Thursday, April 14, 2011

"I AM WHO AM" - אהיה אשר אהיה - "Ehyeh asher ehyeh", (Reflections on the Untamed God, John 8:51-59)

Being allures but eludes. Being invites but hides. Being draws us near but flees. Being is, only when it is not. This is a paraphrasing of what some existentialists philosophers say of “Being”. If we were to substitute the word “God” for “Being” though, we arrive at the heart and core of the mystical experience itself. “God allures but eludes. God invites but hides. God draws us near but then flees. God is, only when he is not”.

One spiritual author calls it the “untamed God”, the “God who refuses to be domesticated, pinned, down, labeled, categorized, classified, put into a neat and tidy box”. The God who refuses to be turned into an “idol”.

The Jews in fact would not even name God. Instead of pronouncing the four letters of God’s name יהוה- the Tetragrammaton, “yot, heh, wav, heh”—which we pronounce “Yahweh”, devout Jews instead say אֲדֹנָי “Adonai”, “my Lord”, or השם “Hashem”, “the name”. God, they believed should not even be named, because to name him is to label him, to classify, categorize, box, tame, and domesticate him.

When Moses in Exodus 3:14 faced the burning bush and asked God what his name was, God said, “you shall tell the Israelites, my name is אהיה אשר אהיה - Ehyeh asher ehyeh”—“I am who am”, or literally (and better) translated: “I will be who I will be”, which means, “I am the one who cannot be pinned down”, “I am the dynamism itself”—which is why the following line says he is the “living God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob”. “Ehyeh asher ehyeh” – in the Greek text of the Septuagint it is ἐγώ εἰμι – “Ego eimi” – which are the very same words Jesus uses to reply to the Jews in today’s gospel reading who ask him: “Who are you?” “Ego eimi”, says Jesus, “Ehyeh asher ehyeh”, “I am who am” – “I am the one who cannot be pinned down”.I am the God who will be what I wish to be”.

And the Jews, both his friends and enemies, did try to pin him down on numerous occasions, but they failed. Political leader, powerful Messiah, earthly liberator—every single label was wrong, leading John the Baptist to once ask: “Are you the one, or are we to wait for someone else”. But if God, “Adonai”, “Elohim”, “Hashem”, could not be pinned down, tamed, domesticated, and labeled, neither could Jesus.

But what of us? We often prefer labels, classifications, categories, neat and tidy boxes into which we put others, ourselves, and even God himself. We operate from out of these safe labels and boxes. Sadly, we end up unable to get out of them.

Defining ourselves, pinning ourselves down, says the spiritual author Adrian Van Kaam, is the worst thing we can do to ourselves—because it robs us of the tremendous possibility for change, for growth, for maturity that is one of the greatest gifts given to us by the God who himself refuses to be pinned down.

“Ehyeh asher Ehyeh”, “Ego eimi” – “I am who am”, “I am the one who is becoming”, “I am the one who cannot be pinned down”.

The words of Jesus in today’s gospel reading are a challenge to each one of us to say with him: “I am beyond labels. Like my God, I simply am. And my God, my Lord, my Creator, and my Father, loves me for who I am; all of me”.

It’s a statement of faith, a statement of confidence, of trust, of hope, and of that inner invincibility that is God’s most precious gift to each one of us, a child upon whom He looks with the greatest care, concern, compassion, and love. “I am who am”. It’s an invitation never to put God in a box; and to never do so to ourselves as well.

"The Kingdom of Heaven is a condition of the heart." (Friedrich Nietzsche)