“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt to be your God.
I am the LORD your God.”
This verse appears at the very end of the Sh’ma, the prayer that observant Jews recite twice a day. One of the central stories of the Jewish people is the Exodus from Egypt—the move from slavery to freedom—and, on one level, the story preserves a collective memory. On another level, though, we can understand it as a metaphor for other kinds of liberating transformations. The Hebrew word for Egypt, Mitzrayim, can also be translated as “narrow straits.” The move from Mitzrayim to liberation mirrors my move into Judaism—from a narrow place in which I had all but given up on finding religious grounding, to the liberating gift of a tradition that offers me deep sustenance and a clearer relationship with God than I had previously thought possible. It is as though I passed through a narrow channel into a vast expanse of possibility. In this verse, God is doing the speaking and acting, in order that God may be known and in relationship with people. On its own, this is such a beautiful statement about the love and deep partnership between people and God. As a metaphor for my personal journey, the idea that God brought me out of narrow places in order to be known and in relationship evokes waves of wonder, joy, gratitude, and amazement—making it difficult, sometimes, to get those last few words of the Sh'ma out of my mouth.
Yaira’s comment about God ‘delivering’ her through her personal spiritual journey reminded me of my own ongoing journey along the ‘straight path’ of Islam to reclaim my purpose as a created human. In Islam we are taught that the inherent state of all creation is that of a muslim, literally, one who submits to God. The natural world exists in this state; babies are born in this state of submission. However, due to cultural and other profane influences, humans deviate from this state during our lifetimes. The purpose of Islam is to create a path on which we strive to reclaim our innate state of being—our natural state of submission to the Creator. It is not a forced existence with spiritual hoops to leap through, but a way of being fully human. In this verse, I noticed that the delivery of the Israelites from slavery was for a specific purpose. Speaking to the newly delivered Israelites, God says that He “brought you out of Egypt to be your God.” So, their freedom from subjugation to the Egyptians was replaced by freedom to serve God. This is our natural state—our “muslimness.” One final thought: when we pray for deliverance from the things that are oppressing us, we need to consider that true freedom does not mean lack of submission, but rather submission to our true purpose. As Bob Dylan so famously said, “You gotta serve somebody.”
Like Yaira and Amanda, I came to my current faith tradition as an adult. I was raised in an agnostic household and spent my childhood and young adulthood searching—yearning—for something that I could not define. I found a spiritual home in Christianity, and with it, a sense of freedom from doubt and fear. When I hear the words “I am the Lord your God,” I think of God’s enduring love for all people, God’s mercy, and God’s deliverance. I also think of God calling us to be better people as we attempt to live according to the promise of our being made in God’s image. Amanda’s articulation of the inherent state of creation in Islam is a nice parallel to the Christian concept of grace. It is through faith that we access the power of grace to do what God requires of us, which is “to do justice, to love kindness, and to walk humbly with our God.” (Micah 6:8) We respond to “the Lord our God” by seeing ourselves bound in duty, love, and gratitude to keep all of God’s commandments.
Meet Guest Bloggers Yaira, Amanda & LeeAnne on the About Us page!