Rich Paxson

In the Discussion Forum for this module, discuss what James means when he says that the bush that burns but is not consumed is a perfect symbol for God who is not in rivalry with anything that is, not even death.

What follows is a meditation trying to make sense of the idea of a burning bush where at one and the same time “utter aliveness” is contained, but also overflows. James writes that Isaiah whose “atheist god who is not-one-of-the-gods” was the prophet who first understood the concepts underpinning the meaning of the burning bush.

The bush looked like it was burning, the one that caught Moses’s attention on that mountain, but it was not consumed. The bush burned and yet its green leaves remained alive and well. What was happening was something like the lighted, gas-log fireplace in my living room: burning logs that never collapse in a shower of sparks into a glowing pile of embers.

The bush is “… a perfect symbol for God who is not in rivalry with anything that is, not even death.” The bush simultaneously reveals the physical and metaphysical realities of which at all times the bush was composed and enlivened. Saint Augustine, in Chapter Three of his Confessions, wrote:

“Do the heavens and earth then contain Thee, since Thou fillest them? or dost Thou fill them and yet overflow, since they do not contain Thee? And whither, when the heaven and the earth are filled, pourest Thou forth the remainder of Thyself? or hast Thou no need that aught contain Thee, who containest all things, since what Thou fillest Thou fillest by containing it?”

Knowledge illumined by burning bushes precipitates paradigm shifts fraught with anguish-laden cognitive dissonance. Anguish connotes considerable loss, as well as connoting the concurrent birth of the immanence within. The unknowable (that is, not directly perceivable) utterly alive metaphysical reality infuses, but in no way opposes, the physical world. In fact the two realities, physical and metaphysical, complement one another.

Awareness of utter-aliveness infusing all that is, utter-aliveness never in opposition to what is, emerged as paradigm shift replacing the familiar, tacitly accepted image of a three-storied universe where one God reigned. The burning bush reveals that our physical present simultaneously contains, and is contained by, both human awareness and not directly perceivable utter aliveness.

What does the birth of this new way of knowing mean for individual persons? It takes time in individual lives for these facts and their correlate in physically aligned actions to appear fully. It takes time for egos to relax; to stop trying to tightly encompass perceived reality; but to discover they are freed from the fear of exploring the peripheries of their spans of attention. It takes time to discover the realms where burning bushes forever are seen coming to light.