Wild Lectionary: “Fire in the Earth: Burning but Flourishing”

imagesThirteenth Sunday after Pentecost
Proper 17 (22)

Exodus 3:1-15

By Rev. Matthew Syrdal

“There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it was not consumed… “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your shoes, for the place you are standing is holy ground.”

And we know, when Moses was told,
in the way he was told,
“Take off your shoes!” He grew pale from that simple

reminder of fire in the dusty earth.
He never recovered
his complicated way of loving again

and was free to love in the same way
he felt the fire licking at his heels loved him.
As if the lion earth could roar
and take him in one movement…
-all poetry excerpts from David Whyte, Fire in the Earth

As pastors and leaders, we spend much of our time tending to the ‘uncalled’ life of the flock. By the ‘uncalled’ life I mean the business-as-usual, relatively autonomous existence we often lead. Most of us typically experience no major intrusion to speak of, nothing disrupting or redefining our identity and role in our communities, yet also no appearance or message — no larger conversation with the Holy. In in this ‘uncalled’ state, for lack of a better word, it is not hard to imagine that no one really knows our name until we announce it, perhaps even that no one really requires much from us except we step forward to volunteer.

Like Israel enslaved in Egypt, our collective humanity is silently crying out unknown and uncalled. Perhaps there is something beneath this collective experience expressing itself now violently in the storm surges of racism, fear and terror. At times, it might seem as if the whole of western culture is enslaved in a cultural pathology — the City that Egypt represents in the Exodus narrative. The City, egocentric civilization, is almost by definition structured as a defense mechanism against the natural world and the threat it represents. In our times, Egypt is that which slashes and burns the old growth of a forgotten World, that which consumes the Earth’s resources with an insatiable appetite. We are largely, and mostly unconsciously, enculturated from early childhood with the incipient imperialism of Egypt. Moses, as a type, represents for us an awakening from the imperial dream, to something like the dreaming of the Deep World.

And we know, when Moses was told,
in the way he was told,
“Take off your shoes!” He grew pale from that simple

reminder of fire in the dusty earth.
He never recovered his complicated way of loving again

Poet David Whyte, in Fire in the Earth, captures the peculiar theophany of the Burning Bush story in its untamed depths. The mythos of this significant story doesn’t yet distinguish between, but rather transcends and includes, that which we moderns refer to as ‘natural’ revelation and ‘special’ revelation. From the fire in the earth we receive a summons, a warning, and a disclosure of a Reality from beyond the wilderness in the Deep World itself. The ‘angel of the Lord’ appears like a messenger in the flames of fire from within the bush. The strange surprise for us moderns is that God appears physically — in fire and earth. “The World is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out like shining from shook foil,” in the words of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The Christian mystics through the ages would understand the portent of this message without words, or anything resembling a ‘message,’ because the Incarnation reveals a messenger who is the message. Teihard de Chardin understood this implicate unity, or wholeness, of natural and special revelation, as the Cosmic Christ in his Self-revealing wholeness. A revelation of also our human destiny through the deep powers of the animate world itself, mirroring something of the divine Trinity, of the Deep World within the depths of our own souls — our true vocation!

Take off your shoes!

I wonder if the leader of the future Church will fit less into the paradigm of pastor or shepherd, and appear more like a strange guide leading the flock into the far side of the wilderness. One who has, herself, grown pale from that simple reminder of fire in the earth, and never recovered her complicated way of loving again.

Every step he took
from there was carefully placed.

St. Francis walked carefully, preaching the gospel even across species boundaries, knowing with an awakened rapture that the more-than-human world was caught up in the redemption and consummation of the cosmos itself. Each being was loved and beloved, a unique expression of the Face in the dust. Perhaps that is why he and his little band of brothers wore no shoes, journeying barefoot, vulnerable to the ground, tender to the touch of each life, falling into the heart of a wild and intelligent world full of meaning and song.

Everything he said mattered as if he knew
the constant witness of the ground
and remembered his own face in the dust
the moment before revelation.

“As deep calls to deep,” there is a constant witness, a mirroring between the ground and the memory of our own face in the dust. The Deep World wants to speak — in its own voice. The summons, warning, and disclosure of God’s commitment are all a part of our eco-awakening, and our vocation. The nature of our vocation is to listen to that voice at the heart of the World-Word. The Selfrevealing Mystery of God calls us by our true name. I suspect, the church in our age is being summoned to an “eco-awakening” much like the Awakening movements in the past, but this one will come from God-in-the-World, the Christ of Creation. Perhaps our understanding of Scripture will be illuminated and bound together again (re-ligare) in its original and implicate unity with what the Celtic Christian patriarchs and mystics called the Big Book of Nature.

