One of my favorite scriptures of all time is Numbers 11:29. I think about it often. It’s that one where Moses basically says he doesn’t know why people fight over who has authority and who doesn’t, because he wishes everyone would be prophets and hear the voice of God. Say what you will about Moses, and I could say a few things too, but this scripture has been a bulwark for me against the storms of self-deprecation and doubt. If Moses, lauded as one of the greatest prophets who ever lived, can say that he wishes everyone had that kind of access to God, then who am I to doubt myself?
Oh, but doubt I do. The many voices of the accuser never seem to take a break. Maybe there are some people out there who need to be told they are sinners all of the time in order for them to feel enough shame to make any good choice at all. They need the threat of punishment and the resulting fear to make them decent humans. I know there are many religions that promote such a message (Alma 42 I’m lookin’ at you). But when I feel shame I shut down. I lose hope. It doesn’t humble me, it hobbles me.
You know what does humble me? Feeling like I belong in a great big benevolent world. Feeling at home in the magic of nature and community. Feeling like I’m welcome and appreciated as part of the unfolding of God’s mystery. When I truly feel like I’m worthy of being in such a loving and inviting universe, I feel a kind of gratitude which brings me to my knees in wonder and awe. Not because I’m not worthy of it, but because I am. Because I was created to be great. And everything is beautiful, including me.
While I’m hesitant to project my experience onto others, I do believe that I’m not the only one who feels that way about shame. I guess I do believe that the very nature of humanity is to be crippled by shame and buoyed by belonging. I believe that the entire reality of existence whispers that we are amazing. And that when we really believe that we are created in the loving image of our source of being, part of the whole, and always whole, we can’t help but step into our true selves and be great.
We just don’t get that message enough these days. Fear and shame seep into our relationships and poison them with doubt, grief, and suffering. When I find something that relieves that pressure and preaches the good news of the gospel, I embrace it and hang on to it as long as I can. Because I want to believe. I want to be free. And freedom comes from the truth of God’s grace.
When Jesus declares his own mission, it is this, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised, to preach the acceptable year of the Lord” (Luke 4:18–19).
This truth will set you free. God’s grace brings us into God’s kingdom, which is in us and around us, always. We belong. Everything belongs. The chains of fear and shame that have held our hearts for so long are broken. All we need to do is believe this good news, because God knows if we really believe it, for ourselves and for others, everything else takes care of itself.
Not too long ago I encountered a poem that brought all of this home for me…
Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
–Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Earth is crammed with heaven. And you’re part of it. See it. Believe it. Take off your shoes.
And another poem, because God knows I need to hear it over and over again…
The Moses in my heart trembles
Not quite willing
To accept the prophet hidden in my being
Wondering how much it will cost
To allow that prophet to emerge.
O Child of unnecessary shoes
Cast them off
And stand in readiness
On this holy ground.
For the Egypt in people’s lives
Demands that you see the burning bushes
All around you
Calling you away from the comfort
Of well-protected feet.
The ground you stand on is holy- Take off your shoes!
The ground of your being is holy- Take off your shoes!
Awaken your sleeping prophet
Believe in your Moses