An Advent Paradox: Kindling a Fire That Never Dies Away

(Jesus said) I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!
Luke 12:49

 

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning from “Aurora Leigh”

 

It is difficult to undo our own damage…
It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind.
The very holy mountains are keeping mum.
We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it;
we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. 

~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk

 

 

 

I need to turn aside and look,
to see, as if for the first and last time,
the kindled fire that illuminates even the darkest day and never dies away.

We are invited, by no less than God Himself,
through the original burning bush that is never consumed
to shed our shoes, to walk barefoot and vulnerable,
and approach the bright and burning dawn,
even when it is the darkest midnight,
even when it is a babe in a manger who lights a fire in each one of us.

Only then, only then
can I say:
“Here I am! Consume me!”

 

 

 

 

Within our darkest night,
you kindle the fire
that never dies away,
that never dies away.
Within our darkest night,
you kindle the fire
that never dies away,
that never dies away.
~Taize

 

 

A Time to Take Off Your Shoes

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Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

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Yesterday, on a beautiful Sabbath evening, some fifty folks spent a few hours here on our farm for worship and potluck for this summer’s first of our Wiser Lake Chapel’s long-running “outdoor church” tradition at various farms in our county.   Over the many years we have hosted this wonderful gathering of our church body, we have met up on our farm’s hill pasture and also under the shade of our front yard walnut trees.  As lovely as it is to meet on the hill with so many vistas and views, there are many manure piles and mole hills lying in wait to sully the bare toes of our active church kids.

Indeed, our children are more apt than the grown ups to follow the instruction of the Lord when He told Moses:

Remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.

There have long been cultures where shoes are to be removed before touching the surface of the floor inside a residence or temple in an intentional act of leaving the dirt of the world at the door to preserve the sanctity and cleanliness of the inner life.

Yet we as Christians wear shoes into church every Sunday, having walked in muck and mire of one sort or another all week. We try our best to clean up for Sunday, but we track in the detritus of our lives when we come to sit in the pews. Rather than leave it at the door, it comes right in with us, not exactly hidden and sometimes downright stinky. That is when we are in obvious need for a good washing, shoes, feet, soul and all, and that is exactly why we  need to worship together as a church family in need of cleansing, whether indoors or outdoors.

Jesus Himself demonstrated our need for a wash-up on the last night of His life, soaking the dusty feet of His disciples.

And then there is what God said. He asked that holy ground be respected by the removal of our sandals. We must remove any barrier that prevents us from entering fully into His presence, whether it be our attitude, our stubbornness, our unbelief, or our constant centering on self rather than other.

No separation, even a thin layer of leather, is desirable when encountering God.

We trample roughshod over holy ground all the time, blind to where our feet land and the impact they leave behind. Perhaps by shedding the covering of our eyes, our minds, and our feet, we would see earth crammed with heaven and God on fire everywhere, in every common bush and in every common heart.

So we may see.
So we may listen.
So we may feast together.
So we remove our sandals so our bare feet may touch His holy ground.

 

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Thank you to Bette Vander Haak and Kerry Garrett for sharing their pictures of outdoor church on our farm.

 

 

Turn Aside and Look: Earth’s Crammed with Heaven

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The theme for this year’s Lenten series on Barnstorming is “Turn Aside and Look” — we are invited to stand, barefoot and awed, on holy ground as we prepare for the sacrifice of the Savior on our behalf, and His Resurrection.

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Now Moses was pasturing the flock of Jethro His father-in-law, the priest of Midian; and He led the flock to the west side of the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

And the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a blazing fire from the midst of a bush; and He looked, and behold, the bush was burning with fire, yet the bush was not consumed.

So Moses said, “I must turn aside now, and see this marvelous sight, why the bush is not burned up.”  When the Lord saw that he turned aside to look, God called to him from the midst of the bush, and said, “Moses, Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.”  Then God said, “Do not come near here; remove your sandals from your feet, for the place on which you are standing is holy ground.
~Exodus 3: 1-5

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Earth’s crammed with heaven,
and every common bush afire with God;
but only he who sees, takes off his shoes —
the rest sit around it and pluck blackberries.
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning from “Aurora Leigh”

 

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I need to turn aside and look,
to see, as if for the first and last time,
a Brightness that illuminates even the darkest day.

