From the Book of Exodus:

Moses said, “Show me your glory, I pray.” And [God] said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and will proclaim before you the name, ‘The Lord’; and I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.” And the Lord continued, “See, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock; and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by; then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back; but my face shall not be seen.”

(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Exodus 33:18-23 – May 1, 2012)

This is one of those biblical tales that I just love and wish the English would tell correctly. The Hebrew ‘achowr would better be translated “hindquarters”, “rear”, or “rear parts”, or even as “butt” . . . “Back” is just so bland! God is being a little earthier with Moses than that, and in that earthiness I find a counterpoint to the grandeur of this story. ~ This is a “grand” story, a big story, the story of God “choosing” and adopting as his own a whole people, the story of God giving the Law, the story of God continuing the motion, the arc, the trajectory of the whole sweep of Jewish and Christian history. This is a big story! And in the midst of it, here is this same God rather jokingly, perhaps teasingly saying, “You can’t see my face, but you can see my backside.” ~ One of the traditional depictions of the face of God has been that of a bearded old man (think of God talking to King Arthur from the clouds in Monty Python & the Holy Grail). ~ I’m intrigued by cross-cultural and inter-religious connections and this depiction of God as bearded-old-man is one of them. In Chinese traditional religion and Taoism, one of the gods is Tu Di Gong. He is portrayed as an elderly man with a long white beard, as well as a black or gold hat and a red or yellow robe. Tu Di Gong is not all-powerful; he is simply a modest heavenly bureaucrat overseeing the concerns of and dispensing blessings to common villagers. There are few temples to Tu Di Gong. Rather his presence is marked by stones “at the point where footpaths cross, under trees, by wells, on mountainsides, and in the center of villages.” (Chinese Gods: The Unseen Worlds of Spirits and Demons, Keith G. Stevens, 1996) ~ If one believes, as I do, that there are revelations of God in all the religions and spiritual beliefs humankind, there is a reminder here that our God is also not found (only) in temples and churches. Indeed, one should remember that our God eschewed a temple when offered one by David: “You shall not build a house for Me to dwell in; for I have not dwelt in a house since the day that I brought up Israel to this day, but I have gone from tent to tent and from one dwelling place to another . . . in all places where I have walked with all Israel.” (1 Chron. 17:4-6) ~ Our God is an earthy god, a god whose presence is felt and found in many places. Be open to God in all the places of your life. You may not see God’s face, but you may see his backside!