No, this time its not gaelic but some Latin for you. Although, if you’re Scottish, this phrase might be familiar to you. Its the ‘motto’ of the Church of Scotland and it means ‘And it was not consumed.’ It us usually accompanied by the cross of St Andrew and a burning bush.
My personal journey in the recent five years or so has been a firm descent into the darkness of my own experience: the hurts, pains, rejections and the things that has produced. It has been a path which has sucked me in as the seemingly only path to go down and there has been long darkness. Dealing there with childhood rejections, spiritual and emotional abuses, and their effects. All along, there has been the necessity, as much as humanly possible, to remain ‘on the surface’ for all the reasons that one needs to remain afloat for.
We’re not good at ‘dark nights of the soul’ in the Western cultures we live in. Especially in Christian cultures, we have developed strategies for avoidance and ‘coping’ instead of deeper soul work. So, like Moses running from his murderous and fearful past, I’ve been in the desert for some time. Not, however, spiritually dry…sometimes suffering, but not overcome because God is a specialist at meeting us in the desert.
When everything else is stripping away, the things that we use to bolster our image, ego or public face, it is God who issues the command ‘take of your shoes.’ Notice that God utters these words in the depth of the wilderness, both physically and spiritually, for Moses.
Moses sees the bush aflame but realises it is not consumed. It is not burning up, it is holding the presence of holy fire within as the messenger of the Lord speaks from it. I don’t know if you’re faith requires a physical fire to burn in that physical bush, but a vision of Moses recorded for us has just the same amount of truth and message.
My question is this: did Moses ever look at a tree in the same way again? Did he ever lose the ability to see the fire?
As the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning once said:
“Earth’s crammed with heaven, And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes;
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”
As I took the opportunity to ‘draw a line in the sand’ of my desert in my summer retreat, it was on my 8 hour day of initiation in the ‘wild’ that God invited me to take of my shoes (and more!). For the first time in my life my mind stopped whirring and stirring, fretting and aching as the amazing beauty and incredibly creativity of that Highland Glen spoke volumes about my place in the world. For the first time ever I was still and just ‘was’. For several hours. After 18 years of Jesus following, or to be more accurate, as a professional religionist, I understood and I saw the everyday surroundings afire with the Holy.
As for Moses, Jesus and for many others, it was in the desert that the clamour of my own mind was subdued enough to let my soul speak out, and speak out it did. It danced and sang and cried and laughed and rejoiced and stood tall like never before. That is the most freeing thing. My current exercise is to work in such a way to enable that freedom its expression: the true task of every human being in God.
Coincidentally, the motto of the ‘Clan Clark’ just happens to be Nec Tamen Consumebatur. How great is that?!