Inside the Fire

Notes from the archive:

fire_spinI’m a mystic mudblood. I come from a family, a faith tradition, and a career that, at best, frowns upon mystical talk. Yet, I remain convinced that there lays a way of knowing beyond what is apparent to the senses or the intellect.

Some time ago, I was thinking about Moses’ encounter with the burning bush. This bush burned, but was not consumed. Moses found this strange, and ventured over to this thing to see what was going on. In the process, he experienced something life-shifting.

As I thought more about this story, the idea of the “holy ground” around the bush began to intrigue me. Pretty much every day of the week, this ground around the bush was normal earth – nothing special. But in the Moses story, the presence of the bush and the ground were superseded by the presence of God in that place, making the land Holy Ground. And, as Moses approached this Holy Ground, he encountered God in a way that put his checkered past into perspective, and defined his trajectory into the future. Being in the very presence of the fire changed Moses.

Yet despite the fire, the bush was not consumed. Even though the fire and the presence of God superseded the presence of the bush, the bush still remained. The union of the bush and God left the bush still bush-like, and God still divine.

It might not seem like much, but this was a bit of a breakthrough for me. Let me explain.

Very often I struggle with how to describe the way in which God, through the Holy Spirit, changes those who encounter him. The tradition in which I was raised seemed to focus on a more demanding or crushing action. God demands submission, and if he doesn’t get submission, he punishes and crushes the resistance by sending the Holy Spirit to “convict” people. This action on the part of God drives those fearful of Him into behaviors that purge whatever they feel is evil, not worthy, or unholy. This purging takes many forms – from throwing away “secular” music, to prohibiting kids from reading or watching “magical” material, to general withdrawal from culture. Sometimes the end result of this type of purging is legalism, in which the way we avoid God’s crushing activity is by doing things tied directly to the Bible. Sometimes the end result of this type of purging is self-loathing that stems from never being able to be “right” before a Holy God.

But the image of the burning bush seems to shift this view of God. Instead of crushing us, as He could have done with that bush, God woos us- He calls us and encounters us. Normal as we are -normal as the bush was – His presence on us in the Holy Spirit, through faith in Christ, changes our normalness, our unworthiness, and our unholiness into Holy Ground. In the process, it shifts us – it ignites us, just as it seems to have ignited something in Moses.

So, God’s presence brings me fire, yet does not consume and crush me. Yet for those who find their center in the One Who Is True, the presence and thoughts of God fill their every breath. In this manner (here comes the mystical part) “I” am consumed, but I am not consumed. My thoughts and anxieties shift from selfishness and self-preservation – the “I” – to something outside of myself. As the reality of being found in God – of being a brother of Christ, of realizing that true power gives itself away – begins to sink in, “I” is no longer the focal point of my interaction in the world. Instead, I become consumed with the work of God, which gives itself sacrificially in love towards others. My thoughts are still my own, but no longer focused on me.

This way of thinking has led Paul to make a lot more sense to me:
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

Paul, it seems, speaks of himself as not living, yet living. It seems these are the peculiar thoughts of those who find themselves inside the fire of God’s work, but not consumed. In a mystical way, we become the burning bush.

Being consumed with the work of God in the world leads to what appears to be some strange behaviors. But just as the bizarre behavior of the bush attracted attention, and led to an encounter with God that changed the trajectory of those who approached, I find myself wondering if the bizarre consummation of Christians should accomplish the same thing.

I also wonder how often we, as Christians, choose to find ourselves outside the fire, looking from a great distance at those bushes that burn, but are not consumed.