Modern historians, looking at Moses, ask what does “real” history say about him? When did he live and what
are the facts of his life? The 4th century writer, Gregory of Nyssa, in his classic work “The Life of Moses, asks a different question: What can we learn from Moses about how God calls us? How can we see our own journey to God in him?
We want to see God. In the 120 years of his life Moses sought God and is an example how God leads us to himself.
Exodus 2,1-15 is an account of Moses’ first 40 years. His Jewish mother puts him in the Nile river in a little boat ( the word for boat in Exodus is the same word used in Genesis for Noah’s ark). Those years are not without danger, but Moses–like all of us – is placed on the river of life, with a mission from God and the protection of God.
Moses’ adoption by Pharoah’s daughter brought him the wealth of Egypt. He makes his way to God with human gifts as well as divine gifts, and so do we. We’re blessed with gifts, human and divine, and we must use them.
Moses’ first forty years end with the killing of the Egyptian and his subsequent flight to the mountainous desert of Midian. There, Moses meets God alone in the burning bush and choses to stand with God. If we want to see the face of God, we’re called to face the burning mystery of God and choose to stand with him.
Then, at eighty years, Moses begins the next stage of his life: leading his people through the desert to the promised land. Eighty years old– hardly a good time for something like that, isn’t it?
For Gregory, though, Moses’ life is an inward journey, not so much of events, as a journey of desire, and the journey of desire is a constant journey–an ascent– that never ends or grows old in this life. It’s not ended by sickness or the cessation of our active lives and responsibilities. Here’s how Gregory describes it:
“…the great Moses, becomes ever greater, he never stops his ascent, never sets a limit to his upward course. Once setting his foot on the ladder that God sets up (as Jacob says) he continually climbed to the step above and never ceases to rise higher, because there was always a step higher than the one he attained…though lifted up through his lofty experiences, he’s still unsatisfied in his desire for more. He still thirsts for what seems beyond his capacity… asking God to appear to him, not according to his capacity, but according to God’s true being.
“Such an experience seems to me to belong to the soul who loves the beautiful. Hope always draws the soul from the beauty that’s seen to what ‘s beyond; it always kindles the desire for what’s hidden from what’s now known. Boldly requesting to go up the mountain of desires the soul asks to enjoy Beauty, not in mirrors, or reflections, but face to face. “ (Gregory of Nyssa)
“Old men ought to be explorers
Here or there does not matter
We must be still and still moving
Into another intensity
For a further union, a deeper communion
Through the dark cold and the empty desolation,
The wave cry, the wind cry, the vast waters
Of the petrel and the porpoise. In my end is my beginning.” T. S. Eliot, Four Quartets