On Fire

I had a dream last night, my last night on the East Coast. I have been here playing some music, exploring some peace education programs, and visiting friends.

In the dream it was a quiet night at my childhood farm. My teen daughters and my dad were there with me. It was peaceful. Then I noticed that the enormous pines that ring the old Victorian house were beginning to catch fire. First just a few branches were affected further from the house. Then I noticed that fire was igniting on a different tree trunk, spreading more quickly around the house. I began yelling for my girls to get out of the house and head to the fields. The flames continued to spread, ringing the house, even as my heart was bursting with anxiety and fear. Suddenly I saw a garden hose. Why hadn’t we thought of that! I screamed for everyone to get a hose and start spraying. Some of the fires started to wane as the water emptied onto the flames, though everyone else seemed to be relying on me to do the work. I remember thinking in a sort of indignant motherly way, “Do I have to do everything around here???”

I am trying to stay open to this season of “fire” I am in. I wrote about it’s beginning a month or so ago here. As I expected, perhaps partly because of my increased awareness, partly because of some spiritual journey that is unfolding before me, fire has been my companion.

About ½ way through my trip, I participated in a memorable and vivacious religious service at Union Seminary in New York. If you don’t know Union, it is the interdenominational social justice seminary in the US. It sits adjacent to the Riverside Church where Martin Luther King, Jr, Kofi Annan, Jesse Jackson, Cesar Chavez, Dietrick Bonhoeffer, and a myriad of other social justice leaders have taken the pulpit at critical moments in our history. Right now, for instance, Cornell West is teaching at the seminary. That’s all.

The chapel at the seminary is a beautiful, expansive space, as you would imagine a smaller cathedral might be. Dark ornate wood, white-washed walls, stained glass, and black metal lights hanging from the cavernous ceiling space.The service theme: Fire, Ashes, and Spirit. I thought to myself, “Oh wow, I should have known.” But I also knew that this was something for me to pay attention to.

We all were called out to the back of the sanctuary where the double doors to enter were closed. An oboe played a gorgeous entry. Some words were shared. I could hear a whooshing sound inside the door. Through blurried stained glass and in the crack between the two doors that were to open, I could see light flitting here and there. There was a drummer. The doors opened and a beautiful young woman with batons on fire was bidding us in, dancing. The interplay of light and movement, danger and comfort, sounds and smells beckoned us into the room. On the central table was an unlit oil candle, a 12” carved wooden bowl with burnt paper in it, and a shoe shine box. 

I sat ready to see what would happen. Dr. Claudio Caravalhaes, the Brazilian liberation theologian and professor of worship and liturgy, was sharing. And, as a friend of mine once said, “that man can preach his ass off.

It was a beautiful, passionate reflection. And fire, my current leading image, was indeed both physically and on a deeper level, swirling around and through the room. Fire as both life-producing and as danger… as pain and healing

A few images and thoughts from Claudio

  1. In a world where “white males are buying the virginity of indigenous girls in the Amazon for a piece of cloth, a box of chocolate or $10”, where is the fire hiding under those ashes, the fire that unleashes healing
  2. We want to run away from the ashes, from injustice, from the poor – but we cannot
  3. We cannot “turn a revolutionary gospel of blazing winds into soft blow that sustains the powerful.”
  4. Imagine angels ruffling their wings turning ashes into a fire of justice and mercy
  5. “For this fire is either a mutual fire or it isn’t. Unless you help light my fire I won’t be able to survive on my own… I will run out of charcoals and my flame will lose its strength if I am a charcoal away from the warmth of yours. For love to continue, we must light each other’s fire, otherwise we will die together in the cold. In the losses of Sandy, in the amazon, in survivors’ homes, your ashes are mine, my fire is yours.  I won’t leave, I will be here with you.”

Fire. Again. And again.

No, I don’t know why. But I am deepening my relationship with it, engaging it, listening to it, warming myself by it, learning from it, praying in front of it, singing it, writing it, and hopefully sharing it.

I don’t want to live on the outside of my life. Like a voyeur peeking into my own room. I want to be part of igniting the world. I don’t want to sit in the ashes of a burned-out flame. I want to be one of those angels, ruffling her wings over the ashes stirring up what tiny coal may be under them. Even grabbing the hose if it’s time to extinguish. This one precious life we have can be lived in so many ways. And so I leave you with this poem.

You are a red bird, a burning stone with wings, fire. Let yourself fly, love. I want to see you shining.

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