Sunday in the Park 2012
Texts: Where Does the Temple Begin, Where Does It End? by Mary Oliver; Moses and the Burning Bush – Exodus 3:1-4
“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 God appeared to Moses in a flame of fire out of a bush; Moses 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 God saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to Moses out of the bush, ‘Moses, Moses!’ And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’”
Yesterday, I came to this park to see what I could see. I wasn’t looking for a burning bush. I simply wanted to quiet myself and take in the space where I knew we would worship this morning. I walked to this very spot and sat down. Amid the shades of greens and blues of the trees, I noticed first the fullness of the lone, white magnolia bloom in the magnolia tree just behind me. After several minutes of staring at the magnolia bloom, my eye caught a family of mushrooms peering up from the green grass, over there, just to the left of the magnolia tree. Even from a distance, I could see how tall and lovely they stood until a young runner came past several minutes later and decided to play kickball with them. Noticing her intent as she approach, I wanted to holler out, “No, don’t do that.” But in my hesitation, I was too late.
I sat for a bit longer, swatting at the gnat that kept circling my nose, before I got up, took off my sandals and soothed my feet in the velvety, plush grass that you are sitting on. I stood and listened as several birds, high in the trees, sang their evening song. I watched as a yellow butterfly made its way from one side of the amphitheater to the other then out of my sight. It was then that I noticed the tree to my left and how the winds of time have shaped it so that it leans slightly to the right and I wondered about all the creatures that call it home.
Seeking relief from the evening sun, I sought shade and a cool breeze underneath the oak tree to my right. Above me two squirrels busily added to their nest high among its branches, dropping pieces of dried leaves on my head. It was there that the gnat found me, again. As the sun began to set, I made my way back to my car along the path of fragrant rosemary and luscious lamb’s ear.
Mary Oliver writes, “I look; morning to night I am never done with looking. Looking I mean not just standing around, but standing around as though with your arms open.”
It had to be that on that day, when Moses was standing around on the mountain of God tending his flock, that he was standing with his arms open. How else could he have seen that burning bush? How else could he have noticed that the bush was on fire but was not consumed by the fire? How else could he have heard God’s voice? His arms had to be open. Mary Oliver says, “There are things you can’t reach. But you can reach out to them, and all day long.” It had to be that Moses was reaching out with arms open to that burning bush.
It’s really hard to take in God’s presence in this world with arms folded, held tightly against our chests. It is hard to hear God’s voice, to see that burning bush, when we are shut down, disconnected, and walled off from our world and each other. If anything, the spiritual life is about opening up – it is about open arms and open hearts and open minds. It is about hearing God’s voice in the morning song of a Carolina wren or the evening lullaby of the cicadas. It is about opening our arms and hearts to the wisdom that God lives in the lone, white magnolia bloom and in the air we breathe as surely as God lives in the beggar on the street corner and in the child who cries herself to sleep at night with an empty stomach.
We come to the park once a year, to worship and to open ourselves to the truth that God’s sanctuary does not have walls. We come to be reminded that all things are connected – all creatures great and small – the earth and all that is in it. We come here to look; but to look and stand around with our arms open to each other, to the beauty of God’s green earth, and to the holy presence of all that is God. Open your arms – go on – open your arms, reach out to what you see before you. Your burning bush may be near. If your arms are folded, tight to your chest, you might miss it. Look around with your arms open to each other – always looking for those ways that we can be family and community to one another and this earth that we call home.
There is a yoga pose called the fish pose. This pose is believed to not only expand the ribcage to give the lungs more room to breathe, but to open one’s heart to the spirit. In yoga the practice of opening the heart, or stretching the chest, eases respiration and relieves stress by unclogging the tension in our muscles that make up our core. To do the fish pose, you lie on your back (or sit in a chair) with your arms at your sides or stretched out to the sides, round your back and lean as far back on the crown of your head as is comfortable. In this pose, you open your heart and soul to the spirit.
I don’t do yoga these days. But I have learned that with or without yoga, the fish pose is necessary in order to live as God calls us to live – with open arms. It is my prayer that as individuals and as a community we will practice looking and standing around with arms open, and with open hearts and open minds. It is the only way we will see our burning bushes.