A long time ago, there was a man who invented the art of making fire. He took his tools and visited a tribe in the north, where the climate was bitter cold. The man taught the people how to make fire. And the people were spellbound. He showed them many uses for fire—they could cook, keep themselves warm, keep predators at bay, dance by firelight. So they built fire and were very grateful. But before they could express their gratitude, the man disappeared, because he wasn’t concerned with recognition or gratitude. He was concerned only with their wellbeing.
The fire-making man visited a different tribe, and began to teach the art of making fire. Like the first tribe, this tribe was mesmerized. But the tribe members’ passion unnerved the tribe priests. It didn’t take long for the priests to notice that the fire-making man drew large crowds, and the priests worried about lost influence and power. Because of their fear, the priests determined to kill the fire-making man. Worried that the tribe people might revolt, the priests devised a clever plan.
Can you guess what they did? The priests made a portrait of the fire-making man, and displayed it on the main altar of the temple. The instruments for making fire were placed in front of the portrait, and the people were taught to revere the portrait and to pay reverence to the instruments of fire. The veneration and the worship went on for centuries.
But. There was no more fire.
Today is Pentecost Sunday in our Christian tradition. It’s worth noting that the name (which means 50 days after Passover) comes from our Jewish brothers and sisters referencing the feast of Shavuot (the second great feast in Israel’s cycle of holy days. It was originally a harvest festival, but, in time, turned into a day to commemorate the giving of the law on Mt. Sinai.)
For Christians it is the gift of Holy Spirit fire and the birth of the church. From Pentecost we get word Pentecostal, rich with images of TV preachers thundering, apparently well-oiled on some kind of spirit; which made us marvel as we Baptists weren’t fond of (nor could we comprehend) any style of worship that went overboard.
Of course, like the priests in the first story, we all easily miss the point.
The gift of fire is the gift of empowerment; bringing gifts into our lives, much the same way that fruit appears in an orchard—things like affection for others, exuberance about life, serenity. We develop a willingness to stick with things, a sense of compassion in the heart, and a conviction that a basic holiness permeates things and people. We find ourselves involved in loyal commitments, not needing to force our way in life, able to marshal and direct our energies wisely. (Adapted from The Book of Galatians, The Message).
Sadly, for too many of us, the fire (and the light) has been doused. Some for reasons of self-sabotage, some because life is just too big or too punishing. Whatever the reason, we loose connection with the gifts we’ve been given.
Given to mental gymnastics, I wonder if this is a knee-slapping cosmic prank, or a test of my mettle, or given the voices from my childhood, more punishment for my non-church ways. I feel the weight of the storm, and feel how easy it is to “be at the mercy of,” to shut down and to just let life happen. To feel like Lester Burnham (Kevin Spacey’s character) in the movie American Beauty, “I have lost something. I’m not exactly sure what, but I know I didn’t always feel this… sedated. But you know what? It’s never too late to get it back.”
“If worship isn’t leading to the fire,” Anthony De Mello reminds us, “if adoration isn’t leading to love, if the liturgy isn’t leading to a clearer perception of reality, if God isn’t leading to life, of what use is religion except to create more division, more fanaticism, more antagonism? It is not from lack of religion in the ordinary sense of the word that the world is suffering; it is from lack of love, lack of awareness.”
The gift of fire is a reminder that while I am here on earth, I am, in fact, a servant and a vessel for hope and redemption. And that invitation I must take to heart. And this isn’t just true for me. It’s true for every single one of us.
Here is what I know.
When I give myself fully and completely to this day, there is fire.
When I don’t put a moral price tag on my laughter or my tears, there is fire.
When I don’t quell my sadness or my jubilation, there is fire.
When I let compassion spill without a need to convert, there is fire.
When I create a world where justice and inclusion live, there is fire.
When I leave the world and the people I love in a better place, there is fire.
I close my correspondence with “Keep spilling the light.”
And here’s the deal: that light is the reflection of the fire of wellbeing that already burns inside every one of us. The fire of wellbeing empowers us.
