Third Sunday Lent 2013 Reflections Burning Bushes and Failing Fig Trees

Scripture readings for today's Mass are here.

It's all about burning bushes and failing fig trees.

My 2011 reflection on the Parable of the Fig Tree is here.

My 2011 reflection on Recognising God in The Burning Bush is here.

and here are a few of my thoughts on The Burning Bush earlier this week from here.

These are immensely rich readings so there is a huge spectrum of themes to choose from for reflection.
  • Various reflections on the Readings from St Louis Centre for Liturgy here.
  • A great reflection on the Scripture readings : God's Burning Bush v Our Barren Fig Tree from here.
  •  More on the burning bush from Fr. Richard Rohr here.


Moses encounter with the burning bush and the Gospel parable of the barren fig tree abound with meaning; they show the windows of opportunity we have to see God when we pay attention, the complacency we often have towards the tasks God entrusts us with, the finite nature of our lives, the contingency of life's disasters and distress, the apparent insouciance and blithe indifference displayed by God to our questions in the face of innocent suffering, (or maybe it is the necessary toppling of our towering egos !), the endless patience God shows us when we fail to prosper in truth and love, the knowledge that God's ideas of time may be different from ours: if an earth bound day to us is a thousand years to God, our chances to turn things round are not as limited as we may think.

Which of these two adages should we choose from : To bloom wherever we find ourselves planted or to plant only where we know we will bloom ?

It's not always clear which answer is the best and there is truth in both.  

What is indisputably true is that God is always ready to give us gifts, whether it be manna and water in the desert for the Hebrews way back then, or living water for the woman at the well, or the living bread and wine in the Eucharist for us here and now and always.

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I do not understand the mystery of grace -

only that it meets us where we are

and does not leave us where it found us.

Anne Lamott
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from “Seventh Book” of her epic poem Aurora Leigh (1856)
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Maybe you are searching among the branches, 
for what only appears in the roots

                                                                            James Tissot The Vine Dresser and The Fig Tree

Learn the lesson that if you are to do the work of a prophet
what you need is not a sceptre but a hoe.

Bernard of Clairvaux

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Sometimes the soil we find ourselves in is compacted, barren, sterile and arid. Our spiritual lives are dried up from scant water, or we live in the shadows without a decent source of light. For so many on this planet, it can be hard just to stay alive from day to day, let alone to grow and bear fruit.  

Some people live in a perpetual desert, not willing to see that the dead trees that seemingly occupy the ground and that are written off as a waste of space, are a place for God's nurture, care and patience to work and despite all the odds against it, the evidence is that in such conditions we can regrow.

If we could just loosen up a little in our endless and ultimately futile drive for human perfection. If we could free ourselves up, to see that the detritus from the scrapheaps of previous history, present and even future human failures, are all a necessary albeit slow fertiliser for growth in God's nurturing hands.

God gives us freedom to make mistakes and also rich food to nurture us and irrigate the inner landscapes of our life.

Sometimes we have to make the painful admission we are as dead trees occupying sacred ground. Sometimes we seem as if we truly are a waste of space, but God keeps gives us chances again and again, to grow and understand ourselves and others, to put aside snap judgements and let ourselves be nurtured.  

Time is given as a gift in Lent as a precious opportunity to examine the deep root causes of our sterility and then invites us to a maturity to recognise that the imperfections of our lives and others are always and everywhere hallowed ground that offer opportunities to reclaim as territories for new growth.

  "Gregory of Nyssa points out that Moses's vision of God began with the light, with the visible burning bush, the bush which was bright with fire and was not consumed; but afterwards, God spoke to him in a cloud. 

After the glory which could be seen with human eyes, he began to see the glory which is beyond and after light. 

The shadows are deepening all around us. 

Now is the time when we must begin to see our world and ourselves in a different way."

Madeleine L'Engle 

The Burning Bush
Norman Nicholson

When Moses, musing in the desert, found
The thorn bush spiking up from the hot ground,
And saw the branches on a sudden bear
The crackling yellow barberries of fire,

He searched his learning and imagination
For any logical, neat explanation,
And turned to go, but turned again and stayed
And faced the fire and knew it for his God.

I too have seen the briar alight like coal,
The love that burns, the flesh that’s ever whole,
And many times have turned and left it there,
Saying: “It’s prophecy–but metaphor.”

But stinging tongues like John the Baptist shout:
“That this is metaphor is no way out.
It’s dogma too, or you make God a liar;
The bush is still a bush, and fire is a fire.”

Norman Nicholson (1914—1987)
 British poet closely associated with the mining town of Millom on the edge of the Lake District. 


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Lord. help me to take off my shoes to recognise the sacred ground we all walk on, and the burning bush of your love that flames from others. 

Psalm 103. Bless The Lord My Soul : Taize Chant


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