Here I am
June 21, 2022
For as long as I can remember, my favorite words in the Bible have been “Here I am.” These three tiny words hold huge meaning not only for people of religious faith but also for those of us concerned about our shared ability to create the kinds of communities and lives we want. At this moment in America, these three words call on us to engage with one another—to take greater responsibility for where we are and who we can become.
The words “Here I am” appear repeatedly throughout the Bible—from Abraham to Samuel to Isaiah, and elsewhere. But the story this phrase reminds me of most involves Moses. Standing before the burning bush, at first trembling and hiding his face, he ultimately answers God’s call by saying, “Here I am.”
In that moment, Moses—who doubts his capabilities, his strength, his own voice, his identity—does something that is desperately needed in our communities and our country today. In his moment of trial, Moses makes himself visible. He does not hide. He does not turn away. He does not seek cover. He makes an active choice to be present.
Then, God gives him a great task: Go to the mighty Egyptian pharaoh and demand the release of the Israelites from the bonds of slavery. But in the face of this task, Moses hesitates. He asks God, “Who am I?” Once more, his self-doubt is palpable. He is filled with confusion. He thinks he is unworthy. But, as we know, Moses proves otherwise. He heeds the call. He steps forward. He acts. What are the implications of Moses’ words and actions for each of us today? Indeed, what about us? Will we act?
At the burning bush, Moses is asked to take an action that none of us will be called to do, but we can still learn from his story. When he hears the call, he personally makes an active choice. He chooses to step forward. He engages. He shows his face.
We must take the lesson of Moses and make ourselves visible. We must be present, alive, and awake in this moment. We must be here. This requires each of us to face our challenges head-on if we are to tackle the challenges our society confronts.
He accounts for himself too. There is something uniquely powerful in this personal act. In our society, accountability often means following laws, achieving certain measurable goals, or making formal reports. What I love about the story of Moses and the burning bush is that the idea of accounting for oneself takes on a much larger, deeper meaning. It asks each of us to assume full responsibility for who we can become and what we must do. It summons us to measure ourselves based on whether we are living up to the pledges and promises we have made to ourselves and to others. This is not about a typical professional accountability. It is a covenant we make with one another about the kind of world we seek to create together.
So, I ask you to keep in mind the following questions. These are questions people ask me all the time as I work with them in their communities:
– How can I come together with others to truly make a difference?
– How do I make the kinds of leaps in my life that will enable me to have the impact I seek in my community and elsewhere?
– How can my engagement reflect the best in myself and in others?
– How can I unleash a greater sense of shared responsibility in my community and in my work?
– How do I find the courage and humility to take such a path?
There are times when I have fears and self-doubts about my own capabilities. We all do. We often believe that someone else is more equipped, better prepared, or more articulate for what needs to be said and done. We fear the unknown. At times we fear the other. We step back when people’s anger and grievances turn into words and emotions we find hurtful and uncomfortable.
But we must take the lesson of Moses and make ourselves visible. We must be present, alive, and awake in this moment. We must be here. This requires each of us to face our challenges head-on if we are to tackle the challenges our society confronts.
We need not know on our own all the answers to these challenges—none of us can. Nor must we go it alone. Positive change never happens in that way.
Instead, we must simply keep these three tiny words in mind: Here I am.
Richard C. Harwood is president and founder of The Harwood Institute for Public Innovation, a nonpartisan, non-profit organization located in Bethesda, Maryland. Excerpted from, Stepping Forward: A Positive, Practical Path to Transform Our Communities and Our Lives.