I don’t know if he was making a joke or just thought I needed to lighten up. It’s hard to say with God. I just know that yesterday, before going to work, I was meditating on Exodus, Chapter 3, when I started laughing out loud.
I am painting leaves these days. I was meditating on the burning bush. Get it?
Yeah, I suppose something gets lost in translation, so I’ll back up a little and see if I can explain this in a way that makes sense. When I meditate on Scripture, I write, using a technique I picked up from a marvelous little book by a Norbertine priest named Francis Dorff called SIMPLY SOULSTIRRING: WRITING AS A MEDITATIVE PRACTICE. (Brief aside: the only thing I know about the Norbertines is that they were founded by St. Norbert in 1120 and that the rule — or guidelines — for the order were given to him in a vision by St. Augustine of Hippo.)
I was meditating on the burning bush as part of the online retreat I am making for Lent, an Ignatian Prayer Adventure. Between the demands of my job and the way in which the retreat is moving me to new places not only in terms of my prayer life, but also in terms of the way I see myself in relationship to God and his creation, I’m not moving through the meditations very quickly. I think I spent nearly five days on the Annunciation alone (parts of which I’ll share in another blog). When I sat down to meditate on the burning bush, I actually wrote in my journal, “I have been dawdling over Week One and feel that I must push on to Week Two.” Even though three separate sections of the passage spoke to me — which would usually indicate I would spend at least three days reflecting on this, spending one day with each section — my “goal” was to push through the passage in one sitting.
I’m sure you know this piece of folk wisdom: if you want to see God laugh, make plans of your own. That’s pretty much the way my meditation went. At first, I was making great progress. I reflected generally on what I believe to be my call at present: to be among those working for unity in the Catholic Church, a voice helping others to see that God desires a rich symphony of life in his Church; that he does not want divided camps with believers acting as though only those who share their interests are part of the “true” Church, but rather wants all of us to respond to the call he places in our hearts so that together we are addressing all of the needs that exist in our world today.
That went well. Then I continued by meditating on verse 3, which is what Moses said to himself when he saw burning bush: “I must go over and look at this remarkable sight.” I considered this in light of what I’m learning through Ignatian spirituality about God leading us with our desires. That, too, went well and was affirming.
Then, I wrote: “And isn’t the next part important, then, too? ‘Come no nearer! Remove the sandals from your feet, for the place you stand is holy ground’ (v.5). Stop! Recognize that where you are is magnificent, because you have come in response to my call. It’s a holy place. It’s where you said ‘yes!’ to the angel in the burning bush of your desire. Just stop, take off the shoes with which you journey and listen! Let me reveal what will come next. This is a turning point.”
Suddenly, I started laughing. In front of me was a small painting from my Simple Gifts series with which I was not fully satisfied. I tried painting a maple leaf, but it ended up looking more like a child’s rendition of a campfire. With that less than a yard from my nose, I could not miss the point God was making.
As the laughter lifted a burden of exhaustion and frustration that work had placed upon me, I realized that right here, right now in my daily life I was saying ‘yes’ to God. While I may be attached to the grand and glorious call to work for Church unity, he wants me to paint as an act of faith, as a blind act of trust in him. He wants me to believe he is up to something even if I cannot understand just what.
And he wants me to let painting soothe me when I come home emotionally bruised because the drama queens at work have concocted a story which casts me in the role of the wicked witch. He wants me to let painting comfort me as I carry to him my concerns about the people I encounter through my job — the man struggling with grief at the loss of his mother, the single mom who finds herself pregnant again just weeks after moving in with her latest boyfriend, the grandmother whose 3-year-old grandson is receiving chemotherapy for leukemia, the young man whose wife went out to buy cigarettes and didn’t come back.
He wants me to take off the shoes I wear as I go into the world and simply rest in the holy place that he has given me. Yes, he’s going to send me out again. But, before he does, he’s going to renew my spirit so that I can listen with his ears to the cries of those enslaved by life circumstances which are difficult for them to bear, so that I can carry his love into the world.
By embracing this, by recognizing the angel in the burning bush of my little leaves, I am saying ‘Yes!’ to God. Who would have guessed? And who knows what God will have for me when I continue to reflect on this passage from Exodus, since my plan to finish in one day didn’t quite go as anticipated?