On Saturday, while burning some debris in the yard, I went to grab a stick which was near the fire but not burning. My intention was to put it in a more advantageous position. However, as I grabbed the still cool end of the stick a single burning piece of ash fell right where I placed my thumb. I quickly dropped the stick and began shaking my whole hand the way someone does when they burn themselves. For the past several days I have had a reminder of the encounter, a blister on my right thumb.
The blister is a reminder of the randomness of life. A second earlier or later and I probably wouldn’t have burned myself. In the same way, we often see the haphazard events of our lives. A moment before or after and there’s no car accident or more or fewer injuries in it. A doctor’s appointment a month or two earlier or later and a disease is detected or too far advanced to undergo treatments. A moment premature or delayed and we miss a relationship we cherish or disdain.
Whatever life brings our way there are remains that stay with us. Whether positive or negative who can tell? The most we can do is be aware, open to new experiences and cautiously protecting our souls.
Last night I sat in front of a roaring fire outside at our fire-pit. I had cleaned up the yard over the last two days and had limbs and other stuff we no longer needed to burn. I watched as the flames consumed the items and then deposit them in the air as smoke and ash.
I thought about life and all that we hold dear is quickly used up and thrown away. Nothing in this world is permanent. Everything is transient. I reflected upon the life of my friend who is suffering in a hospital holding on to a life which isn’t intended to endure. However, he holds on as tight as he can because he loves his family and his friends. He and we don’t want to say; “Goodbye.” In his weakened condition, he still worries about others and how they will make it without him.
The fire burns down and I start to feel the cold of the evening. I’ve run out of fuel to feed the flames. They get lower, the embers glow less brightly and soon will go out. I get up and move inside. A place of warmth, safety, and comfort. I pray my friend, at the right time, will leave this cold world and find his eternal dwelling place as well.
This morning my wife and I sat in a small Lutheran church singing familiar Christmas carols, reciting Christmas liturgy, listening to Bible verses telling the coming of the Savior to our world. In the middle of the service. a woman rolled down the aisle a cart with a birthday cake on it. The pastor then called the children up front and talked about Jesus’ birthday and began to light the candles on the cake. To his surprise and the congregants, the candles began to sparkle! A few of them sparkled enough to him to exclaim; “We might have to call the fire department to put these candles out!” It was a humorous response but also portrayed his concern over the flashing, flickering candles. After the children’s’ portion of the service, the same woman rolled out the gleaming cake. No firefighters showed up so I assume she took care of the candles.
As I think about the candles and cake I am reminded that Jesus’ birthday is; “more than.” It’s more than candles, hymns and carols, Bible verses, liturgy, communion, special services and magnificent homilies. The birth of Christ changed the universe, a cosmos of atrophy, mystery, transience and death. A child surprised all of creation. The birth of the Christ-child re-animated a dying world and beyond. We have become so used to the story but it should take us by surprise every Christmas! The impact of his birth is still being felt today. Our lives are not just saved but should be made vivacious and ebullient, sparkling out of control for the world to see, to dare others to take a closer look and maybe catch fire from the flame we celebrate today.
Burning Brightly –
On Saturday I had some old mail, leaves, limbs and small pieces of wood to burn in our burn barrel. The leaves and limbs had been in the barrel for several weeks and had become damp from recent rains. I added a little fuel, lit a match and threw it onto the debris. The fire started almost immediately but it didn’t take long to burn up the fuel and the limbs and leaves on top. However, once it began trying to burn the damp portions in the barrel, layered and compressed in the barrel, there was a lot of smoke and eventually, the fire would go out. I added a little more fuel, some dry pieces of mail, struck another match and lit the fire again. I repeated this process several times until the fire in the barrel was hot enough to burn away the dampness and consume everything within.
In the same way, there are times in life when our spirits are damp, compressed, buried under layers of debris drenched by storms passed, times which make us feel the fire which burns within have been quenched with only the illusion of smoke remaining.
In these difficult times, when our souls seem filled with smoke, when it’s hard to see, hear or know there’s a flame burning inside we still don’t give up hope. We try, we wait, we listen, look and believe the fire will burn brightly once again.
A Scent of Hope –
In the summer our Lemongrass (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cymbopogon) come in many beautiful shades of green. They shoot up to the sky, ever so bent at the top, reaching heights of almost 6 feet. They are wonderful. If you break off a portion of the blades or are in the vicinity, you can smell the lemon. In the late fall, before winter, now, they turn a bland shade of brown, droop over and are unsightly. When they look like this it is time to trim them. What once was a gorgeous herb is now kindle for the fire.
One of my chores today included trimming the Lemongrass in front of our backyard wood fence so Beth can hang her garland for the Christmas season. As I grabbed each plant near the ground and cut away at the dying, dead herbs my mind and spirit filled with thoughts of the summer, my favorite season. Once I had finished I raked all the brown blades into a pile and set it ablaze.
As I stood there, watching the flames grow higher a familiar scent filled the air. It was the lemon from the Lemongrass burning. I inhaled and was both brought back to the summer now gone and the summer to come.
Wisdom tells us that there are seasons of life which we enjoy basking in the warmth and the light. We are blessed and receive the gifts which come with open heart and open hand. Wisdom also teaches that no season of life lasts. Everything is in transition. All things which come, go. Sooner or later we find ourselves in a dry, cold season. The blessings and gifts are but memories. We watch as what we held dear burns in the flames of adversity and find ourselves digging through the ash after trials by fire have done their worst.
