I arise today...
Through the splendor of fire...
The Lorica of Saint Patrick (St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer)
Like the sun and moon, the splendor of fire calls forth images of brightness, radiance and glorious light. Yet just as the softness of the moon’s reflective glow adds another dimension to the glorious light of God, so the warm crackle of a dancing fire further deepens the image.
Imagine yourself sitting before a stone fireplace or perhaps a blazing campfire. It may help to pull up one of the videos below and simply gaze into the flame on the screen for a few minutes. Of course the ambiance and warmth cannot be replicated digitally, but fond memories and imagination goes a long way toward taking us back to a serene moment of our lives when we found ourselves lost in the fire’s dance.
Fire is extremely practical and necessary for life; to cook, to keep warm, to cleanse or purify, an so on. Though we may use fire in so many ways, these functions are not the essence of fire.
Fire is mysterious, beautiful, inviting, though it can become equally dangerous and destructive. There is no exact science to determining where or in which direction each flare will rise from its source. Likewise, we cannot anticipate when Holy Spirit’s fiery tongue may fall upon us and ignite us in ways that our safe and solitary upper rooms can no longer contain.
We cannot anticipate when Holy Spirit’s fiery tongue may fall upon us and ignite us in ways that our safe and solitary upper rooms can no longer contain.
The splendor of fire has a way of both drawing us together and calling us to silence. We begin an evening around a campfire with laughter and storytelling as we roast hot dogs and marshmallows, but in the end, even the most talkative people find themselves gazing quietly into the mystery of the slowly dying embers. Perhaps the life of the fire calls us to reflect upon the splendor of our own lives, once so active and full of energy but in the end, we all slow down to rest.
At a silence retreat earlier this year, the stone hearth at the center of the retreat center invited nearly every participant to simply sit in its warm glow even as frost overtook the ground just outside the window. Some would read, others slept. Some poked at the logs to stir up the embers while other simply sat and stared. Though its strength grew and faded in cycles throughout the day, it kept burning until the doors were locked for the night. It did not speak audibly as the burning bush on God’s Holy Mountain, yet its voice whispered divine mysteries in the language of the heart and soul.
It is fitting that James describes the tongue as a fire and that the Holy Spirit comes in tongues of fire, for fire indeed has a voice. And like the flames themselves, the voice can speak warmth and comfort or it can consume all that is in its path like a raging forest fire. The fire itself is not alive, nor is God contained in the fire, anymore than God is in the rocks or trees or even in the sun or the moon. But there was a reason all of these elements of earth and sky were so sacred to the Celtic people and there is a reason St. Patrick and others did not entirely exclude these phenomenon from Christian worship. If God indeed is the creator of all things, why would we not expect to see glimpses of the divine nature, character and purposes in that which God has created?
We don’t listen to the fire or dance with the flames, but we are invited to hear and to dance with the God of the flames and perhaps, like Shadrach Meshach and Abednego, even to stand with the Son of God in the midst of the fire and not be consumed (Daniel 3).
1. Spend some time gazing at a fire. What do you feel? How do you see yourself? How do you see God?
2. What do you hear God speaking to you through the fire and how might the Three-One God be inviting you to participate in the dance?
3. In your life right now, would you describe the Holy Spirit’s presence more like a blaze, a fading ember, or somewhere in between? Why?
Our journey through St. Patrick's Breastplate Prayer continues next week:
... I arise today,
Through the speed of lightning…