"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." Exodus 3:2
I used to be afraid that if anything were too good it would have to end horribly. Friendships. Performances. Courses of study. Trips abroad. You name it. There is a technical term for this, friends, when we decide we'll imagine catastrophe for everything . . . it's called "catastrophizing." It happens in an instant and seems involuntary (I suspect it becomes involuntary over time, with practice).
Like so many habits, you can work on changing this one. I have.
Moses has helped me with this (and also a few hours with a good, knowledgable, professional counselor).
There's a lesson buried in this encounter with the Divine. Moses sees something about the essence of God as he takes of his shoes and comes closer to the spectacle of the burning bush. To commune with God is to experience a life set on fire, but not be consumed. We eventually come to a place where we understand that catastrophe is not synonymous with the absence of God. We know that God will be there with us, even so. God's love can shine even through our suffering. That doesn't mean we lose our fear . . . but we have something to hang onto when we experience it. We become less attached to the idea that fear can defeat us or keep us from our lives (again, I'm pretty sure that God introduced me to my helpful counselor and if you actually experience some kind of debilitating fear, I strongly suggest a good counselor for some assistance). We are willing, then, to experience our lives more fully.
Before I go further, let me assure you that I am not one of those people who thinks that God punishes people by inflicting harm or death or suffering. It's been my experience that we punish ourselves plenty enough. No. I grew up in a faith community that largely embraced the idea of free will, so when I talk about God's love shining through our suffering, I'm simply talking about God's presence with us regardless of our circumstances.
My family has recently suffered a keen loss and the months preceding this new loss were also filled with losses of their own. I am fully engaged in the process of grieving, friends. My family is immersed in their grief. And because of God's choice to live with us, I know that God has experienced grief, too. God is right here in the middle of my grief. My family's grief.
There's not one bit of our humanity that God has chosen to be blind to. God has no ignorance. God's love has no misunderstanding . . . no limitation. God is right here. So, my life can be ablaze and I can experience the full range of human emotion, and God will still be present. Not only will God be present, but God will understand.
Maybe grief has many layers because God understands what it takes for us to come to terms with our new reality. The love of God doesn't follow any of our rules, does it? It burns, but it won't destroy us. It refines, but it won't erase us.
Recently I was speaking with a friend about faith in God and they said something I've heard many times before (something I've thought, too) - they said, "It's hard for me to believe people when they say everything is good in their life because of the love of Jesus." Amen, friend. It's hard for me to believe them, too. It's hard for me to take somebody seriously when they tell me that something horrible has just happened, but they're ok because . . . Jesus. It's the "Sunday school answer." It seeks to say something, but says nothing at all. And I always suspect that underneath it is a desperate person who doesn't know what to do next and couldn't figure out what they really wanted to say.
Some stuff in my life is not good.
Some stuff in your life is not good.
We've thought, done, seen, and experienced things that aren't good. All of us. So, I'm not going to sit here and write to you about the goodness of grief or death or loss today. It's all very messy even if it's "peaceful." But I can't sit here and write about it without acknowledging the upside-down truth that Yes, God is here in the middle of this horrible mess and, Yes, God does shine God's own loving spirit through these experiences. I don't get the sense that God is doing this to prove some kind of point. I get the sense that God is doing this because God is in a relationship with us . . . or at least . . . God is extending the opportunity to us at all times, in all circumstances.
Plants take the power of the sun and turn it into energy - photosynthesis. I remember learning about that in school and walking around the backyard later that day, looking closely at leaves . . . disbelieving.
To this day, I find the idea of photosynthesis miraculous. Delicate leaves harness the power of a giant, fiery star, and this whole process gives us the color green. When I look through a leaf and see the sun in its veins I'm a child all over again, hardly believing it could be true. The natural world has always been on fire with the love of God. It's everywhere if we choose to see it. If we slow down enough to pay attention.
God shines through the delicate prism of this human life . . . and God's love becomes energy. God's love reveals a greater depth of human emotion. God's love reveals a resonant sense of permission to be expressive and to be immersed in our human surroundings. God is converting this whole experience into a powerful force of good, if we'll receive it. That doesn't mean that every part of our human experience is good all on its own. My, my that would explain away so many things, wouldn't it? Burning, but not burned up, we find ourselves reconciled to our human lives and their challenges because we have this force of goodness coming from us and coming toward us all at once. It's too much. It's too beautiful.
So . . . I'm a mourner this Advent season. I'm one of many all over the world. Maybe you are, too. My grief isn't gone because of the love of God. But with God's steadfast presence, I am living into the experience of my grief with a deeper sense of awareness and acceptance than I would on my own. I know the difference because I've tried it my way before. And, who knows? I might try it my way again someday. I'm human. So are you. God can handle that better than any human companion we've ever had.
"though the bush was on fire it did not burn up."
You know what happens next in that story? Moses gets curious and decides he'd like to get a little closer.