R.S. Thomas (1913–2000) was a priest in the Church of Wales. He served various rural parishes over the course of a lengthy career, most notably those of Manafon, Eglwysfach, and Aberdaron.

Recognized as one of the leading poets of modern Wales and one of the finest religious poets in the English language, he published some 25 individual collections of poems, as well as several volumes of prose.

A delightful introduction to Thomas during the season of Advent is “Frequencies of God: Walking through Advent with R.S. Thomas,” by Carys Walsh.

Walsh, curate at All Saints Kettering and previously a tutor in Christian Spirituality at St. Mellitus College, London, offers 28 reflections on Thomas’s poetry organized according to themes to be explored each week of Advent: waiting, accepting, journeying, and birthing. To this sequence she adds ‘seeing’ to provide focus for a final week of reflections beyond Advent.

Included is one of Thomas’ best-known poems, “The Bright Field,” which focuses on a moment—or moments—of revelation.

In “The Bright Field,” Thomas writes of seeing the sun break through to illuminate a small field only to forget about it as he goes on his way. “But that was the pearl of great price,” Thomas writes, “the one field that had the treasure in it.”

Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

an imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but is the eternity that awaits you.[i]

When Moses encountered the burning bush, he was in the wilderness, living life in between—in between having fled Egypt and going back to lead the Israelites out of bondage in that land.

Moses was in what Fr. Richard Rohr calls a liminal space. “Liminal space is an inner state and sometimes an outer situation where we can begin to think and act in new ways,” Rohr writes. “It is where we are betwixt and between, having left one room or stage of life but not yet entered the next.”

Moses was tending the flock of his father-in-law, Jethro, when he saw a bush on fire and noticed that though it was on fire, it was not burning up. Then Moses said, “I must turn aside and look at this great sight and see why the bush is not burned up.” (Exodus 3:3)

Most people would have walked right by that bush. Perhaps others did before Moses passed by. A burning bush in a dry, deserted place is not that unusual. Most people would not give it a second thought. But Moses was curious. He turned aside. Moses took the time to look twice.

When the Lord saw that he had turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” (Exodus 3:4)

God noticed that Moses had paid attention to the situation. God noticed Moses saw something odd and went to investigate further.

In that moment, God understood that here is someone I can work with, someone who will consider the oppression of my people, just as I have considered it. Here is someone who will empathize with their pain just as I empathize with their pain, someone who will desire liberation for them just as I desire liberation for them. Here is someone who will lead not just because he understands the big picture but because he also sees the details and takes note of things others miss.

Life is not hurrying on to a receding future, nor hankering after an imagined past. Life is turning aside like Moses to the miracle of the lit bush. What a difference that moment made in the life of Moses and in the life of the people of Israel. What a difference such moments can make in our lives and in the lives of those around us.

This season of Advent, look for the miracle of the lit bush, the revelation of God in your midst. It might not happen in a bright field, as it did for R.S. Thomas, though it could. Perhaps for you it will happen on a crowded sidewalk, or in a conference room, or while you’re waiting in the checkout line at the grocery store. But I hope at some point you will see the brightness of which Thomas wrote, and that Moses experienced, the brightness that is the eternity that awaits you.


Curtis Ramsey-Lucas is editor of The Christian Citizen.



Photo by Avi Theret on Unsplash

[i] Thomas, R.S. “The Bright Field.” Reprinted in Walsh, Carys. “Frequencies of God: Walking Through Advent With R.S. Thomas.” Norwich, UK: Canterbury Press, 2020, p. 50.