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Yet It Was Not Consumed

Based on Exodus 3:1-15

“Grace strikes us when we are in great pain and restlessness. It strikes us when we

walk through the dark valley of a meaningless and empty life...Sometimes at that moment a wave of light breaks into our darkness, and it is as though a voice were saying: ‘You are accepted.’” ~Paul Tillich

The sand was dusty and hot as he watched his sheep hustle from mouthful to mouthful. The breeze died for a moment and he could hear the click and whir of insects rising around him like heat waves. This was the desert. A place of consumption.

Here life got by.

One of the ewes stopped abruptly, bleating insistently to a strayed lamb. Behind her, sheep bumped and jolted irritably. One, frustrated by the inconvenience, lowered her head and butted the interrupter-of-grazing.

Here one could not pause in the pursuit of survival.

He walked steadily, impelling both interrupter and interrupted to resume the work of living in this inhospitable place. Eat, walk, eat, walk, eat, walk. Drink. He passed an abandoned well—dry since he had been a babe in arms, playing in far-away reeds along a fertile but hostile river. There was a jaw bone, stripped of flesh, teeth still stuck fast. Probably the sheep that had gone missing the month before. He scanned the horizon for signs of danger: human or animal. The same hot, brown, rocky desert stretched to the dome of the blue sky in every direction. The hot smell of resin and dust made him thirsty. He tapped his staff on the rocky path, urging his flock onward. If they were to get to water before dark, they would have to keep moving.

Here the margin was small.

A blush-grey dove shuffled under a bush. It chortled out its call. The Laughing Dove. A scratcher-out-of-life with a sense of humor. An answer came. The same hiccuping call but with a longer sigh at the end. A laughing bird in a place of sorrow: a place where dreams come to die. He had once lived in comfort. He eyes had not always been lined by glare.

Another scan. Unbroken desert. Nothing to alarm a sheep or a shepherd. He moved onward in his unbroken foraging circuit. Squinting and exhausted, he almost missed it. A flash of color. He had to turn fully around to see. A streak of red, tipped in orange. A dancing, swirling, dance of flame. A bush was on fire. He paused to sense the wind; to feel where the fire would spread. Fires were common in this arid place and his flock and his family had to be wary to stay out of its devastating reach. But this fire wasn’t spreading. This fire wasn’t even smoking. The branches didn’t blacken and curl. The greyish green leaves danced in the rising breeze, waving tendrils of fire, like a woman dancing in the light of the sunset. The bush burned, yet it was not consumed.

The bush burned, yet it was not consumed.

How many times have I felt consumed by life, parenthood, ministry, and sorrow? How many times have I wondered if there would be any of me left after the scorching weariness of never-ending tasks? How often have I sought to douse the fire, afraid of what it might strip from me?

Jesus said, “My burden is light.”

But my burden feels heavy. This life feels heavy.

He stopped. His sheep tightened into a worried bundle, unsure what this sudden pause meant. He gazed at the bush. There was the heat of the flame, pressing on his face. There was the twisting, the waving, the torment of the blaze, but there was no sound save the breeze and the laughing of the birds. These branches did not crackle. This sap did not pop.

Grace is as absurd as an unconsuming fire. It is that which give us the desire to know God. It is the curl of energy within curiosity. Grace is that which emanates from the Divine that gives us the courage to risk living while knowing that life is hard. Grace is not living without fire or struggle or fear. Paul Tillich says in The Courage to Be, “One cannot command the courage to be and one cannot gain it by obeying a command. Religiously speaking it is a matter of grace.”

The bush spoke.

This ground is holy. I know your suffering. Go, release the captives.

The man was afraid. The man was afraid of being consumed. The man was afraid that he would not be offered the same grace as the bush. He was afraid that the-one-who-calls would leave him curled and blackened—reduced to ash and steam. I am afraid. If grace is being unconsumed, why do I feel so consumed? What is grace when I fail to be?

“Who it is who sends me? Who are you?” the man asks.

“I AM who I AM.”

Am, is, are, was, were, be, being, been.

He is asked by being itself to have the courage to be. He is asked by Being to pause and consider what could not possibly be: an unburning-burning bush and freedom for the enslaved. In the face of a world that consumes without pause or apology, we are asked to take up the burden of the Christ, the burden of loving a broken world. The burden of being loved as a broken person. Because, when I fail to be, when I am consumed, grace is not denied—grace is not frustrated. When we fail to be, we call grace into being. In our inability to be, we enable grace to be. When we accept that we are loved in spite of that which we lack, we become like Christ crucified: broken, bleeding, defeated...and loved.

In fact beloved.

And this, it seems, is a matter of grace.

About the Author

Andrea and her husband, Luke, live in the North Carolina mountains with their children. She is passionate about creating space for creativity and imagination. She is less passionate about the ensuing mess. She homeschools her children, and seems to always be contemplating having a really good garden. Andrea has a Bachelor’s of Arts Degree in Music from Furman

University and a Bachelor’s of Science Degree in Nursing from Duke University. She writes for the Missional Wisdom Foundation where she is a staff writer, lay-theologian, and editor and, occasionally, on her blog at www.andrealingle.com. Her first book is, Credulous: A Journey Through Life, Faith, and the Bulletin.

#grace #contemplative #PaulTillich