Remember, we are chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength and discipline. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It’s your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it. (Book of Colossians) We are literally, invited to shine.
My garden is my Pentecost. My garden is English, meaning profusion within severe lines. Make no mistake; this is not a garden for the faint of heart. Profligate, unstinting, flamboyant and idiosyncratic explosions, of white, lavender, blood red and gold. These are flowers designed to be worn by Elton John. Some blooms are brief (in some cases a matter of days), but without limitation in unbridled passion and yearning and dancing and celebration, as if proclaiming to the world, “We will not go quietly into the night.” Petals spill on the ground.
I needed Pentecost, because this week, the news, quite literally, sucked the air out of me. Withdrawing from the Paris Accord hurts my heart. “We don’t want you to be political Terry,” one reader wrote. Fair enough. But when the fire is quenched, my response is not political, it is about what we value. This is non-negotiable to me. I’ve said before that when I became a gardener, it is one of the parts in my life where I live completely non-selfish. I care about a world much bigger than me. About water and air, and the world I will leave my children and grandchildren. And that desire burns like a fire within me, a reminder that while I am here on earth, I am, in fact, a servant and a vessel for hope and redemption and stewardship.
As human, we will always succumb to greed. But let’s never forget that we can pursue peace and renewal and redemption.
I am so grateful when others spill their light…
I watch excerpts from Britain’s Got Talent. This year, I was captivated by The Missing People Choir, made up of men and women who are promoting the reality of loved ones (children) who have gone, and are still missing. (Check them out.)
This week I’m reading Wendy Holden’s Born Survivors, the story of three young Mothers who lived through concentration camps with a secret; they carried another life. They lived against improbable odds, lived through the camps, and gave birth. Their children—alive today—tell their story. The fire wasn’t quenched. The light spills. (Worth reading.)
I want to go see the movie Wonder Woman. Even though almost all of the human beings she met disappoint her, she never gives up on them, or on her duty to save them from themselves. She never loses her moral compass, even when given the opportunity for easy revenge. (Plus, I hear the special effects are great.)
On the patio tonight, Mr. and Mrs. Robin shuttle, and alternate feeding the brood (eager beaks reaching up) in the nest sitting atop the porch light outside the patio door.
I say a prayer for families in London, and victims of the recent attack. I talk it over with the birds at the feeder.
In the garden, the swallowtail butterflies delight and dance and flutter. Almost Pentecostal, I’d say.
Note: We’re in the middle of our eCourse (Find Your Sanctuary). You can still join us. I’m convinced of this: We need sanctuary to refuel, to let our light spill.
Quote for your week…
In everyone’s life, at some time our inner fire goes out. It is then bust into flame by an encounter with another human being. We should all be thankful for those people who rekindle the inner spirit. Albert Schweitzer
POEMS AND PRAYERS
A prayer for our earth
All-powerful God, you are present in the whole universe
and in the smallest of your creatures.
You embrace with your tenderness all that exists.
Pour out upon us the power of your love,
that we may protect life and beauty.
Fill us with peace, that we may live
as brothers and sisters, harming no one.
O God of the poor,
help us to rescue the abandoned and forgotten of this earth,
so precious in your eyes.
Bring healing to our lives,
that we may protect the world and not prey on it,
that we may sow beauty, not pollution and destruction.
Touch the hearts
of those who look only for gain
at the expense of the poor and the earth.
Teach us to discover the worth of each thing,
to be filled with awe and contemplation,
to recognize that we are profoundly united
with every creature
as we journey towards your infinite light.
We thank you for being with us each day.
Encourage us, we pray, in our struggle
for justice, love and peace.
Pope Francis, Laudato Si (5/24/2015)
Days pass and the years vanish
and we walk sightless among miracles.
Lord, fill our eyes with seeing and our minds with knowing.
Let there be moments when your Presence,
like lightning, illumines the darkness in which we walk.
Help us to see, wherever we gaze, that the bush burns, unconsumed.
And we, clay touched by God, will reach out for holiness and exclaim in wonder,
“How filled with awe is this place and we did not know it.”