Stay By the Fire

The God who makes himself known as flame wants to hold our gaze. /

Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, “Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?” then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “If you will, you can become all flame.” —Joseph of Panephysis 6–7

God appears as flame again and again in Scripture. God reveals God’s self to Moses in the burning bush, and then—centuries later, at the first Pentecost after Jesus’ death—the Holy Spirit comes upon the disciples as flame.

The rabbis note that it takes some time—five minutes, seven minutes, ten minutes—for a bush to burn, and that the miracle of the story of the burning bush is not the burning-but-not-consumed shrubbery. The miracle is that Moses paid attention long enough to notice that the shrubbery was not being consumed. Only after God saw that Moses had stood still long enough to notice the bush in its unconsuming fire did God call out to him. As Ellen F. Davis has put it, “Evidently it was Moses’ conscious resolve . . . to turn away from the task at hand”—tending his father-in-law’s flock—“and investigate ‘this great sight’ that prompts God to speak to him for the first time.” Attentiveness, apparently, was the key attribute God needed in his chief prophet, deliverer, and friend. God needed a prophet and friend who could stop and stay still and look with focus and concentration; God needed a prophet and friend who could really see. God could have called to Moses in the form of a fellow ...

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Also in this Issue

Issue 30 / September 3, 2015
  1. Editor’s Note

    Issue 30: Picturing plankton, the rarely told story of the first missionary to the Muslims, and the arresting burning bush. /

  2. The Drifters

    Plankton planet: Meet the creatures who make up 98 percent of the oceans’ biomass. /

  3. Before We Conquer, Have We Tried Love and Prayers?

    Remembering the first missionary to Muslims, 700 years after his death. /

  4. The New Creation

    ‘A choir of a thousand tongues / singing we’ll no longer toil.’ /

  5. Wonder on the Web

    Wonder on the Web Issue 30: Links to amazing stuff /

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