If you saw a bush burning in the wilderness chances are that you would either a) Note it and move along or b) Turn away and move to a safer location. But then you and I aren’t Moses. Perhaps Moses had seen the bush burning the previous day or perhaps for days on end and finally “turned aside” to check it out. Or maybe he had the insight to recognize the significance on the first pass. It takes some creative visioning to notice a bush that burns but is not consumed. Either way, the word used for “turn aside” is closely related to the word used to describe repentance, that is, a turning away from the wrong for the rights. In Drawn In, Troy Bronsink suggests that getting drawn in to the story of God requires a sort of confession moving past the voices of judgment, pride, cynicism, and fear in order to “continually revise one’s location.”
Changing one’s direction is seldom welcome or easy and “continually revising one’s location” is something precious few of us are every willing to do. The voices of judgment, pride, cynicism and fear are quite loud, most likely because they come from our own throats and echo in our own heads. And these voices create a complex dance that keep us from turning aside to the places of creativity where God dwells and from which God is calling our names. Fear can make us flee or it can immobilize us. The pride of our ego can mask the fears that are actually controlling our actions.
Some clever visual artist pranksters once took the picture shown here. Placing a fire extinguisher in St. Catherine’s Monastery next to the bush purported to be the Burning Bush, they tap that feeling that most of us would have if faced with such a potentially life-changing event…”make it stop!” Remember that this bush was no flash in the pan, it was continually burning. Even after Moses risks turning aside to notice it, it kept burning. In fact, it started speaking to him and instead of turning away, he listened! How many among us are ready to be drawn in to the sort of radical change that a burning bush might call us to? Not only do we fear radical change, we typically don’t want to change and we certainly struggle with voluntarily repenting. For most of us, it would take more than bush burning, we would have to be on fire before we would consider stopping, dropping and rolling on the holy ground before us! Moses was also smart enough not to sabotage the vision of that moment by cutting it short. Granted he tried to weasel his way out of responding, but he stuck with it, contending with God, which is the way God likes it (or so we can suppose, since it is the repeating story of God’s people). We too often sabotage the creative dreaming moments of our lives by cutting them short, thinking we already have all the answers. We bring our fire extinguisher to the burning bush and show it who’s the boss.
Surely God did not stop dreaming the future into the present after one person stopped to listen. The plant in the monastery in Sinai may be green not ablaze in a literal sense, but surely there are things that metaphorically burning around and most definitely within us. The scripture assures us that without a vision the people perish. If we cannot imagine a very present Creator in our midst then there is no doubt that a slow creeping death has settled in and we will do nothing more creative than tend our goats in the warm glow of a curiously unconsumed bush. What “goats” occupy your time and block your vision? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that the work of a shepherd cannot be a vocation, but, like any job, it is simply an occupation not a vocation (literally “a calling”) if you haven’t experienced the thrilling presence of the Creator causing you to visualize your particular “sweet spot.” Would that sort of experience scare you right out of your sandals? Darn right it would! But it would also be the very thing that brings you life by giving you a vision to live by.
Rev. Ian Lynch is pastor of First Congregational Church, United Church of Christ in Brimfield, MA He blogs about the intersection of spirituality and society at CultureDove.blogspot.com and the intersection of spirituality and ornithology at https://birdparables.blogspot.com