It is then, if we are mindful, centered, focused on the truth that this too will pass, the scent of a new season will fill our spirits with the hope of tomorrow.
Fall is one of my favorite seasons. It’s warm enough in the day to work but not sweat too much and the evenings are cool enough to sit around a fire pit.
Last night I gathered some wood, made a fire and enjoyed the warmth as the sun set. To keep a good fire going you need to rotate the wood as it burns and adjusting the pieces so the fire doesn’t run out of fuel. During one of the adjustments last night a hot ash jumped over my head and onto my back. It quickly burned through my shirt while I shimmied, loudly saying; “Ow! Ow! Ow!” Finally, most of the pain subsided and I sat down once again enjoying the fire but still, every now and then, feeling the burn.
Wisdom teaches us that it takes frequent adjusting to keep the fire lit inside. If we aren’t careful the flames quickly turn to embers and can be snuffed out. Accepting these alterations isn’t always easy and can be painful. However, the pain is temporary and a kindled fire in our spirits can last an eternity.
Sunday afternoon I picked up some branches from the yard, placed them on the fire pit, and set them ablaze. They burned for a while but not long because there were only a few limbs to feed the flame. With only a scarce amount of smoldering embers left I placed a large piece of wood on them and went inside for the evening. The next morning I took the dog outside and noticed the smell of burning wood and looked at the fire pit. The part of a stump I had placed on the glowing embers had burned all night and the piece of wood was almost gone. There was no flame, a bit of smoke, but the stump was slowly being eaten away. Tuesday evening I placed another large piece of wood on the second piece and this afternoon it’s almost gone. Even though a fire cannot be seen the smoldering ashes are still burning away at whatever’s been placed in the fire pit.
I reflected on the embers today and thought about a wisdom proverb;
“Anger is like a hot coal clenched in the hand, ready to be thrown, but destroying the one who grasps it.”
Anger is an emotion that almost everyone, at times, has trouble handling. Whether it’s a spouse, a child, a family member, friend or co-worker, there are people and situations which stoke the embers of anger within. As with every other emotion, anger is not good or bad but rather it’s the reaction to the anger that leads to positive or negative consequences.
When anger is held onto, smoldering, it can destroy us but when expressed in a healthy way can put out the flames, or the embers that burn inside.
This morning I overheard a conversation involving someone who was either incapable, unwilling, or had never been taught how to listen. He insulted the people around him, calling them; “idiots” and made sure he was the “Alpha Dog.” As I listened to him not listening, I thought about our culture and the many voices, personalities, activists, politicians (especially politicians), talk show hosts, pod-casters, television and music stars and others, who scream, pontificate and insist vehemently that their view of themselves, others, the nation and the world is the only correct one and any who might dare disagree should be consumed with ferocity.
We live in such an inflammatory time when it seems most burn with self-righteous indignation and personally justified rage. We yell, fight, accuse, condemn and never stop to look around and see what this incendiary atmosphere is doing to everything and everyone around us. People burn with hatred and fear rushing to fight whatever threatens their way of life. One life ignites another and another and another…
As I listened to this man I wondered if it’s too late to change and what would be left when the flames of ego, greed, foolishness and closed ears, burned us up and out.
I spent the morning raking and picking up branches out of the yard. When I finished I placed them on a pile of debris I have near a burn barrel. I’m hoping to turn the compost into ash which Beth will use for her plants and garden.
I lit the fire and among the stuff I tried burning was an old grape-vine which the previous owners had planted. I’d cut it down several months ago and figured it was dry enough to burn. However, I was surprised to see water come out of the ends of the thick vine as the fire heated it up. For several minutes, until there was no more moisture to give, the vine fought against burning but finally succumbed to the heat and the flame.
Watching the fire consume the vine I was reminded of times we’re thrown into the fires of trouble, heartache and pain. We do our best to refuse to burn but chaos, confusion, doubt and fear have a way of forcing the spirit of love, grace and the willingness to keep going, out of us. However, unlike the branches today we are not consumed and our lives and spirits aren’t turned to ash. Though the flames and heat may burn away the outer, temporary parts of us, our source of goodness and light can never be quenched.
Trying to get a bonfire started isn’t easy when you have wet leaves from a heavy rain storm earlier in the week infesting your burn pile. This morning, however, I was determined to burn some debris whatever it took! After several matches and some dry leaves and sticks on top I finally got the flames flickering. The problem was that not long after the fire would begin to blaze a breeze or patch of damp leaves would reduce the flames to mostly smoke.
At first I tried relighting it but to no avail. I thought about getting some gasoline but then I heard the crackling of a small flame and decided to wait and see what would happen. It wasn’t quick but eventually the smoke subsided and the fire roared. I stoked it, added kindling and a few more dry limbs and “voila!” a bonfire! Patience is easier to teach than practice.
While I’ve watched the fire today I’ve reflected on how life can also drench us with chaos, confusion, change and transition. Our spirits, emotions, passions and vision can be reduced to mostly smoke from the downpour of life’s unpredictability. We may wonder if our internal fire is smothered or smoldering. Our first response might be to try harder, do better, force the flames. Many times though if we’ll wait, pause, trust, we will burn again.