Print Version July 13th, 2005
Where should we look for our own epiphanies? Should we wander the far side of the wilderness waiting for a bush to burn for us? Should we shun learning and cleverness and strain to be mere children ripe for revelation?
Elizabeth Barrett Browning sees God hidden in plain sight under every interested nose:
Earth’s crammed with Heaven—she says—
and every common bush
afire with God.
And only he who sees
takes off his shoes
The rest sit round it
and pluck blackberries.
Only he who sees takes off his shoes. Is that the secret? Is every common bush afire with God and only our blindness dousing the flame?
Poets wonder about such things:
I have seen the sun break through—says R. S. Thomas—
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realise now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying
on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, …
I think Thomas has the better of it—it’s not just seeing that makes the difference but the turning aside, a certain stopping, standing in the present, a willingness to be here where God has been waiting forever for us.
I knew nothing about St. Henry before today but I’ve rather fallen for him. He was Holy Roman Emperor at the birth of a new millennium—kind of George Bush on steroids—but he wanted to abdicate and be a monk instead. The Abbot of Verdun wouldn’t have him, so he had to stay on as ruler of the world. And that’s where he had his epiphany, like Moses, just doing his day job guarding the goats.
Someone has to pluck the blackberries. Moses wasn’t looking for spirituality: he was a murderer on the run, hiding out on the far edge of nowhere. It was only his curiosity that got the better of him. And his unwanted epiphany sent him back to the world he’d run from. It took an unburning burning bush to catch Moses’ eye—but that’s just God on holiday—God’s day job, where God really lives and breathes from day to day, is in the politics of a people crying for freedom.