carefully in your life to God’s call?
Whilst it could easily be argued that the whole world is ‘holy’ as “the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it” (Psalm 24:1), the personal, intimate presence of God does make a profound difference.
I like to imagine my life journey with God as a constant walk through a continuous stretch of ‘holy ground’ being laid out in front of me.
In much the same way that ‘Ice Man’ created a frozen pathway for his feet, God paves the way ahead of me with his footsteps and says: “walk in my footprints, take off your shoes, you walk, with me on holy ground.”
(First published in Endeavour Magazine, December 2011 Edition)