Now let us return to the Burning Bush. ‘Tell me thy name.’ ‘O Love, thou who wast long ago, in this moment of history, and who art now, in this instant of my personal life, explain thyself to me by means of this sign, reveal to me what is the true meaning of the vision of Horeb.’
To Moses’s question the Lord now makes a reply: ‘I am Yaveh.’ But what is the relationship between this answer ‘I am’ and the Burning Bush? The exact meaning of the word ‘Yaveh’ has been, and still remains, the subject of different interpretations. ‘I am Yaveh’ can mean ‘I am he who is’, or ‘I am what I am’, or alternatively ‘I am now the one who I shall be’, or ‘I am that which I wish to be’. But all these interpretations have a common basis. All relate to the idea of being, and of the Divine Being.
And since this definition of the being of God was given on Horeb, in the context of the Burning Bush, the biblical text establishes a certain relationship between the vision of the Bush and the revelation of the name of the Lord. An historian, a strict biblical scholar, might perhaps contest this interpretation. But I claim the right to maintain it on the spiritual plane. Thus the conjunction of the vision and the revelation of the divine name conveys the following message: ‘You ask what my name is. I am Being. I am the Being whom you see in being at this very moment. Look before you. You see the Bush that burns without being consumed. You see fire. The Being I am is a Being of fire. These flames proclaim my love. But look more carefully. My fire does not destroy. That which it burns it purifies and transforms into itself, makes part of itself. And my flame has no need to be fed. It imparts itself, gives itself. I am the Gift that never ceases to give itself. I am that which you have seen me to be on Horeb. My being, my essence (in that I am Yaveh) merges with my love. But the love I now reveal to you, under the symbol of the Burning Bush, is my love insofar as it never ceases to love and to burn, insofar as no limits circumscribe it or stop it. Together the Burning Bush and the name of Yaveh signify my inexhaustible bounty. I am Limitless Love.’
Limitless Love... These words which I have just spoken are what I want to make the very heart of this retreat. Of course we already know God as Love. But I would now like to consider with you more closely the special significance of ‘God-Love’ as Limitless Love.
The Love that gushes forth from God is limitless in time. It is eternal because the Lord Love is eternal. The Lord Love has always loved and will love for ever. He has loved, in his own heart, each being, of no matter what kind, animate or inanimate, even before it was created as an individual being (as distinct from the divine Being). What is creation? Every act of creation is an act of love. Creation is also the act whereby that which already, in God, was an interior object of love becomes henceforth an exteriorised object of love, receives existence from God, becomes capable of entering with God into the relationship that express itself by the pronouns ‘I’, ‘thee’, ‘thou’.
This is my own story. This is your own story. The history of each one of us is a history of love. The Lord of Love has loved me, myself, from all eternity, first of all within himself, then through the millions of ancestors of whom I am the descendant. My present existence is the climax of an unfolding of love and grace. And if I glance back over the course of my own personal life, ever since my first memories, I see passing before me all thy goodness, Lord of Love, and I recognise it now even where, at the time, it seemed that all loving kindness was absent.
Love is limitless in space. Have you ever considered the l04th Psalm? In the Orthodox Church it is said every evening at the beginning of Vespers. Read it carefully. In it the whole universe passes by, the mountains and the sea, the wind and the storms, the wild beasts and the humblest little animals, the trees and the rocks. It is a whole cosmology, which ought to guide our piety towards avenues far wider than any ‘private’ relationship with God. What we need to do is to let ourselves be carried away by the immense current of Limitless Love, by that impulse, that progression of all nature which, according to Saint Paul, awaits liberation from the consequences of the Fall. Nevertheless we must beware lest the ascent of man towards God obscures for us the descent of God towards man.
Take a flower in your hand, take a stone. Ponder upon them, not from the scientific angle of the botanist or the geologist, but from the spiritual viewpoint. Each of them is an epitome of the evolution of the world towards the ‘total Christ’ of whom Saint Paul speaks. But they are not only signs of Love reaching towards the peaks. They are also signs of love coming towards us, revealing itself to us, giving itself to us, coming ever closer and closer. Gaze on the divine beauty in a blade of grass, in a leaf, in a branch. Perceive an offering in a scent, in a colour. Let us integrate our spiritual lives with the life of the universe. Let us recognise in every creature a spring of divine love fitting to itself, and to itself alone. The Lord Love has loved each grain of sand, each stone, each leaf, each shrub, each animal.
