In praise of burning bushes – Part 4

Some months ago, I ordered a book, ‘Finding God’s Will for You’ (1998), by (St) Francis de Sales (1567-1622), Bishop of Geneva. He’s a favourite Saint of mine. For me, he’s best known for his wonderfully practical and compassionate advice to penitents with problems published in ‘Letters to Persons in the World’, which still has much to offer us. The new book was a disappointment. For one thing, it was an extract from his ‘Treatise on the Love of God’ which I already had. For another, the substance, with one exception I’ll mention anon, was not so much about finding God’s will but doing it. This is typical.

“Christian doctrine clearly proposes to us the truth God wills us to believe, the goods He wills us to hope for, the punishments He wills us to fear, the commandments He wills us to fulfil, the things He tells us to love, and the counsels He desires us to follow.” This leads St Francis to conclude, for example, that though God’s “good pleasure” is found in both marriage and virginity, the “indifferent heart” (holy indifference – doing something because it’s God’s will whatever the cost) chooses virginity because God actually prefers it! Oh well.

Note that St Francis roots his teaching not in the life of Jesus and the law of love, but in “Christian doctrine”, an understanding not from experience but from set positions formulated by the Church, which might just turn us all into programmed robots. The promptings of the Holy Spirit to you and me seemingly have no place. Dissent, even the dissent of Jesus to fixed rules and societal clichés, have no place. And that’s a very sad Christianity indeed. It’s one which has contrived to kill our imaginative, inspirational, sense, our creativity, our spontaneity. For so many, it’s a Christianity obsessional about sexual prohibition, which keeps us locked into ‘Yes Sir, sorry’. It’s locked us away from seeing the truth about ourselves, even our being interested in ourselves, and our intrinsic worth. It’s made us judgmental of everyone and everything, promoting only the littleness of life. It’s smothered our inner voice which tells us we’re loved. Well, so be it. It’s not for me. And if saying that upsets the self-styled ‘Apostles’ and ‘Evangelists’ – tough.

I’ve been suggesting that all of us, in our different ways, have ‘burning bush’ experiences, rooted in the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. These might, but probably won’t, take place in church. I must confess that when I celebrate Mass I often find myself suddenly overwhelmed by an emotion which cracks my voice and brings tears to my eyes. It doesn’t last long, but while it does I have to grit my teeth to keep going, But more of my ‘numinous’ moments have occurred in the world. It’s sad really. I suppose it’s because the Church has witnessed so many confessions of sin, there’s barely opportunity for our personal insights and inspirations which experientially declare the wonder and reality of the divine – the divine which ever speaks to the human race, to all its brothers and sisters who are mine and yours.

Here are some words of the Sufi poet, Rumi. “This being human is a guest house/ Every morning a new arrival/…Some momentary awareness comes/ As an unexpected visitor/…Treat each guest honourably.” Yes, the universe brings visitors daily – the joys and sorrows, the hopes and despairs. Our job is to know them for what they are, to be mindfully aware of them, to welcome them as best we can, to understand that they’re all necessary pieces in the wonderful jigsaws of our lives. And with Whitney, there’ll be moments in time when we’ll feel eternity, when we know we’re more than we ever thought we were. Moments in time, yes, but moments which wing us beyond time – for the divine is only ever a heartbeat away.

It may be a déjà vu moment, when something happens which we know has happened before. When and how did it happen, and under what circumstances? What weight do we give it? Was it a prompt, a warning?

Or it may be a song we hear which connects us with people, events, or special time periods in our lives. Last week, I was upstairs in Colonnade Mall drinking coffee. Suddenly I heard the music of the hymn ‘How Great Thou Art’. Without thinking, I began to sing: “Then sings my soul, my Saviour God to Thee…” I looked around to see where the music came from – and couldn’t locate it. Maybe it was the song of the burning bush.

Again, this week I suddenly had an urge to hear Miriam Makeba’s ‘Malaika’, ‘Angel’, “nakupenda Malaika…kidege hukawaza kidege”. I first heard it in the late ‘70s at a time when, through some Nigerian students, I first met Mama Africa. There’s no going back. It’s part of me. But the urge had been prompted. A few days previously, I’d met a girl in the coffee shop called – yes – Malika (sic). She told me she was a ‘destiny coach’, and had these words for me: “Your gift will make room for you. Diversify.” Well, I gift them to you too. Coffee shops are liminal places, don’t you know.

Go safely, then – until the next time.

Mindfulness from the boundary: “Only connect”
(E M Forster).

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