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The Face Has Already Been Revealed

Many people who live a religious life, or aspire to one, pray that God will appear to them in a cacophonous moment of revelation.

We routinely offer the priestly blessing, which Aaron offered to the children of Israel.

May GOD bless you, and keep you;

May GOD make God’s face shine upon you, and be gracious unto you;

May GOD lift up God’s face towards you, and give you peace.

What is it that we hunger for when we pray for the face of God to be turned towards us?

Perhaps we pray for a moment of God’s unending love which will make all of the pain and suffering inherent in human life a little easier to bear. God will appear as a gentle glow, in whose light we can bask and just be okay.

Or perhaps we hope to know God as intimately as we know a friend, or even to believe that such intimacy is possible. For what is a face, really? More than an amalgam of features, it is the vehicle of interaction, the vessel through which we connect to other people. If God were to turn the Divine face toward us, then suddenly God, who so often feels distant or even nonexistent, would be as immanent as a lover.

Perhaps when we pray to see the face of God, we hope for the certain knowledge that would follow if God lifted God’s face toward us. Suddenly, we would know that God is real, just as Abraham knew. We would know that God is real in the way that Moses, who spoke to God face to face, knew. We would see the face of God and then revelation and faith would cease being mysteries and would instead become concrete realities in our lives.

Perhaps revelation isn’t what happens when God decides to reveal the Divine face to us as a supernal image, filling the sky with thunder and lightning. Perhaps God’s face is lurking in the face of every human being, and revelation is the moment when we recognize the flesh and bone faces we see walking down the street as traces of the Divine.

As the Jewish philosopher Emmanuel Levinas put it, “The dimension of the divine opens forth from the human face.”

We pray to see God’s face, but perhaps the face has already been revealed, set atop every human body, and we would be better served to pray for the ability to see it. We are like Joseph’s brothers, who hope for a miracle to save them from famine. They look for signs and miracles, manna falling from heaven, but they cannot recognize their brother sitting in front of them.

We too are hoping for a revelation with trumpets, a revelation to which we can proudly stand up and declare our presence, as Abraham did when God called to him. Or perhaps we deny that such a revelation is possible and deny our own soul in the process.

We spend tremendous time enmeshed in our painful hopes for something transcendent, something extra-ordinary, or rejecting the very same. It might very well be that be that revelation of the Divine, the very face of God for which we yearn, is sitting across from us in the diner, in the synagogue, in the supermarket.

Perhaps, though we are loathe to admit, we are hesitant to actually encounter the immanence of God.

We are hesitant because we know that nobody can see the face of God and live, at least not as they have been. When we recognize the face of another human being as the face of God, we encounter something outside of ourselves which disrupts our own self-obsession. Could Moses have possibly heard the call of God from the burning bush and said, “Thanks for calling, but I’m doing something more important now. I look forward to getting back to you as soon as possible”? Divinity demands a response, certainly no less when it appears on a person than when it appears on a bush.

When we recognize that face on the bus as the face of God, we cannot go on living as we have.

One cannot see the face of God and continue with business as usual anymore than one can hear a lion roar and not be afraid.

Our religious aspirations are worthy ones - perhaps it is only our blindness and our fear that we need to overcome in order to achieve them.

Thu, June 27 2019 24 Sivan 5779