Leroy came in to work on his day off, and it made all the difference for me.
We were visiting Arizona’s Monument Valley a few years back – a particularly spectacular stop on our two-week trip through the desert southwest. By the time we arrived that morning, long lines had formed at the ticket window for guided tours. So long, in fact, that the booking agent had called in reinforcements—Leroy among them.
Purely by happenstance, we were next-in-queue when Leroy drove up in his five-seater Jeep. Just enough room for our little group to get a more-or-less private tour of the vast expanse—exploring land that was sacred, Leroy would later explain, to his people…the Dinéh (the Navajo).
And Leroy’s reverence, I noticed, did indeed help me to encounter the land as holy ground. It was a far cry from what other groups were experiencing in their tours that morning—crowded by the dozens onto bleacher seats attached to the rear of flatbed trucks.
At certain stops, Leroy chanted tribal songs for us…his voice echoing hauntingly off the ancient rock formations. At others, he told us about pilgrims who’d come from the other side of the world…just to spend a little time soaking in the spirit of the stunning desert beauty all around us.
It was impossible not to be moved. Leroy helped make us aware how, for many generations, the Dinéh had been blessed to find God in this place. And I realized that I myself was being blessed in that moment: Invited to approach. To come near.
The story we hear from Exodus this Sunday reminded me of that close encounter in Arizona a few years back.
Wandering across the desert one day, Moses came to Horeb, the mountain of God…where he saw something remarkable – a bush on fire, but not consumed.
So Moses decided, “I must go over to look at this remarkable sight, and see why the bush is not burned.”
When the LORD saw him coming over to look at it more closely, God called out to him… ‘Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place where you stand is holy ground.’
Monument Valley is no Mount Horeb, I suppose. Still, I think I got at least a tiny taste of what Moses experienced when our little group had the chance to tour that sacred space with Leroy as our guide. I knew I was not worthy of the gift. It was certainly nothing I had earned. And yet it became a graced moment that I now know I will never forget.
But here’s an even more remarkable thing. We hear in Sunday’s Gospel reading how God invites us to draw near not only through such once-in-a-lifetime events…but also in the most ordinary moments of each day.
When we are at the well, drawing water…Jesus is there, making an astonishing offer:
‘Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become…a spring of water welling up to eternal life.’
Let us pause now…to recall that we are in the presence of the Holy & Merciful One.