Burning bushes happen all the time

…but when should we stop and listen?

Photo by Jeremy Zero on Unsplash
Photo by Jason Leung on Unsplash

Moses already felt like a stranger in his home; leaving Egypt, he became a true foreigner.

There in the desert, following an act of kindness on Moses’s part, he becomes a shepherd, tending the sheep, watching for threats. Moses’s vigilance was born out of his own experience of fear and anxiety. There were good reasons for those feelings and ways in which his vigilance was a gift.

The burning bush catches our attention.

From biblical scholars and more recent ecological studies, we know that fires in the desert are not uncommon. Even in the language used in Exodus 3, Moses’s attention is caught not by the flames in front of him, but that this burning bush was “not consumed”.

Photo by Ryan Cryar on Unsplash

Your attention is a commodity; but we end up being the ones who are devoured, burnt away like the leaves on that burning bush.

Photo by Elvis Bekmanis on Unsplash

We are left with ashes.

Burnt out is what many of us feel moving into 2021. Our brains and our bodies are not set up to be in crisis this long. Short term crises are not pleasant, but are how our brains/bodies operate. Once the short-term crisis is over, then we can settle again.

But this year has been one burning bush after another, after another.

Perhaps for some of us, there is a need to rest a bit, to even retreat so that we do not allow ourselves to be manipulated and diverted by all the attention-seeking, the waving hands and shrill voices calling us to spend our energy/fuel on situations that will remain beyond our control.

At some point Moses did stop running.

As we read in Exodus, Moses settled and made a life for himself in the foreign land, marrying, having a child, focusing on the work/life in front of him, leaving behind that which he could not control. He named his child a name that meant “an alien in a foreign land”.

We take off our shoes and feel the unmediated ground beneath us.

We settle our breathing to the long, slow cadance of watchful waiting.

We truly observe what is happening around us without reacting.

First we notice. Then, we breathe and pray. We listen. Then we respond.

For Moses, he encounters this one who says, “I am that I am”, the “ground of being”. And following this encounter, albeit somewhat reluctantly, Moses follows the call for liberation. God calls Moses to free those who are truly oppressed, enslaved, beaten, and killed.

This is not the faux outrage of the powerful, but the cry of the weak and vulnerable to which God responds.

My prayer for you and for all of us, is that we can find some way to retreat and rest, to allow our bodies and brains and souls to recalibrate, to attend to what we can actually control.

clinical social worker, spiritual director, author, husband, father, son, runner in Georgia, co-author of When Anxiety Strikes from Kregel Publications.

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