This morning we heard that wonderful reading about Moses’ detour to check out a bush on fire. I particularly like that part about kicking off his shoes, where God alerts Moses that he’s treading holy ground underfoot.
I have read that, when conditions are just right in the desert, there is a bush that will burst into flame all by itself. Though the acacia is often implicated, a better candidate appears to be Dictamnus albus, or “fraxinella”. This plant is native to parts of Europe and Asia, including Israel, and gives off a readily combustible vapor on particularly warm days. A lit match will certainly ignite those gases, but some say they will catch fire all by themselves if the direct sun is hot enough. Once aflame, the vapor is so quickly consumed that the plant itself remains intact.
Interesting. I don’t know if this is true, but if so it’s certainly a possibility for the burning bush story. Would that change how we interpret this scripture?
Maybe. Maybe not. Surely this is not the most common of events, even in the toasty deserts of Israel. Any observer would logically have “turned aside” to get a better look. The real question is what happened next?
Let’s switch for just a moment to the story of Elijah waiting to hear from God up there on Mount Horeb. In the middle of a long fast (forty days and nights—quite the vision quest), Elijah was waiting on God. A wind storm, violent enough to break rocks, blew through. Then an earthquake shook the mountain. Even a raging fire erupted.
But after all that showy stuff, Elijah listened with all his being, and heard God. The still, small voice of God.
Burning bushes, windstorms, earthquakes, fires. All are natural on this Earth, yet each is quite an attention-getter. Perhaps God is always speaking to us, calling our names, wanting to have a God-with-human “conversation”. That invitation to “waste a little time with God” surrounds us every time we walk into God’s amazing, and yes, sometimes scary, creation.
But I don’t think God wants to impress us with all the lights and noise; I think God wants to engage us with the gentle whisper of a lover. We could bend our ears and our souls in that direction any time we want to; but when the scary stuff happens around us, it seems we are much more inclined toward a chat with God.
Maybe that’s what was happening with Moses and Elijah. Whether we are in the desert or high on a mountainside, if we look around we will see the miracles of creation at every turn. Though a burning bush smacks us in the face; a fuzzy caterpillar could capture our awe and praise just as well.
Walking barefoot communicates a whole lot about where we are. We awaken to the presence of every stone, twig, puddle as they “enter” us through our feet. It’s all holy, this ground upon which we stand. God is whispering words of love through every part of creation, waiting for us to open ourselves to that love.
All we need to do is pay a little more attention.