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Upon the plank fence in my back yard, a solitary cardinal alighted, the morning sun brilliancing its redness. Motionless, it peered in my direction as if wanting to communicate. Breathing slowed—I waited, steeped within stillness. Such authority the cardinal manifested, such power it exuded. I was in the presence of what I knew not. 

Then it was gone. I had been visited and knew it in the marrow of my bones. Rather than resume my work in the kitchen, I savored this intrusion.

Immediately, the Eastern Orthodox icon of Christ Pantocrator, the All Powerful, came to mind, often depicted wearing a red tunic; His eyes often outlined in black. In his left hand, the jeweled book of the gospels; his right, raised in teaching or blessing.

This image, rendered in mosaics or frescoes or board paintings, still adorns domes, apses, and walls of ancient Eastern Orthodox churches; it afforded critical protection to worshipers huddled below in the naves, imploring deliverance from wars and pestilence and so much more—Such was the demonstrable power this icon exerted upon their imaginations.  

So has the cardinal/Christ Pantocrator something to tell us, today, given our diseased planet? I think so. Seems to me it’s about reopening the gospels, embracing its disciplines, and undergoing conversion of heart: essential for developing fresh authority to reanimate our social institutions and thrive. Such, alone, has power over the allure of darkness in any of its manifestations. 

So simple, it sounds, that many turn away—precisely the response Jesus experienced in first-century Palestine. But fortunately for us, a remnant did not. There are still some of them among us. Such have been my teachers…

It’s happening again – splotches of scarlet shrubs adding pizzazz to October’s jeweled tones slowly morphing into winter’s silence. But wait, slow down, stop and gaze into the next burning bush (Winged Euonymous or spindle tree) you pass. Note the reddish-purple fruit beneath finely toothed leaves, upon branches flaring with corky wings. Within a few days, note the red mantle encircling the bush.

Such a burning bush recalls the story of Moses as narrated in the book of Exodus. It was an ordinary morning when Moses led his father-in law’s sheep toward the wilderness area near Mount Horeb; an ordinary morning that would stun Moses to the core. In the distance, he noted a living shrub enlivened by flames. Terrified, he moved closer. From the heart of the bush resounded the words: “Moses! Moses! Take of your shoes. Come no nearer, for the place on which you stand is holy ground. I am the God of your father Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.” Moses covered his face, afraid to look at God.

More words followed from the burning bush: the revelation of God’s name empowering Moses to free the oppressed Israelites from the Pharaoh, and the strategies necessary for this daunting task. After Moses’s reluctant acceptance, the living shrub resumed its usual appearance, but he was changed. And we know the rest of the story.

As you move into your next ordinary morning, be on the lookout for a “burning bush.” It could change your life! Be not as the British Pre-Raphaelite Christina Rossetti described at the end of one of her poems: “the dull-witted eating blackberries seated around a burning bush!”

 

 

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