The Hardest Question was an experiment in preaching the Revised Common Lectionary. All posting is finished, but the content will continue to live here in archive form. You can discover new content by former THQ curator Russell Rathbun at Question the Text.


Holy Ground

Can we really feel God?

by Unvirtuous Abbey

Old Testament Reading: Exodus 3: 1-15

For Sunday, Aug. 28, 2011: Year A – Ordinary 22

A close friend of mine is an Atheist who can quote scripture better than I can. He knows church history and he can name the church councils that created creeds and authorized scriptures, and he can speak at length about Christians in the media, whether it’s the latest prediction about the end of the world or a significant comment from a credible source.

When we have coffee together, we talk politics, music, literature, and the current state of Batman in the DC Universe. But I’ve never talked to him directly about what he actually believes and/or doesn’t believe until recently he sent me a message saying, “I don’t believe in God because I’ve never felt God.”

Feeling God

I vividly remember the most spiritual moment I have ever experienced. It had everything a moment like that should have: wilderness, a profound sense of being lost and confused, a stranger, a conversation, and between it all something crystallized in my memory that I, specifically, was not alone.

Yet, if I told that story here, it wouldn’t have the same effect on you. It would simply be a “nice” story. It would be a candidate for Chicken Soup for the Christian Soul. But for me, at the time, it gave me the strength and courage I needed to be who I was and to continue on my journey.

That being said, I was still compelled to respond to my Atheist friend by saying: ”I think a lot of people don’t ‘feel’ anything, which is why we ‘do’ so much.

Fax From Heaven

Some say that this is like getting a “fax from heaven.” It usually takes the form of a surprisingly sacred event or personal encounter. In the lives of saints, mystical experiences don’t occur all that often−quite the opposite, in fact. There are often gaps of years between those moments. Yet, when one is confronted with the divine, the experience is consuming.

Being consumed with something is an all too common experience. We are consumed with work. We are consumed with relationships. We are consumed with addictions. But, the passage seems to argue that there is a difference between being consumed “with” something, and being consumed “by.”

All Consuming

I like how at the beginning of Exodus 3 Moses (who will become so much more) is simply taking care of his father-in-law’s flock. No shame in that, but it is an entry-level position when it comes to God-given tasks. Yet, something within Moses calls him forward.

With all of these sheep, he finds himself at the base of the mountain of God, Horeb. One can only imagine what drew him there, but I think we can assume he was consumed with questions−questions about his family back in Egypt, the state of his people, God’s plan for him, etc. No matter what he was consumed with, Moses was about to be consumed by God.

Holy Ground

Moses’ seeking led him to a holy conversation with God; a conversation that was marked by holy ground, keeping a distance, taking off shoes, and a feeling of intimacy with the divine that marked Moses for the rest of his life. Perhaps Moses was seeking to be “delivered from” his task but the result was that he was “sent to” God’s people. If being consumed with something is “all about me,” being consumed by something is all about the “other.”

Holy ground still surrounds us. It can be the hospital room where the person you love slowly becomes translucent as they enter the final phase of life. Holy ground is the room in which you have been invited to hear someone’s heart aching. Profound experiences often come in the form of ordinary situations.

The Hardest Question

Have you ever received a fax from heaven? If so, how did it change your life?

Unvirtuous Abbey appeared on the Twitter scene on August 6th, 2010. They are a slightly sarcastic, yet hopeful, group of monks. They try to elevate the conversation with humorous tweets about the Bible, God, and Jesus. They also pray about geeks, Guns and Roses, and Charlie Sheen. They have been interviewed by The Times -Union, The Practical Catholic and the Virtual Abbey.  They  consider themselves lucky to be among the guest bloggers of “The Hardest Question” and readily trade chores for the chance to write…anonymously, of course.


  1. Mark Nielsen says:

    Several faxes received, most in the years since I turned 40 (recieved on a wilderness retreat, on a shrink’s couch, from a spider, by helping a young adult understand *her* fax moment, etc.) . The transformation of some portion of my soul always begins at these moments, but in every case it is ongoing. Probably never to be completed this side of heaven. There is a sense of relief, victory and a consuming intimacy when the Divine breaks through my thick skull. But I’m beginning to wonder if the nature of being human is to be inherently “stiff-necked”, and therefore always slipping from that mountaintop. In contrast, the more I try to live in that place of being “on my way” to the promised land– though never arriving– the more peace I find. I still gripe that my feet hurt, and I’m hungry for milk and honey, but more than that, I’m just glad I got out of Egypt with a few good traveling companions at my side.

  2. The Monks says:

    Transformation as an ongoing process is a great way of putting it, Mark!

  3. Nici Moorehead says:

    I read this in preparation for my sermon on Sunday. This was very helpful and brought insight into my contemporary teaching method.

    Rev. Nici Moorehead

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