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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

Musa Makes a Path | August 22, 2021 by Dr. Kathryn Benton

The opening music is one of my favorite songs. I have shared it today in honor of the Muslim holiday, Ashura that was commemorated this week. This is, in part, the remembrance of Musa (Moses) leading the Israelites out of Egypt to safety…the parting the Red Sea. It is a story of justice in a time of injustice…of an entire people being saved from the oppression of slavery. Ashura, also marks the day of the Battle of Karbala in which the grandson of Muhammad, Husayn ibn Ali, was killed. It is at the same time a celebration of the miracle of the parting of the Red Sea and a time of mourning the horrible murder of one of the most revered leaders of Islam.

I would like to consider the story of Musa (Moses) leading the Israelites to safety by making “a way out of no way”…following God’s instructions to part the waters.

When I think of this “way making” of course I think of the spiritual, The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow. I think of the recording by Lawrence Beaman, but here is one by James Cleveland. It is a song that often accompanies my days…a song that inspires me to keep going, despite the storms and trials of life.

We are always looking for this way…this path…each day when we encounter obstacles…we may feel like a ship that is tossed and driven… like a country that has been ravaged again and again by powers that do not care about the well-being of the people of that country.

I remember over twenty years ago when I was an ESL teacher. I taught refugees, first from Bosnia and then from Afghanistan. I remember the day of 9/11. I remember that my first thought was how my students would suffer…how they would become targets of the misplaced rage and fury of Americans looking for revenge. And it came. The first report came from a student who was accosted on the way to the classroom that morning. Someone pulled over next to her on the street and called her a terrorist. Another student experienced someone who tried to take off her headscarf, calling her a coward for hiding under the veil. My students were refugees from the occupation and slaughter by the Russian military forces. Several students described their escape over the mountains to freedom…and finally to their flight to North America. Many first came to Canada and from there migrated south. These people had already experienced war and hardship…oppression and discrimination but it soon got worse. I stood in awe of the strength of the Afghan people that I knew. Their stories accompany my days, just as the song does…especially now that we are experiencing another Exodus…in Afghanistan. It breaks my heart especially when I remember the stories of my students…their deep, strong faith in times of suffering…their palpable life experience that has infiltrated my own. Their example has grounded the experience of all others I have met since then…and my own experience of “making a way”…of healing…of salvation. Monica Coleman, a Womanist Theologian writes:

Salvation fits into a unified view of the entire world,

and yet it is also gritty, localized, and contextual.

It is grounded in concrete experiences of the world.

It must always look, feel, and taste like something.

She is speaking of our need for this example…something we can connect to with our senses, in order to understand the unity of our experience…to understand that what happens to an Afghan citizen so many thousands of miles away in the year 2021 and the experience of a Native American family during the slaughter in this country so many years ago…the experience of the one who penned the words, “The Lord Will Make a Way Somehow” and all the ones who have been strengthened by those words. This unified view is just a moment away from the current moment. It is something that underlies our very existence…each breath we take. Poet/Activist/Mystic, Edwina Gateley knew something about “making a way out of no way”. She worked with homeless people and prostitutes in Chicago. She spent time in a hermitage where she also experienced a closeness to God that inspired her to write so many inspiring poems about her journey…her path to God. It is an experience that is indeed gritty, localized and contextual. This poem is entitled, Presence:

God is present

in the wood stove and the oil lamp,

in the gathering shadows

and the silent stars.

If she does not seem present

in my heart and soul –

it is because I have limited God too much.

Perhaps I should listen more intently

to the wood crackling,

and watch more closely,

the oil wick flicker,

to allow God’s presence

to envelop me.

Can I rediscover God’s glory

in what appears to be

trivial and insignificant?

Thank you, God, for the blessed days,

I didn’t do anything –

just wandered the forest,

struck dumb by the strength

of your trees and the

rich beauty of your dying leaves;

I sat by the stream and listened

to the murmur of your waters

and watched the rapid and lovely movements

of the squirrel among the branches;

I stood at night, awed by the vastness

of your sky

and the clear sharpness

of a hundred stars

and felt very, very small,

yet part of it all.

Thank you

God, for these days

when I walked in your Kingdom

and knew it.

More and more I think,

we look for God

in the wrong places.

It would probably be better

if we didn’t look at all.

So busy looking,

we don’t notice.

When it seems that God

slips quietly away,

and we sit sad and doubtful,

waiting, still hopeful,

we should smile and know

God is too near,

too deep to be noticed,

too close to be held,

She possesses us so

She runs through our veins,

breathing in our breath,

and beating in our hearts.

Ah, yes, when it seems that God

slips quietly away, we should

whisper our welcome

and know we are one.

God –

beating and breathing,

deep in our guts.

We are busy looking…each day. And we do miss the signs…the opportunities to experience that oneness…that unity with God that says we have the same purpose…we are working toward the same goals…we are part of the same organism. Our breath is God’s breath…our heartbeat, the heartbeat of the divine presence…the feeling in the gut that is common to us all…the feeling of freedom…of salvation…of finding our own path…our own exodus from our own chains. I feel this sense of freedom in the work of Nina Simone. Here she is singing one of my favorite songs (and I am reminded of a Fellowship Church musician, Mr. Johnny Land)…We are all connected…we all have the potential to hold space for the divine. When we think we are alone…that God has abandoned us on the path, may we remember our heritage…our ancestors, including the birds and may we soar to the sun and look down to the sea…and know how it feels to be free!

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