Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God;
But only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
The rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
I read this stanza this morning in Daily Gospel 2013. Recalling today’s first reading, Exodus 3: 1-6, 9-12), we are called, like Moses, to take off our shoes because this is a holy place. We are called to remove what protects us from experiencing the presence of God.
All too often I just walk around and miss the presence of God and the marvels of creation and daily life. I am off to a meeting or driving out to a remote village.
I am blessed, though, that the countryside here, especially now that the rainy season is on us, is gorgeous, even if there is a lot of deforestation for the sake of cattle grazing.
My car has no radio and so I have the silence to reflect on the beauty.
The silence is a way of taking off my shoes, removing the noise and the protection.
But there is another source of wisdom that helps me see the presence of God: the poor.
In today’s Gospel (Matthew 11: 25), Jesus reveals what theologians might call the hermeneutical privilege of the poor – the Gospel is understood better when we are poor or take the side of the poor:
Father, Lord of heaven and earth, I praise you, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the learned and revealed them to simple people.
The poor are those who are without protection from the vagaries of life. We who have money can use that to protect us from hunger, from natural disaster, from sickness, from violence.
But the poor often don’t have that type of protection and have to rely on others – God and the community around them. And so they often can see both the presence of evil and injustice and the presence of God.
I am often amazed at the deep sense of God’s presence in those I work with in the countryside. They have an almost palpable sense of the presence of God.
I have been blessed to be a part of their lives and to experience their witness to God’s presence. I have also been blessed to see the sin present there.
As Jon Sobrino has written in No Salvation Outside the Poor,
In [the poor] the mystery of reality breaks through [irrupts], and … in them the very reality of God breaks through.
God revealed God’s very self to Moses in the burning bush and God is revealed in Jesus, the Son of God made flesh, born a poor person in an occupied country.
God is in solidarity with the poor. God tells Moses that he has heard the cry of the people, oppressed in Egypt. Jesus tells us that God has given a special revelation to the simple ones, the poor.
And we, who are not poor, can open ourselves to that revelation of God when we are in solidarity with the poor.
What does that mean? As Jon Sobrino notes in Where is God?,
Solidarity means letting oneself be affected by the suffering of other human beings, sharing their pain and tragedy.
Take off your shoes to walk among the poor. There God speaks to us.