“Moses was keeping the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian; he led his flock beyond the wilderness, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed. Then Moses said, ‘I must turn aside and look at this great sight, and see why the bush is not burned up.’ When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’”—Exodus 3:1-4
Why am I always surprised? I already had an idea for what I wanted to write today. It was fairly unfocused, but I expected it to come together because, usually, it does. BUT! While reading some articles this morning, I decided to subscribe to a site, and I was sent a past article, The Practice of Paying Attention, as a bonus. Well, that got my attention. I try to take these surprises seriously, so perhaps God has his own idea about what I should write.
Ruth Haley Barton, author of the article, is founder and director of the Transforming Center- a ministry of spiritual formation for ministers. She tells about a time when she was so overscheduled, she found herself literally running down the hall, talking on her cell phone to a sick daughter at home, “skirt flapping in the air” when she nearly mowed down another staff member. When she recovered she thought, “When the spiritual formation people are running through the hallway, talking on their cell phones, there is something seriously wrong with this picture.” It brought her up short. Her life was so out of control that she had no time for listening and paying attention, and she realized this was not a good thing. We have all been there or, certainly, I have.
In the story from Exodus, Moses has had several years of alone time with God while he tends the sheep. This has enabled him to notice that something unusual is happening in a burning bush that does not burn up so he decides to look more closely. A burning bush is spectacular and should be hard to miss, but it is possible. Moses didn’t have smart phones, TV, DVRs, Facebook, or a long commute, and he only had one job for which he was responsible. Probably that helped him focus. The time alone with God in solitude and silence has prepared him for this moment. God notices that Moses is turning aside to listen, and so God speaks.
What does this story tell me? God always tries to speak to us but we are not always paying attention. What if Moses had been so distracted that he missed the bush – missed what God wanted for him. Would God have found another to free the Israelites from slavery? Or not? How would that have changed history? What if I am too distracted to pay attention? Will I hear his instructions for me – instructions for service and ministry? Maybe the words would keep me from doing something that is the ministry of another. Maybe God wants to keep me from danger. Perhaps Jesus only wants to say, today, “I love you and there is nothing at all you can do about that.” That would be enough, but we need to take time alone with God and “Pay Attention.” Will I notice my burning bush? Will you? I pray so.