Thursday, August 11, 2005

The Burning Bush

I've read two of Lawrence Kushner's books and both of them include a story about Moses and the Burning Bush. The common interpretation is that having the bush burn without being consumed was a miracle that God performed to capture Moses' attention. But Rabbi Kushner observes that for a God who could perform such wonders as parting the Red Sea this is really a cheap trick. Why didn't God do something more dramatic?

Here's where it gets good. Imagine you see a bush on fire. How long would you have to watch it burn before you could tell whether or not it was being consumed? Answer: Three to five minutes. Moses was watching this bush intently for three to five minutes before he could even suspect that something was unusual about it.

So why didn't God do something more dramatic? It wasn't a miracle to get Moses' attention. It was a test to see if Moses was the sort of person who could pay attention for three to five minutes.

The point of this story is that God is everywhere, all around us, but to see God we have to be paying attention. Naturally, we come across similar ideas in Christianity. Daniel Erlander's Baptized We Live talks about the Lutheran way of seeing God in the world, hidden under everything around us. Everything is potentially a sacrament of God's presence. This idea is also prominent in Eastern Orthodoxy. Alexander Schmemann, in his excellent book For the Life of the World, talks about the false dichotomy between the natural and the supernatural that too often shows up in Western Christianity.

The idea is also central to Quaker spirituality. In Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home, Richard Foster tells the story of one meeting where he was encouraging the congregants to wait silently for the Lord, but the silence was interrupted by a cat scratching at a screen door. Later everyone complained about how the cat distracted them except one former missionary. This wise man said he simply wondered what God was trying to say to them through the cat.

I had an experience like that yesterday morning. I was engaged in lectio divina listening to Psalm 13. As I was meditating on the experience of God's absence, I was jarred by a mild roar coming from my back yard. Not being the sort to handle distraction, I broke off my prayer and went out to investigate. What I found was that the sprinklers had come on, but one of the sprinkler heads was being blocked by the barbeque cover causing the noise. As I looked at the patch of yellow grass in from of me (I'm not usually up early enough to hear the sprinklers), I realized that God was speaking.

1 comment:

LutheranChik said...

Oh, be careful, Mel...sounds suspiciously like experiential theology, the new bogeyman (actually, usually it's the bogeywoman) of religious reactionaries.;-) As a for-instance, if you talk about experiencing God through nature and through the homely aspects of everyday life, then you must be a closet pagan. If you're a woman who dares to suggest that you experience God through the lens of your experience as a woman, you're one step away from a priestess of Cybele chasing poor pious men around with a sharp knife to "recruit" new eunuchs for the temple.;-) (And of course if women assume any authority at all in the Church, Christendom will come crashing down.) Etc., etc., etc.

Ahem...snark attack. Musn't be "harsh.";-)

Anyhow...I don't know how anyone can read Luther's works and not come away with an awareness of him as a mystical thinker. And the Lutheran way of seeing, as Erlander points out, is inherently open to the idea of God making Godsself known in the enfleshed, the earthy, the humble, the everyday. Just like...the Gospels.