Since then thousands have felt
the same immobile tongue with which he tried to speak.

Like the moment you too saw, for the first time,
your own house turned to ashes.
Everything consumed so the road could open again.

Your entire presence in your eyes
and the world turning slowly
into a single branch of flame.

Church of Lost Walls is a living expression of church seeking to journey beyond our walls into wild enchanting thresholds where nature, spirituality, and life meet in deep Conversation and sacred community for the cultivation of wholeness.

We are not normal church happening outside, we meet on a semi-frequent basis to participate in and partner with creation through learning, worship, meditation and prayer. Through nature-based practices that draw upon the wisdom of sacred narratives and older traditions, we seek to cultivate nature connection and personal wholeness to inspire and guide one another into a culturally creative vision of life within our expanding circles of community, culture, the wild earth, and the great mystery we call God.

WilderSoul offers experiential introductions to Seminary of the Wild, nature-based immersions designed to help Christian leaders encounter, explore, live and lead from our innate human wholeness, and to discover treasure hidden in the field of our own depths inviting you to greater service and joyful participation in the world.


Rev. Matthew Syrdal, is a PC(USA) pastor at Grace Presbyterian Church in Highlands Ranch, Colorado, founder and lead guide of WilderSoul and Church of Lost Walls. Matt is a speaker, artist and writer who has offered workshops around the country and retreats in the front range mountains of Colorado. Matt has studied ancient Rites of Christian Initiation, Celtic spirituality, world religions & mythology, ecojustice, and a trained nature-based human development guide through Animas Valley Institute. Matt has spent several years developing Celtic and indigenous Christian practices oriented towards nature-based wholeness, leadership and ecojustice through retreats, and group immersions, for the cultivation of greater  healing, vision and action.

Wild Lectionary is a weekly blog on ecological justice themes in scripture, curated by Laurel Dykstra, gathering priest of Salal + Cedar, Coast Salish Territory.

2 thoughts on “Wild Lectionary: “Fire in the Earth: Burning but Flourishing”

  1. Joshua

    I took them off.
    My feet, shrouded by socks, grew cold on the tile floor in the basement.
    I could feel how the socks’ stitching bothered the smallest toe on my left foot.
    I heard the birds, calling from their cages, to me.
    The clock continued to tick, mindlessly.
    I breathed deeply, in and out.
    I thought, How will I go into the rest of the world without shoes? I will lose my job: I am not wearing the proper foot-wear for health and safety’s sake in this place. I will not be able to enter any place that requires shoes, any businesses or grocery stores. I will be, forever, condemned to stand outside them, with those who also stand outside them, without money or any reason to be allowed to be in those places. I will have to send the shod to do the work and needs of the unshod. If I go without shoes, holiness attends me; if I am shod, I am, as Hopkins said, one of those: ‘nor can foot feel being shod’. Did Moses put his sandals back on after encountering God in that way? In Exodus, after that, Moses returns to Jethro.
    (R. Bachya ben Asher, quoted by John Parsons, writes that Moses removing his sandals is a sign that he must divest himself of the earthly for the sake of the spiritual, for the call to be a prophet. R. Samson Hirsch, however, said that, because the bush represented the ineffable attributes of God, the removal of shoes ‘meant that he must accept his place in the world and sanctify the ground upon which he is standing (i.e., malkhut). Encountering the Divine Presence implies reverently “backing away” from the inscrutable as something that surpasses you in every way, and then surrendering yourself to the place where you find yourself in the present moment…. Finally, some of the sages of the Talmud state that God instructed Moses to remove his shoes as an object lesson. Moses’ sandals insulated him from the thorns and rocks of the path of life, just as he had been insulated from the suffering of the Hebrews while he lived as a prince of Egypt. God wanted Moses to remember the pains that his people were experiencing back in Egypt while he was speaking with him. He wanted Moses to empathize with the Jewish people and to feel their suffering as if it were his own’ [http://www.hebrew4christians.com/Scripture/Parashah/Summaries/Shemot/Call_to_Moses/call_to_moses.html].)
    I have to put them back on.
    Well, I don’t have to, but it came down to cowardice and the reality that I needed to keep my job to feed my family.
    Would I still feel the sufferings of my brothers and sisters?
    Would the grandeur of God lose its charge in the world?
    Will I refuse to accept my place in the world?
    Will this ground be de-consecrated, unsanctified?
    (On Malkuth: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Malkuth.)
    I will surrender to the place I find myself in the present moment.
    God is here, too.
    My legs are growing colder.

  2. Pingback: Today’s thought “That my name might be proclaimed” (January 31) – Belgian Ecclesia Brussel – Leuven

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