To unite ourselves to all this, to enter into that great rising and falling tide of love, to adore God and to give thanks to him in the name of nature (which cannot speak)- this is ‘cosmic piety’. This is our reply to Limitless Love.
Do you love the Sun? Do you love the stars? Do you love the galaxies? Do you thank God for their creation and for their presence? Do you enter into the divine love for all that exists? It is not so easy. Do you love snakes? But even if we are bitten by a snake, we ought to be able to love it at the very moment when we are bitten because the snake is not to blame, it is simply obeying an imperative of its instinct. The snake, like all nature, has been a victim of the Fall, but the Lord Love has not ceased to love it.
The most beautiful flower will die. This brings to mind the problems of dissolution and the end of things, of evil and death, of suffering and sin. All these are facts. A violent warfare is constantly being waged against Limitless Love. We shall return to this theme. But Love is a powerful wind, a hurricane that bursts windows open and smashes glass; it upsets entirely our preconceived ideas, it breaks the alabaster jar so that the perfume can be diffused, it is beyond the law, beyond and above what we call ‘morality’ and ‘religion’. Love is victorious over death itself. All barriers are overcome by Limitless Love.
At this point, without further delay, I want to touch upon two very important matters which may have been troubling you. So far I have not spoken of the person of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Has not the humble, gentle figure of the Christ of the Gospels been lost in this ocean of Limitless Love? Was it necessary to have recourse to a transcendent conception of Love when, after all, it was through Love that God-made-man trod our earthly paths? May God preserve you from forgetting him who is Saving Love. I believe and I confess that Jesus was, and still is, the human countenance of Limitless Love, and that in him there lives the fullness of divinity, and therefore of this very Love. But I dare to assert that here we shall be venturing ‘beyond Jesus’. You must be quite clear what I mean by this. In a certain sense there is no such thing as ‘beyond Jesus’, for Jesus brought Infinity and Perfection into the world. But in another sense it is possible to go ‘beyond Jesus’ if by that we mean going beyond the historical figure of Jesus to attain to the Eternal Christ. In all Jesus said and did in public we ‘must discover, we must discern, ‘that which was within Jesus’, the inner Jesus, the divine essence of Jesus. This divine essence was not limited to his person. Jesus himself prayed to God. In meditating upon the Limitless Love, we are reaching towards that which was a living spring in the Saviour’s own soul.
The other point I must mention is the question of the inter-personal relationships at the heart of ‘God-Love’. How can we speak of Limitless Love without contemplating the mystery of the Holy Trinity, of the three angels seated at Abraham’s table, under the oak of Mamre? How can we ignore the distinction between the Father, his Son and his Spirit? I shall simply say that the richness and depth of this mystery are such that I would rather say nothing about them than speak of them too briefly and superficially. What I shall try to make clear is how Limitless Love is common to all three. You yourselves can explore further into the concept of Limitless Love. You can deepen the implications of the themes of the Lover, of the Beloved; of the ‘Co-Lover’, and of the ‘Co-Beloved’ in the same Love. You can reflect upon earthly analogies on the themes of love given, love received, and love shared (and this will greatly enlighten the role of the ‘third man’ in human affection towards a couple). You may, by this route, which is not the only one, be able to approach the mystery of Mamre, which is none other than the mystery of the Burning Bush under a different form. But this is not what I want to do here.
My aim, in this second meditation, has been to show that the flame of the Burning Bush represents the underlying link which is the secret of the universe; the living Love, concrete, intensely personal, which includes all men, all animals, all vegetation, all minerals, all planets, all space and all the creations of which we have no knowledge. In the words of Dante ‘That love which moves the sun and the other stars’ is offered to everyone of us. So we know now what we must call God, if we are going to venture as far as this into his heart. God is Limitless Love.
Source: Fr Lev Gillet, 1988, Encounter at the Well, Mowbray, London, pp. 65-69.