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The Burning Bush

Article by Diane Zanetti (October 2018 eNews)

“To pray, then, is to be aflame with God. The purpose of human effort, and of spiritual direction, is simply to clear away obstacles to this manifestation of the divine flame.”-Kenneth Leech

When I read the story of Moses and the burning bush, I have to wonder just how many trips out to the field with the sheep it took before Moses actually saw the burning bush. I would like to believe that Moses didn’t see it the first time, that he walked past that holy, burning place in his dust-covered sandals more often than he dared to admit, ate under the shade of the flaming shrub, and trudged back home again in the settling darkness—sheep ahead of him, blazing glory at his back. And I would like to think that a spiritual companion helped him recognize what he could not, or would not, see.

Perhaps my re-imagining of the story has to do with my own encounter with just such a companion. In the midst of starting a new ministry, I began to journey with a new directee. As “Debra” introduced herself to me, she told of how she had discovered Al-Anon, which helped her marriage and revived her spirituality.

She found herself filled with gratitude and love that had no place to go except back to God and back to the church she had left in her college years. As her spirituality awakened, she became aware that she wanted to explore her relationship with God on a one-to-one basis. As she outlined her hunger to grow in prayer, to deepen her faith and to see what life with God was about for her, she ended by saying she had two concerns. She didn’t want to become overly zealous, overly “religious,” and secondly, she felt if she grew closer to God, it would be “too much.” When I asked her to describe what she meant, she said, “I’m afraid I’ll be consumed by it.”

Here was this young woman, who was just beginning to explore her relationship with God—asking me about prayer, silence, what it means to grow—suddenly talking about an encounter with God that suggested great mystery. I wasn’t sure I understood being “consumed.” Did that suggest something one would fear to experience? Was she referring to what the classical mystics hinted at? Could I ever think of a time when I would have used such an image in my own relationship with God? Was I missing something if I hadn’t? Why was this idea of a “consuming” encounter with the holy something that haunted me long after our conversation?

My own prayer life at the time was in a “new” place, just as my life seemed to be. Ministry was beginning to be a struggle that was becoming more and more unmanageable. My personal and vocational life seemed to be taking more from me than I had to give. I assumed that God was asking this of me. I could not make sense of what I perceived to be God’s call and the desolation it brought to my heart and spirit.

I emerged from darkness into light with no less amazement and wonder than Moses when he spotted that blazing bush. Clearly I was on holy ground. Strangely, I didn’t know what to do there.

I didn’t know what or how to pray. I remember journaling one morning that I didn’t know what to do with the gratitude, except to write thank you, say thank you, sing doxology, live praise. Still, I resisted prayer and solitude with God. I felt overwhelmed with something that left me humbled, speechless, amazed and, yes, afraid. The place I had come to was unfamiliar, unbelievable and, I feared, undeserved. What I had with me was nothing but profound trust; there was nothing else. Old images and expectations, old ways of seeing, being and knowing, didn’t fit anymore. I was suspended in unknowing, and I knew it.

“I’m afraid I’ll be consumed by it.” Could this be what Debra was talking about? My experience of the Holy was overwhelming to me, but yes, I could substitute “consuming” in describing the experience. This is so different from the usual use of the word. “He is consumed by his work,” we say of someone who has nothing left for anything or anyone else. “My commute to work consumes all my time,” says the person who finds her time “used up” in driving. “Used up” is the way I felt two years ago as demands of God seemed to devour and destroy me.

This new sense of consuming Presence is more about being too much alive with love—like being afire with something that makes me back away. Moses’ bush was burning with God but not consumed, not destroyed, just ablaze with God. “To pray, then, is to be aflame with God.”

Diane is a graduate of Shalem’s Nurturing the Call: Spiritual Guidance Program. This article first appeared in the Shalem News, Summer 2002.

October 10, 2018 by shalem online
Categories: Spiritual Deepening and spiritual direction. Formats: Article and eNews Article.

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