Fig Tree and Burning Bush – By Sr. Brenda Pedddigrew, RSM

Theological Reflection – Sunday March 3, 2013

Sr. Brenda Peddigrew, RSM is a Sister of Mercy of NL. Her ministries have included teaching high school, vocation and initial formation work, pastoral counselling, and adult faith education for the Archdiocese of St. John’s, NL. Her Ph.D. (2003) is in Transformative Learning from the California Institute of Integral Studies, (CIIS) with her doctoral thesis entitled “Original Fire: the Hidden Heart of Religious Women” being read in book form in many countries. Besides “Original Fire”‘ she is the author of three books of transformative poetry: When the Bones Find Their Singing Place; SoulWinds: poems of transformation; and Quicksilver of the Heart, and a book of essays about experiences in nature, called Finding the Line. Between travels, Sr. Brenda lives in a forest on a river and receives most of her contemplative insight in wild nature and in organic gardening.

If the fruit of the fig tree is figs, then what is the fruit that we, publicly proclaimed followers of Jesus, are meant to bear? And if we are not bearing that fruit, are we cursed by the very one we follow and love? For the image of the fig tree in today’s readings is one of the illustrations that Jesus uses as teaching parables, and his vehemence is a frightening prospect indeed.

Where do we look for answers to such questions except to the encounter that is also included here, Moses’ startling bush, burning but not consumed? At first, these stories are full of glaring contradictions and frightening intensities, perfect stories to evoke the “not meant for me” response.  And yet they are meant for us. They tell us something of the very essence of commitment, and these readings offer – no, confront us – with the necessity to find a way to stand still until we find an inner presence that resonates in response to these perennial realities.

It is tempting to say that Jesus’ words are not meant for us. Aren’t we living a vowed religious life? Haven’t we produced lots of fruit? And now, aren’t we continuing as best we can, KAIROS being only one of the “fruits” of our work for justice? But only each one of us, in that “point vierge” (Thomas Merton) of our own souls, can actually say yes or no to the question of bearing fruit, for “fruit” is not only manifest in our work in the world. “Bearing fruit” is as much about prayer, heart-opening, and seventy-times-seven forgiveness as it is about changing the outer world. Jesus brooked no argument about his purpose and it was all about and only about a God of love. In her latest book, The Emergent Christ, Ilia Delio OSF summarizes what it means to be Catholic:


                    The message of Jesus can be summed up in several key ideas:

                     make wholes where there are divisions;

                     forget the past and go forward;

                     allow the Spirit to work in you to create a new future;

                     do these things because God seeks a new presence in the cosmos,

                     a new unity in love, peace and justice.

                     The whole gospel message is based on the advent of a new life. (p.10)


This message, taken to contemplation, is startling and confrontative. If we take it to heart, it is as startling as Moses’ burning bush must have been. Each person has a burning bush in our own hearts; it is where God waits to catch our attention, every day. In our times we have more ways to avoid that burning bush than anyone before us: more distractions,  busyness, technology, urgencies and demands of all kinds. Forty years ago, Thomas Merton startlingly stated that an intensity of “busyness contributes to the growing violence in the world.” Can you see how that might be true? I know that pressured busyness contributes to my own small violences, my impatience,  which always leads to dismissing the importance of others’ needs; and thinking that what I’m doing is more important than what others are doing (though I don’t admit that, even to myself.)  And yet the burning bush awaits us in our own hearts, does not go away, continues to invite and wait. When did you last remove your shoes?

During the last few decades a new/old consciousness has been emerging. It is the valuing and practice of contemplation, and of the mystical fire that is God within each of us and making us all one. It is actually recognizing that each person’s soul is a burning bush. Not only are vowed religious recovering and re-entering the ancient traditions that have always been at the heart of humankind, but people everywhere, of all traditions, are turning towards this universal inner experience. The call for a “new interiority” is growing daily. Facing the crumbling reality of short-sighted government, financial and religious institutions, people everywhere are reclaiming their inner integrity through contemplative practice. We are sometimes called “the people between,” the ones who witness the crumbling and hold a faithful, communal, contemplative presence for the new to emerge. Some would say we will not see it, but I believe we are already seeing it. In a recently published collection of papers  called Contemplation Nation: How Ancient Practices Are Changing the Way We Live (papers from The State of Contemplative Practice in America), the Fetzer Institute offers a unique picture of the growing widespread use of contemplation throughout workplaces, schools, retreat centers and homes in the United States.

“The way in is the way out” as storyteller-source John Shea says so simply. Perhaps the fig tree had lost its inner capacity to produce, for fruit production begins inside. Really, I’ve no idea why Jesus cursed it, except to offer a teaching of some kind, as he was wont to do. But I am certain of this: a burning bush smolders inside every person born. It is where we come face-to-face with God, holding conversations, receiving life-direction and sometimes resisting with all manner of excuses as to why we can’t do what God is asking.  It is from that frequent encounter and only from there that we go forth to change the world, in small ways or big ways – it doesn’t matter to God. Only from that inner encounter can change come about…otherwise we flare and burn out, like fireflies for three weeks in June.

“Faithful Action for Justice” is what defines KAIROS. Contemplative Practice is the plumb line that keeps us faithful, humble and realistic about our work in the world, or – as another visionary once put it: “I am just the secretary; the Author is in heaven.” (William Blake)



 Bush, Mirabai, Ed. (2011) Contemplation Nation: How Ancient Practices Are Changing the Way We Live (Kalamazoo, MI: Fetzer Institute)


Deignan, Kathleen(2007) Thomas Merton: A Book of Hours (Notre Dame, IN: Sorin Books)


Montaldo, Jonathan(2008) Thomas Merton: Choosing to Love the World (On Contemplation (Boulder, CO: Sounds True)

Filed in: Spirited Reflections


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