April 6, 2008
Baptized with the Spirit of Fire
Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the desert and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.
There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up.
So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”
When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”
And Moses said, “Here I am.”
"Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Have you ever noticed the light that undergirds all living things? There's a translucence, a buoyant flow of light running beneath the skin of nature. It isn't glory, not divine glory; it is the shadow of it, the breath of it, the pulse.
I am gazing at the oak tree outside the library window. It is plain to see--its branches and buds cobwebbing the blue sky behind. Yet there is something not plain, too. I am only fifteen feet or so from the base of the trunk; as I look the tree is swaying slightly in the breeze, making the chimes ring. It is so solid there, planted firmly, roots digging determinedly into the earth. Yet as I gaze, it seems to ripple, almost as if its metaphysical insides were molten light. It is the Holy Spirit, I think. How else can life exist except at the good pleasure of God?
I love the verse in Genesis that explains, "Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters." The movement of the Spirit here is one in which great power (capable of terrifying) hovers with tender love. I once heard it described as "brooding" the way a mother hen broods over her eggs. A lovely homely thought (using the word as Julian of Norwich might). This is the power of which I speak. This mystery that undergirds our lives, bringing forth blessings with each season.
The other night in bed I was thinking about this, and suddenly I thought about Moses and the burning bush. He had traveled across the desert, a lonely wilderness experience I would guess. And then he sees something. How to explain it? It seems that he sees a bush on fire, yet it does not burn. How can this be? When he investigates, he hears the voice of God calling his name.
Then God told Moses, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” I have always been awed by this, and perhaps this is as it should be. This, this vision of life, is sacred. To see the flames in the bush, to recognize the light that illuminates and yet does not consume--this is a holy way of seeing. He who has eyes to see, let him see.
It is a sacred vision of life. Awe and wonder and the sublime. To take off our sandals in the presence of the holy is not only to show respect and submission. It also brings us into closer communion with God. Moses took off his sandals, coming into intimate contact with God's beloved earth. His feet, once formed of dust, now digging into this dust--a reminder of our indelible link to all of God's creation.
"John answered them all, 'I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.'"(Luke 3:16) And then John 3:5 'Jesus answered, "I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit.'"
For us, so distant from Moses in time, the indwelling Holy Spirit brings God's gifts within us; the potentiality is present for us to see the holy fire that does not consume. When I pray I lift my spirit into the presence of God, I bow or kneel or prostrate my spirit, wanting to be near Him. I want transformation so that I will see as God sees, because then wonder will be irresistible. I will look at a field of wheat or a leafless oak or the canyon at dusk and see. I will see a shadow of divine glory as it falls across my face, divine glory shadowed in fire.