Looking Through God’s Back

Today it was my privilege to facilitate a lunch time program for clergy and other religious leaders  titled The Face of Mercy: Mercy in the Islamic, Jewish and Christian Traditions.  Inspired by Pope Francis’ declaration of the Extraordinary Jubilee Year of Mercy, the program (co-sponsored by our Office of Mission, Jay-Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning and Muslim Christian Dialogue Center) featured representatives of each of the three Abrahamic traditions to talk about mercy from their faith perspective.

What touched me most deeply in the presentations was something Rabbi Amy Eilberg said with reference to the passage in Exodus where God tells Moses he cannot look upon his face, but only his back.  I have always read that passage as a sign of some distance between God and humans, a separation that prevented Moses from seeing God’s face.  And that is certainly one common and acceptable reading.

Rabbi Amy shared a different reading (one she got from Rabbi Jeff Roth – whose work I am looking forward to checking out).  It conveyed a sense of Moses, rather than looking at God face to face, being invited to look through God’s back – to see what God sees.  I found that extraordinarily powerful.  We often speak of learning to love like God loves, or seeing people like God sees them.  This physical invitation to Moses embodies that idea in a way I never appreciated.

This is an image I want to sit with some more.  But even without a fuller expression of my experience, it seemed to me an image worth sharing.

Note: We will be hosting a more public program on the same theme mercy this evening, so if you are reading this now (i.e., Wednesday afternoon) and are in the Twin Cities area, you still have time to join us at 7:00 in Owen Science Center on the St. Paul campus of the University of St. Thomas.

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