During a quiet moment when everyone had somewhere else to be, I returned to our little cabin with the idea of building a fire and knitting for awhile. I haven't built a fire in ages, so I was rather excited about the endeavor, and quickly gathered dry leaves and kindling to put under the logs which were already waiting on the grate. There were no matches, but I am not one to be deterred, and paper towel twists lit on a stove eye worked quite well.
The first couple of times that the kindling burned nearly out and needed to be refreshed, it seemed almost fun to run out the door, scrounge more supplies, and get them onto the fire in time to keep the flames going. By the fifth such run, I was beginning to wonder if the big logs would ever catch. After the seventh kindling load (mind, everything is still very wet from the recent rains), the logs began to crackle cheerfully, and as long as I kept fanning the flames, they took on a life of their own.
The process of adding, fanning, adding, fanning, gathering more supplies, adding, rearranging and fanning some more, gave me a chance to ponder the image of the Holy Spirit as fire, and the ways in which a fire can be like a relationship. I have often heard idiomatic expressions about not feeding the "fire" of a unhealthy or explosive personality, and less often have I heard the warmth, vibrancy and mutual love of a positive relationship described as a fire. But I think this is a potent metaphor. As a point of active meditation, my little fire-to-knit-by certainly required a great deal more of my attention than initially anticipated. It needed more and less attention at different times, undivided full-on effort here, a few moments to sit back and enjoy there. Much like a relationship with a spouse, children, or a close friend, the fire needed cultivation and alert tending in order to maintain the warmth and light it was made for.
To what extent, I wonder, does this metaphor also extend to a relationship with God?
One of my favorite prayers includes this bidding: "be our companion in the way, kindle our hearts, and awaken hope." If God kindles our hearts, surely we are also active participants in keeping that fire going. If the Holy Spirit is like a flame, then perhaps this is God in the hearth of the heart, giving warmth and light to all who come near.
A fire in this night that bridges old year to new is a hopeful sign. I am disinclined this year to have a list of resolutions for self improvement, more efficient work, or ways to squeeze more minutes out of a day. Instead, I would like to carry this fire forward in my imagination and in my heart. I would like this year to be a year of intentional kindling--of warm relationship, of new ideas, of creative and academic endeavor, of my prayer life.
Today, my dear friend Laura Preiser shared a quote by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin that captures the yearning for kindling on a broad, human scale. These words tonight are a prayer for myself and for the world:
"Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire."
Happy New Year, one and all.