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In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt, they arrived at the Desert of Sinai and camped in front of the mountain. Before God gave them the Ten Words, Moses did a lot of running up and down the mountain. Three times, Moses went up and down and up and down and up and down. He spoke to God for the people and to the people for God. In the midst of all this running, the mountain was covered with dense clouds and smoke, lit by fire and lightning, shaken by thunder and a trumpet blast that grew louder and louder.
After the people heard the ten words, they reinforced Moses’ status as go-between and released him to go back for more.
The people remained at a distance, while Moses approached the thick darkness where God was. Exodus 20:21
The thick darkness where God was.
Sometimes God dwells in thick light.
- In the New Jerusalem, there will be no need of sun or moon, for God’s glory will give it light and the Lamb will be its lamp. (Revelation 21:23)
- “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6).
- “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).
Sometimes God dwells in thick darkness: on Mount Sinai, in dreams, and hovering over the surface of the deep in The Beginning.
And sometimes God is there in both the light and the dark, as God was in the pillar of cloud that separated the Egyptian army from the Israelites the night before they crossed the Red Sea. “Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long” (Exodus 14:20).
My 10 year old daughter has named a new favourite passage of Scripture. When I asked her to remind me of it yesterday, she wrote it out carefully for me – first in pencil and then in a fine-tip sharpie.
Then the Lord said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand toward the sky so that darkness spreads over Egypt– darkness that can be felt.” So Moses stretched out his hand toward the sky, and total darkness covered all Egypt for three days… Yet all the Israelites had light in the places where they lived. (Exodus 10:21-23)
She told me that she likes this passage because she often feels like she is in the dark, a darkness that can be felt. This text reminds her that God is with her in the dark. (Note: she gave me permission to share this with you!)
Someday, my fifth grade contemplative might enjoy reading Thomas Merton’s New Seeds of Contemplation where he writes about “rays of darkness” and the peace that lies at the heart of darkness. Or perhaps she will pray this prayer along with poet, Christian Wiman (in some sense, I believe she already does):
Lord, I can approach you only by means of my consciousness, but consciousness can only approach you as an object, which you are not. I have no hope of experiencing you as I experience the world– directly, immediately– yet I want nothing more. Indeed, so great is my hunger for you– or is this evidence of your hunger for me?– that I seem to see you in the black flower mourners make beside a grave I do not know, in the embers’ innards like a shining hive, in the bare abundance of a winter tree whose every limb is lit and fraught with snow. Lord, Lord, how bright the abyss inside that ‘seem.’My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer, p. 13