Some of the earliest fall color to appear in East Texas is the sumac and the blackgum. The sumac is especially beautiful, since its leaves turn a peculiar shade of pale translucent green, vivid orange, and deep carmine—all on the same stalk or even the same compound leaf. The sumac clump looks aflame!
Whenever I consider such a sight, particularly as the year and the temperatures decline, I can’t help but wonder what I am really seeing. Is it only the chlorophyll changes that our science tells us? Yes, I know that the amazing chemical chlorophyll traps sunlight and water and carbon dioxide to make sugar and food for the sumac. I know that, in the autumn, as the days are cooler and shorter, the leaves stop this process and the green chlorophyll breaks down. I know that this causes the green color to fade, and the yellow and orange pigments (the carotenes and the xanthophyll pigments), previously masked by the green, begin to appear. I know that additional colors appear due to the development of the red anthocyanin pigments. But, again, is this what I am seeing?
The poets would say, “No.” Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Book 7 of her epic poem “Aurora Leigh,” sees something more,
Earth’s crammed with heaven
and every common bush afire with God
but only he who sees, takes off his shoes,
the rest sit round it and pluck blackberries.
I, for one, don’t want to sit around and pluck blackberries—or mindlessly fiddle with my cellphone—while the world is ablaze with God! But how do I learn to see the world in this way?
I have long been intrigued by the story of Moses and the Burning Bush (Exodus 3:1-6), when Moses sees “the Angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of the midst of a bush. He looked and, behold, the bush was not consumed.” The obvious question—so obvious that it is never asked—is this: “What changed?”
Did the bush change? Was it an “ordinary bush” that was manifesting the Angel of the Lord in a special and unique once-in-a-lifetime way? In other words, a singular miracle?
Or was Moses changed? Moses—like most of us, blind to the glories of God throughout his creation—had his blindness healed as scales fell from his eyes and he saw the world as it truly is: “Charged with the grandeur of God.” And seeing, he obeys God’s command to take off his sandals for he in standing on holy ground.
It is unlikely that I will have a Burning Bush experience like Moses’. I do not expect to receive such a grand and terrifying command from God, as did Moses. But if I could only see, if I could only see….what would I do?