The Power of the Flame
Moses, so the biblical story goes, had a conversation with God as explained in the Book of Exodus (3:1-21). I've always found the reference to fire and the many and varied explinations most interesting. Some find it silly...the idea of a "burning bush" that speaks. Yet other find profound significance. It's even been suggested that Moses was under the influence of a hallucinatory drug! The concept has taken like in many forms:
- The current symbol of the Reformed Church of France is a burning bush with the Huguenot cross.
- The motto of the Church of Scotland is Nec tamen consumebatur - Latin for Yet it was not consumed, an allusion to the biblical description of the burning bush, and a stylised depiction of the burning bush is used as the Church's symbol.
- The Burning Bush is also used as the basis of the symbol of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, which uses the Latin motto Ardens sed virens, meaning Burning but flourishing, and is based on the biblical description of the burning bush. The same logo is used from the separated Free Presbyterian Church of Ulster.
- The burning bush is also the symbol of the Presbyterian Church in Canada, Presbyterian Church in Australia, Presbyterian Church in New Zealand, Presbyterian Church in Taiwan, Presbyterian Church in Singapore, Presbyterian Church of Brazil and the Presbyterian Church in Malaysia.
- The Burning Bush is the name of Far Eastern Bible College's theological journal.
The logo of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America is also an image of the Burning Bush with the phrase "and the bush was not consumed" in both English and in Hebrew.
The Strange, but Similar Experience of a Modern Day Mystic
But yesterday's Moses reminds me of more recent physician named Richard Maurice Bucke (18 March 1837 – 19 February 1902), often called Maurice Bucke. He was an important Canadian progressive psychiatrist in the late nineteenth century. An adventurer in his youth, he went on to study medicine, practice psychiatry in Ontario, and befriend a number of noted men of letters in Canada, the U.S., and England. In addition to writing and delivering professional papers, Bucke wrote three book-length studies: Man's Moral Nature, Walt Whitman, and – his best known work – Cosmic Consciousness, a classic in the modern study of mystical experience.
But what I find very interesting is Bucke's actual experience in "transcendence" and how it so closely matches that of Moses! Not to mention the amazing likeness to the "typical" image associated with Moses!
'My mind...was calm and peaceful. I was in a state of quiet, almost passive enjoyment, not actually thinking, but letting ideas, images and emotions flow themselves, as it were, through my mind. All at once...I found myself wrapped in a flame-colored cloud. For an instant I thought of fire...the next I knew the fire was within myself...there came upon me a sense of exultation, of immense joyousness... immediately followed by an intellectual illumination impossible to describe...I saw that the universe...is a living Presence; I became conscious in myself of eternal life. It was not a conviction that I would have eternal life, but a consciousness that I possessed eternal life then; I saw that all men are immortal...cosmic order is such...all things work together for the good of each and all..."
So, we find a man...engulfed in a flame...bestowed with profound wisdom, knowledge and a mission to make the world better.
Some called by words that are left unspoken.
But the flame of truth and transcendence is alive and well...and maybe that "burning bush" was so much more than a simple analogy. I find it most interesting that the feeling, simple visual and high artistic interpretations so frequently use fire as a central theme. Can you feel the heat?
Final thought--I wonder about how our own search for the mystical experience and that flame within is somehow sidetracked by the fire hose of ego.