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It’s happened again outside my study window: November’s sunshine revealed the initial stripping of my lilac bush, its mottled leaves aproning its base. Yesterday’s gloom had shrouded its lopsided girth, its leaves still holding on like disgruntled dowagers still plucking their eyebrows. Only nail-hard buds tip each branch, with promise of new greening. 

Like the leaves on my lilac bush, I’m being hurtled toward winter, with its with browns, grays, and blacks supplanting autumn’s riotous display of reds and golds. Less daylight, like a vintage camera, will snap short the bug-eaten colors in spent gardens.

As days pass, the cold will tighten its icy tourniquet around flailing energies, shiver steps of dog-walkers, and coat trees and shrubs with filigree caverns and glistening angles. 

More darkness, stealthy as a thief, will snuff out the waning light and plunge us within an electrified world, its artificiality short-changing our perceptions of things.

But there’s a mysterious richness in darkness—an invitation to listen to its silence and be still within the present moment. Like a downy comforter, let it open your imagination, cell by cell, to its cheery warmth, to unseen realms filled with fresh color—they are there.

In the interim, though, my lilac bush will continue dropping its leaves to the bleached grasses below, giving even more prominence to its buds; unlike them, though, I wait for a different kind of spring where the colors never fade—It could take longer than five months.

It’s happening again—splotches of scarlet shrubs adding zest to November’s lethargy, slowly morphing into winter’s stillness. But do stop at the next burning bush or spindle tree that you pass. Note the reddest purple fruit beneath finely toothed leaves, no longer green, upon branches flaring with corky wings. After a few days, note the red mantle encircling the bush.

Such a burning bush recalls the ancient story of Moses as narrated in the Hebrew book of Exodus. It was an ordinary day when Moses set out with the sheep of his father-in law, Jethro, and headed toward the wilderness near Mount Horeb—an ordinary day 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 Egypt’s Pharaoh, and the strategies necessary for this daunting task. With Moses’s reluctant acceptance, the living shrub became ordinary again, but he was changed. And we know the rest of the story.

As you move into your next ordinary day, 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.

A sugar maple flames above me. Slippery winds nudge a single leaf from its mooring:

Like a gymnast, it flips, sworls, twists, down, down, down. Then cartwheels upon glistening brick walk until flattened. Musk steams from the landing.

Prostrate, the leaf opens to the inevitable: Its ocher stem dried like a useless umbilical cord; hairy veins, empty of nutrients. Stillness gawks at the sacrifice.

Yet such decay rejuvenates the cycle. Again, spring’s leafing will flicker beneath sun-drenched skies.

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