We are invited, by no less than God Himself,
to shed our shoes, to walk barefoot and vulnerable,
and approach the dawn, even when it is midnight.

Only then, only then
can we say:
“Here I am!”

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A February Blanket

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The day is ending,
The night is descending;
The marsh is frozen,
The river dead.

Through clouds like ashes
The red sun flashes
On village windows
That glimmer red.
–  Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “Afternoon in February”

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Under the giving snow
blossoms a daring spring.
~Terri Guillemets

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As if we need a reminder
that nature doesn’t check the calendar
and the weather does what it pleases when it pleases:

~a snow fell for hours yesterday
and we remain cloaked this morning~

we look more pristine than we are.

Underneath this fluffy blanket
we’re barely presentable,
sleep-deprived,
wrinkled and worn,
all mud and mildew.

But Spring will come
rising from the dust,
lit from an inner fire
that never burns out.

Through clouds like ashes
we turn aside to know God,
away from what was dying
to see His flash of life.

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photo by Nate Gibson

 

Preparing the Heart: Ignite the Burning Bush

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Then the Lord said to him, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.”
Exodus 3:5

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”
Exodus 20: 18-19

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It is difficult to undo our own damage, and to recall to our presence that which we have asked to leave. It is hard to desecrate a grove and change your mind. The very holy mountains are keeping mum. We doused the burning bush and cannot rekindle it; we are lighting matches in vain under every green tree. Did the wind use to cry and the hills sing forth praise?
~Annie Dillard from Teaching a Stone to Talk

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We have pushed God away, not wanting to see His fire, nor smell the smoke of His burning branches, nor feel the singe of our own eyelashes by His heat. In our fear and discomfort, we fail to listen to His voice coming from the fire. So we try to douse it by quenching our longing for Him.  We fear submitting to Him when we may be burned to a crisp.

Yet we live empty lives without Him. We cannot relight the smoldering bush ourselves; it is rekindled only by His ignition through His incarnation — God With Us invites us back to His mountain to remove our shoes on Holy Ground and face Him, trembling.

He asks that our feet and hearts be naked and vulnerable.

Only then can we can hear the wind cry and the hills sing forth praise — the  voice of God Himself is heard in the cry of an Infant.

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The Lit Bush

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I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the
pearl of great price, the one field that had
treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

~R.S. Thomas “A Bright Field”

 

Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God:
But only he who sees takes off his shoes.
~Elizabeth Barrett Browning

 

The barefoot movement is seeing a recent resurgence. There are people who believe it is healthier and more natural to walk about outside without foot coverings, despite increased risk of cuts and embedded thorns and frostbite in the winter. These feet are callous-crusted, leathery and perpetually grimy, arguably spread out wider with less toe deformities and bunion problems. The idea is to walk lightly on surfaces, with less impact, more sensitivity, vulnerability and authenticity, thus removing the barrier between the foot and nature.

In a somewhat opposing philosophy, there have long been cultures where shoes must be removed before touching the surface of the floor inside a residence or temple, in an overt act of leaving the dirt of the world at the door thereby preserving the sanctity and cleanliness of the inner life.

And then there is what God said. He asked Moses to respect holy ground by removing his sandals. Similarly, I must remove any barrier that prevents me from entering fully into His presence, whether it be my attitude, my stubbornness, my unbelief, my centering on self rather than other. No separation, even a thin layer of leather, is desirable when encountering God.

Instead I trample roughshod over holy ground all the time, blind to where my foot lands and the impact it has, hurrying on to a receding future, hankering after an imagined past. If I might shed the covering of my eyes, my mind, my feet, I would see earth crammed with heaven and God on fire everywhere, in every common bush and in every common heart. Even mine.

Burning and burning, never consuming, ever illuminating — a bright field of immeasurable treasure.

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Burning Bush Bounty

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Plump unpeck’d cherries,
Apricots, strawberries;—
All ripe together
In summer weather,—
Morns that pass by,
Fair eves that fly;
Currants and gooseberries,
Bright-fire-like barberries,
Sweet to tongue and sound to eye.
~Christina Rossetti
This spring the fruit ripens early,
reddening flames that leap up
from branches and leaves,
in some way ignited
like the burning bush
speaking to us
of holy ground.
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