Working as a waiter can be an object study in humanity - I recall an elderly couple who aroused my curiosity. They would come in together, she with her book, and he with his newspaper and sit through the meal in a long attenuated stretch of silence. At twenty-something, I just could not contemplate why two people might want to sit together in shared solitude. Now that I am older, I get it. It is a special kind of refuge that does not require chatter to fill the void.
The experience of silence has largely vanished in the modern world. Existentialists have argued about this for centuries. What has more meaning, the note or the space between the notes? Real understanding might begin in a place of stillness.
Could it be that we numb true experience in a buzz of motion? Doers are a moving target at the best of times, unable to find a place of rest. Doers are distracted. They are at a future point inside their head. They are not with you at all in the present.
When all the doing is finished with, we arrive at the place of I AM, a place of being and revelation. Those points in life are holy places. In the Bible, we see people run up against I AM, the in-between juncture in the road where everything has a chance to become clear.
In the Old Testament, we find Moses in the desert, a scion-turned-murderer who is in exile from the wrath of Pharoah. He is now a married man with a full schedule and lots to do, like constant vigilance over a flock of sheep. In the middle of all this he sees a strange burning bush and draws near. When he asks who is behind the burning bush, he gets a curious response from God who introduces himself as I AM. I AM is a stop and a start. It is where the real story of Moses begins.
We hear this theme echoed later on in the New Testament when Jesus tells the Pharisees “before Abram was, I AM.” He is identifying himself with God - beyond time and whatever other definitions they may use to box him in.
The I AM statements of Jesus in the Bible, can provide a month of sermon material, because they fill out the big picture in those points of silence where God has your full attention. They are the kind of statements that do not need your permission. They invite further enquiry.
“I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.” (John 6:35).
“I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12)
“I am the door. If anyone enters by Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture.” (John 10:9)
“I am the vine; you are the branches. If a man remains in me and I in him, he will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.” (John 15:1)
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives His life for the sheep” (John 10:11).
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in me will never die.” (John 11:25-26)
“I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).
The Gospel of John has been called a mystical gospel. John Stott has pointed out that the I AM statements of Jesus are exclusive. They are also a point of personal decision. You must plainly see that Jesus is either a madman, or something more special, what theologians refer to as the scandal of particularity. He excludes himself from the regular human frame of reference. He puts us on a different path altogether.
There are points in life where everything stops and we ask “God, are you there?” What comes next might be considered mystical, if on some level you experience the voice of God, who simply says “I AM”.
For him who has ears to hear, I AM might be the beginning of a whole new journey. Once everything else has stopped, it is the point of revelation that precedes true possibility.