Indiana Jones is the key. You’ll know all about the Ark of the Covenant if you’re a fan of Indy. And you’ll have a clue why the Israelites are carrying it around today. Not just a box with stones in, the Ark is the Hebrew nuclear power plant – altogether dangerous and altogether amazing. It’ll smite you if approach it wrong or, as here, pile up the waters of the Jordan to left and right so the people can enter the land of promise the way they left Egypt and slavery a generation ago. It is the answer to the promise of presence: God is here; the Living God is with you.
In the film the uncovered Ark is put to evil use with priests and rituals to unlock its secrets and of course there’s smiting and zapping as the box is opened. But that’s where the film goes misses the mark. This isn’t Noah’s Ark—God doesn’t live inside. The Ark is a throne. The twinned angels on its lid aren’t handles but a perch, a place for the Glory of God to settle: The Mercy Seat. That was the tragedy and transgression of those molten calves back at Zion—not that they were idols or false gods but that they were rival thrones, rival resting places for God. ‘If Moses can’t handle God up there on the mountain top maybe we can lure him down with these!’
Now you may be forgiven for thinking ‘what a load of rubbish!’ And you’d be right. God isn’t some big budgie to perch in this place and not that. God couldn’t be charmed by our roosting boxes. God is everywhere.
But being everywhere has its perils. Everywhere is mighty like nowhere. The omnipresent God gets spread rather thin for our liking. … Our God does seem to like to perch and rest.
Isn’t God sometimes more here than there? Aren’t there places that seem to drip with sacredness: a church, a beach, a forest, a home? And don’t we remember moments as soaked in spirit as a Christmas cake: maybe turning a corner into sunshine, or seeing your baby born; letting a friend go at last, or simply stepping from then to now and knowing you do it un-alone?
A retreat makes a kind of sanctuary for these God’s resting places and where God dwells even for a moment there is power and living presence.
I like to think that, lacking angels’ wings to make a mercy seat, our shoulders will do: that God will get a liking for the rest we offer and wander with us, powerful and present, alighting always and wherever we go.