Can You Trust a Burning Bush?

How do we know what path in life to take? When the road splits, which fork do we take and why? The story of Moses provides some insights that still have relevance for us today. As the tory goes in the book of Exodus in the Hebrew scriptures...One day Moses is tending some sheep when he notices a bush on fire. Oddly, the fire rages without burning up the bush. From the bush comes a Voice claiming to be God, and The Voice commands Moses to lead the Israelites out of Egypt.

Moses balks at his assignment. "They'll never believe me. They'll think I'm making up the whole thing."

The Voice gives Moses some street cred and tells him to:

  • Throw his staff on the ground. It becomes a snake. When Moses grabs it by the tail, the snake becomes a staff again.
  • Put his hand in his cloak and take it out again. Moses does and his hand is riddled with leprosy. Moses puts his hand in the cloak again and pulls it back out. His hand returns to normal.
  • Be ready for Plan C. If people don't believe him, Moses is instructed to go to the Nile, put some water in a container, and then pour it out on dry ground. It will become blood.

Of course, in Cecile B. DeMille's cinematic telling, The Ten Commandments, Pharaoh's court magicians perform similar feats to diminish Moses' credibility. (To me, the greater stretch of credibility is actor Edward G. Robinson as an Israelite naysayer with a New York gangster accent..."Where's your Messiah now?")

So what's the point of all this? On one level, we have the promise of divine accompaniment for our journeys.

From another angle, I see clues in Moses' story that help with discerning a path in life. This is particularly helpful since most of us don't encounter burning bushes housing divine oracles. The story has three symbols which we can look for as we discern whether or not to take a particular path:

  • The Staff/Snake - Consciousness. In many traditions, the snake is not evil but rather represents the life force energy spiraling up the human spine. When Moses grabs the snake by the tail, it becomes a rigid staff again that can hold him upright. Our life energies can be salutary or venomous. The difference is in how we take hold of them, that is, how conscious we are of how we hold our thoughts and emotions (or how they hold us). We can transform venom into blessing by cultivating our conscious attention. Does this direction I'm heading grow my awareness of That Which is Aware of my thoughts, feelings and actions, yet is beyond them all? Am I becoming more aware of That Which is Aware? Am I waking up to the Sacred all around and within me? 
  • The Leprous Hand - Wholeness. Lepers are outcasts. Yet that which is cast out drains energy and prevents wholeness. Whether the outcast is a person on the fringe of society or a part of our inner life shunned to the fringes of the psyche, wholeness requires integration. Does this direction bring greater wholeness to my own being and to my community?
  • Water/Blood - Solidarity with Humanity. Hummus, human, humble are all from the same root etymology, meaning earthy. Our spiritual awakening does not preclude being down to earth. In fact, earthiness is required. As long as we are in this body, water and blood are the two essential fluids for our survival. We thirst. We bleed. We are human. Compassion is when our common thirst leads us to act in service of others, especially when that requires some sacrifice, some blood. A genuine spiritual path with have a concern beyond itself for the common good. Does this path I'm on keep me humble, that is, am I in touch with my own humanity and in service to humanity? How am I being poured out of the common good? 

A credible, life-giving path will promote awareness, consciousness, wholeness, humility, and service to humanity. Yet, even when we know a path is right for us, we resist, make excuses and procrastinate. Even with these signs, Moses still refuses to go. "God, send someone else. I'm a lousy public speaker."

God is done haggling. "Moses, enough! Take your brother Aaron with you. He has the gift of gab and will speak for you. Now get moving!"

Every authentic path is scary, exciting, and requires that first step, which is a leap of faith. That's when the miracles start happening.