Reflection for Today ▶️ ⏩ ⏹️
Celebrating Talk by Wendy Ronaldson, from Wendy's Stammering Art, stamma.org
And Moses said unto God, Who am I, that I should go unto Pharaoh, and that I should bring forth the children of Israel out of Egypt? / And Moses said unto the Lord, O my Lord, I am not eloquent, neither heretofore, nor since thou hast spoken unto thy servant: but I am slow of speech, and of a slow tongue. / And Moses said before the Lord, Behold, I am of uncircumcised lips, and how shall Pharaoh hearken unto me?
— Exodus 3:11 / 4:10 / 6:30
Following Moses' call to the quest of leading God's people out of Egypt we see an immediate refusal of the call. This is consistent with The Hero's Journey1, a common pattern in storytelling: Odysseus prefers an easy life with his family, Luke Skywalker cannot leave his uncle Owen's farm, Hercules feels he is not up to the tasks ahead, and so on. What is less common is the repeated nature of the refusal we see in the Exodus story. Moses is perhaps the most reluctant hero in any epic tale, repeatedly putting himself down in the hope he'll be spared this responsibility. It was not to be.
Whether Moses' reluctance was borne of fear, a sense of inadequacy or a genuine concern that his inability to speak well would render him ineffective for God's work has been the subject of centuries long theological debate. The terms slow of speech, and of a slow tongue and uncircumcised lips2 suggests that Moses may have had a speech impediment, or possibly that (raised as an Egyptian) he spoke only broken Hebrew, this latter condition explaining why the Israelites initially refused to heed him.
What is clear however is that God counter's each one of his refusals, and provides support for him through magical abilities and the voice of his brother Aaron. This pattern of equipping a hero with extra abilities is another pattern we see in the Hero's Journey, a modern and well-loved version being Agent Q issuing James Bond with a series of useful (and almost magical!) gadgets in the well known Ian Flemming series of books.
Speculation and speech impediments aside, there is certainly an air of apprehension in this episode. This is not a fear of the unknown, not a fear of adventure, but a fear of self, and our own potential. It brings to mind the opening lines of this Marianne Williamson poem.
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate.
Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure.
It is our light, not our darknessThat most frightens us.
Courage is not the absence of fear, rather fear is an essential ingredient of courage. To act with courage means to experience the fear and go forth anyway. Moses went forth, and ultimately Moses shone.
1 The term was first coined as "the hero's adventure' by Joseph Campbell in his 1949 work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces.
2 "The term 'uncircumcised' makes a comparison between his speech and that which Israel perceived as unacceptable, unprepared, foreign, and of no use to God. The heart is described this way when it is impervious to good impressions (Lev 26:41; Jer 9:26) and the ear when it hears imperfectly (Jer 6:10). Moses has here returned to his earlier claim—he does not speak well enough to be doing this." — NetBible.org