photo by faith goble on
Focus Text: Acts 2: 1-11

The hunger of Fire has no need
for the reliquary of the future;
it adores the eros of now,
Where the memory of the earth
In flames that lick and drink the air

Is made to release
Its long-enduring forms
In a powder of ashes
Left for the wind to decipher.[i]

John O’Donohue

The Burning Fire of Transformation

You probably recall the lesson from high school Physics: Matter cannot be created or destroyed.  But matter is changing constantly.  There is slow change.  Through the slow shedding of dead skin cells and the constant regeneration of new ones we are made new ever 35 days.  Change can be slow and slight and nearly unperceivable, but sometimes not.  Sometimes there’s an explosion.  Change comes all at once and, suddenly, there is something new.  This is the energy of Pentecost, when matter and spirit get thrown into Fire.  The 50 days of Easter have been a time of joy and preparation – learning to trust in Life in spite of the outward appearance of death.  And then… fire!  Pentecost is about the burning consuming Fire of sudden transformation!

Brennan Manning wrote of the one purpose of Christ and the Gospel:

to make brand-new creation.  Not to make people with better morals but to create a community of prophets and professional lovers, men and women who would surrender to the mystery of the fire of the Spirit that burns within… who would enter into the center or it all, the very heart and mystery of Christ, into the center of the flame that consumes, purifies, and sets everything aglow with peace, joy, boldness, and extravagant, furious love.  This, my friend is what it really means to be a Christian.

We are blessed by the witness of the early church and mystics to the experience of Fire.  It’s a gift, not something that can be predicted or controlled.  Fire doesn’t come by an act of will or by doing everything right or by believing the right thing.  All we can do is prepare, as best we can, for the day when the wind blows just right to fan our spark into flame.

Building a Pyre – Preparation

This was the work of the first witnesses after Jesus’ resurrection.  They knew fire would be coming, but they didn’t know when.  They gathered stories together like sticks and kindling.  They came together for comfort and encouragement.  They chose leaders in a seeming attempt to put some boundaries and structure around this fire.  But preparing for Pentecost is not building a campfire.  It’s more like building a funeral pyre… for ourselves.  What may look ordinary, even passive is and extreme act of courage – feeling the heat, drawing closer, waiting it to set you aflame!

We have all felt the presence of fire  – in passionate love, in our work or play when we are not motivated by past conditioning or future reward but a kind of flowing energy  (creative pursuits, movement of the body, song, connection with another that burns away separateness), in the places where thought and expression all become ashes “left for the wind to decipher”. 

The process of preparing for fire will be different depending on the places that burn in your particular life.  For me yoga has been making space in me for new fire.  In the practice of yoga you hold a pose and feel the “heat” and instead of judging the heat or running away from the heat, you breathe.  In that way the heat grows and moves and sometimes fills your entire body.  In this way, little by little one is changed from a cellular level, eventually burning in the mind, emotions, spirit and life.  For any spiritual practice you may endeavor to try (meditation, being fully present to another in a time of conflict, art), we may ask, do I feel the heat and how do I respond – do I back off or do I breathe?  Breathing into it will have consequences – both indented and unintended.

Learning to Live with Fire Inside[ii]

When that early human first discovered fire and found the courage and boldness to bring it into their lives it was a great boon, but also caused unforeseen problem.  Whereas before his dwelling was cold, now it was often too hot for comfort. In the past, the air he breathed was clear, now with fire inside it was filled with smoke which made people ill.  Flames and hot embers always threatened and , once free to play about the cave, had to be restrained.  Water boiled and burned.  Precious food was burned to a crisp.  “The presence of fire inside was not merely benign.”[iii]    

Once we experience fire inside it can be quite disorienting.  Even though the world may seem the same, one who is living with fire inside will have a whole new set of problems…  the truth of the world and our response to it will look different.  Fire inside will, at first, require extra time, extra quiet, extra care.  St. Paul needed to be taken in to be cared for by the church in Damascus after his awakening when he was knocked off his horse.  He was made “blind,” totally disoriented.  The witness of the Acts of the Apostles warns us that strangers and foreigners may understand us, but our own will think we are drunk.  You may find yourself becoming more sensitive, like the sensitivity of new pink skin that regrows after a burn.  You are more sensitive to beauty, to the smallest thing, the glimmer of light at dusk on a leaf, can bring you to your knees.  You are more sensitive to pain, also, feeling everything more deeply.  Living with fire inside transforms everything from the inside out.  You become a new creation.

Fire in Community

Fire makes us vulnerable, our defenses burned away.  It changes every relationship in our life… it changes community.  The fire burns away the masks.  Inevitably, the tenderness will invite pain, but it also invites the fire of other souls to grow…. soul attracts soul, fire attracts fire. 

When one person in the room is on fire, the little spark that might be inside of us puffs into flame… and we feel a burning recognition.  That’s happened to me over and over again sitting here in the pew listening to a homily, standing around the altar with you, hearing stories of pain and joy.  That’s what a community of faith is for… to set fire!

When a community can begin to burn away the motivations of guilt or obligation or pity or reward… persons who learn to live with fire inside are motivated by Love.  My prayer is that all of our action and ministry at SCF are motivated by the fire of Love.  And who knows where the fire will spread!

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, humanity will have discovered Fire.

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

[i] John O’Donohue, “In Praise of Fire,” To Bless the Space Between Us: A Book of Blessings (New York: Doubleday, 2008) 12.

[ii] Ideas in this section gleaned from Anne Hillman, “Learning to Live with Fire Inside,” Awakening the Energies of Love: Discovering Fire for the Second Time (Bramble Books, 2008) 236-253.

[iii] Ibid. 237.