A Burning in the Bushes
The Word in the Wild, Proper 17, Year A
This is a waiting season. The winter with its stark expectation, the spring with its bursts of life, the summer, full of growth and abundance, have all faded. Now the landscape is brittle and burned over, and more than a few gardeners have given up watering, letting their plants go until the fall, when they can begin again.
This is a between time. It is still summer for those in the Northern Hemisphere, but fall beacons. In the calendar of the school year, many have already begun the a routine. And yet, the weather has not yet bent toward the crisp air, and the many berries and nut trees that yield their abundance to animals preparing for winter have not yet ripened here. We are waiting for what will come, soon, but not yet.
If I had to guess, it was fall in the land of Midian that Moses was leading his father-in-law’s flocks through the wilderness and beyond it. Beyond the wilderness. Why would Moses be leading his flocks so far? Likely the closer grass had all been eaten, cropped short by the grazing flocks. This was the end of the season and now Moses had to go farther, beyond, and it was there that he met the unexpected.
This is a time of failure. Our institutions of certainty, our climate’s stability, our economy’s promises of provision—are all failing. We are in a time born of the crisis of such failures. But it is in just such a crisis that God comes. “God’s address is at the end of your rope,” Dallas Willard once said. We are moving closer to it on the map of our life.
Moses was at the end of his rope. He had failed. All the power granted by growing up in Pharaoh’s household, the wealth and education and status that would have granted him—he’d lost all of it through a foolish and rash move. He’d been forced to the margins, settling into his failure. He was in an in-between time, but he didn’t yet know it. He was waiting, but he didn’t even really know that he was waiting. All had become still.
Stillness is what happens when the crisis is over. It is the moment after the storm’s rage. It is the quiet of the streets when a pandemic has halted the normal flow of traffic. It is the silence of the skies after the planes have been grounded. Stillness comes in the time of pausing and it is in that pause that new things become visible, new sights can be seen.
I have never seen a burning bush, unconsumed by the flames, but I have seen a Blackburnian Warbler, orange and black like fire.