Where was Moses when the lights went out? In the dark. My brother and I would squeal with laughter as kids even though we had heard this joke a hundred times, it was, perhaps, my grandfather’s perfect delivery that prompted the laughter or perhaps the anticipation of the spookiness that was sure to follow — the perfect, complete and utter back-lit darkness of the rural, West Tennessee bottomlands.
Moses may have been in the dark, but his face was shining. Way back in those gossamer pages of the family Bible, and, of course, way beyond them, too. Like an interstellar headlight from the ancient world. His face shone so intensely that he had to cover it with a veil, for him or for them or for God, who knows? The Hebrew word like so many other Hebrew words for so many other things could have also meant “horn,” but shine sounds better than horn. I like to think of them as horns or shafts of light. Marc Chagall thought the horns painted well and he painted them over and over again in his Story of Exodus series.
Chagall travelled from Russia to Palestine when he was commissioned to paint the Old Testament. Though he had hoped to see the Bible there, he instead said that he dreamed it. I love his perspective, he once said, “Since childhood the Bible has fascinated me. I have always thought of it as the greatest source of poetry of all time. I have continued to seek out its reflection in life and in art. The Bible is like a musical vibration of nature, and I have tried to communicate that secret” (The Biblical Message of Marc Chagall, p. 15).
The Bible as reflection, as musical vibration and as secret revealed. These images drive me to go deeper into the stories of text, I find myself there in those gossamer pages, in that ancient living word, far beyond the cultural constraints of manipulative interpretation. It is there that I can dream a world of compassion, of justice and truth, it is there where I can meet God and gain the courage to lift the veil of this heavy, human existence. It is there where commandments are transformed into covenant and believers are transfigured into love.
I quote a line often in my sermons from a Killer’s song called, “Read My Mind,” the line is, “I don’t shine if you don’t shine.” What if we really approached life this way, encouraging one another to embrace the light within, the gifts within and helping one another develop those gifts in order to truly shine?
Like so many artists throughout history, it is that musical vibration, that great poetry of the text that motivates me to create. I find it to be gracious space with a language all its own that transforms me, inviting me to shine as I extend that same invitation to others.