A Fire in the Wild – Acts 2.1-4a
Fire: An image of abundant life
through light and heat, made it possible for human beings to live in ways and in places where they had not been able to live before
something that seemed to be alive, that could grow of itself, renew itself and generate more life
a small flame could start a fire that could consume a forest, a fortress or a city
an image of abundance at the heart of our communal life. A people gathered around a hearth.
An image of transforming life
change the state of things. Altered situations. Cooked. Boiled. Melted.
An image of mysterious life
Had to be treated with the utmost respect and care.
Sign of God’s power to give life, to transform situations, to act with awesome grace.
We each have our own tongue of flame. Prayer is everything we do to feed it. Images, words, intentions, actions. Everything we are, and everything we do, can feed the flame within us, so that we can pray without ceasing, and spread the flame that is ours, this day and forever.
Earliest evidence for human use of controlled fire (1986 Dictionary) dated to “Peking Man” (Homo erectus pekinensis) 500,000 years ago – 230,000 years ago. Along with stone tools. Cave deposits. Cranial fossils.
Fire is a chemical reaction accompanied by the evolution of gas, heat and light. The flame occurs when excited atoms or molecules in the hot gas release some of their energy in the form of light. (the orbital electrons in these atoms fall from higher to lower energy levels) In most fires the chemical reaction is one in which a combustible material combines with the oxygen in the air.
Combustion is a particular reaction of an element or compound, usually with oxygen. (the separate elements in any compound react independently forming their oxides).
Some combustion takes place without the flame and heat associated with the process, e.g. when body tissues are oxidized to give energy.
Fire related to flame and sun – life and health, superiority and control – spiritual energy. The earthly representative of the sun, related to light and lightning, and to gold. Torches, bonfires, burning embers and even ashes believed to be capable of stimulating growth.
Celebration of fire – to assure the continuing supply of light and heat from the sun, to celebrate the triumphant power and vitality of the sun – the shining origin – which is also the victory over the power of evil and the forces of darkness.
An agent of transmutation (as is water) – it changes things, causes things to change, linked with the regeneration of forms. Mediator between forms which vanish and forms in creation (phoenix).
Fire is the purifier, the sacrificial means of achieving or ensuring or celebrating the triumph of the sun.
Horizontal, fire spread over the earth. Earth-bound fire: eroticism, solar heat, physical energy. Animal passion.
Vertical, fire shooting into the air. Air-fire: purification, mysticism, sublimation, spiritual energy. Spiritual strength.
These two dimensions form a cross. In some sense, fire itself seen as being at the centre, the intersection of the two dimensions, where it is a unifying and stabilizing factor.
Fire like life, must feed on others in order to survive and continue. It is ultra-life, embracing both the extremes of good (vital heat and light), and the bad (destruction and conflagration)
The stories of Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods, and Empedocles, who gave himself up to fire, are the two extremes of the human experience of fire. In the middle, is the way of simply using the benefits of fire. To pass through fire is symbolic of transcending the human condition.
The Sign that Points the Way
Image: A Fire in the Wild
Questions: What is it? What does it mean?
Discussion: The Sign of the hearth of God
Meditation: Turning aside
Prayer: God meets us in the Wild.
John 1.10-13: “to all who received him….. he gave power to become children of God.”
Fire burns. Fire gives light and heat. A flame changes the state of everything it touches. The mystery, beauty and spiritual significance of fire is that it is an element that transforms other elements. Similarly, it is the Holy Spirit, received through prayer, that transforms us, giving us confidence to live as heirs to the promises, and to act as if those promises are true. The Spirit transforms us as we pray. So the call to 24/7 Prayer is an intuitive, instinctive response to the very real anguish of the Church.
But Colin Morris is right to argue that we need a theology of prayer. Because as we share in Christ’s mission, we discover that the only argument that carries any weight is the demonstration of God’s loving and transforming power. We can witness to this – and the most convincing witness is always the empowering of those that the world considers to be the lowest and the least – but in the end others must discover it for themselves.
And this puts a huge pressure on us to show that we do, in fact, have a faith that is transformative. A faith that, like a flame, changes every situation we touch, warming the heart, enlightening the mind, firing the soul, inspiring the spirit. Which means that, if our message is not heard, it is most likely to be because our faith does not yet make a radical, transforming difference to our lives at the points where it really matters. We may enjoy a sufficient life of faith, and even a significant life of faith, but not that level of vitality and renewal that transforms our understanding, attitudes, behavior and circumstances. We believe and we adore but neither are transformative in a way that our neighbours are likely to notice, or to find attractive, let alone compelling.
Part of the problem is that while we long for transformation, we are actually fearful of change, and resist it, thereby cutting ourselves off from the very current of life that longs to renew us. So the enemy is fear itself, and the first step is to rebuild our confidence in ourselves, in one another, in God, and in God’s ways of working with us. This means identifying and re-learning those specific beliefs and strategies that enable us to face our fear and manage change so that its power becomes an energy we can use.
Secondly, while we long for renewal, we are unskilled in those specific ways of thinking that generate and sustain creativity. Our educational system, including much of the teaching we receive in Church, trains us to process information in rational, logical, linear ways, and to exchange ideas through debate and reasoned argument. We are not taught to trust our intuition. Still less are we taught how to tap into our subconscious and unconscious selves for the ideas and insights that will serve us. And yet it is these intuition-based skills that can yield us the resources we need to respond to deep-rooted, fast-paced, large-scale change. Consequently, it is necessary for us to re-learn those strategies that generate ideas and also how to integrate them into our rational processes of decision-making.
Thirdly, while we long for a deeper knowledge of God, we are uncomfortable with the fact that the surest, purest road to this knowledge requires us to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves. We are always looking somewhere else for our inspiration, resisting the way within. So we pay lip service to the power of the Spirit, but we do not pray. Or we only pray in ways that focus our attention on a fantasy of God, or a consoling mirage of God’s saving activity in the world. As soon as our praying becomes uncomfortable, we become discouraged, or conclude that we are under attack, and retreat into our favourite fortress. It is important to rediscover prayer as a way of thinking as well as a way of being and doing, and to restore self-awareness and discernment to the discussion of priorities and the creation of policy.
In all three of these tasks, it is not prayer alone that will help us, but that understanding which emerges from prolonged and persistent prayer – a greater appreciation of spiritual dynamics. The difficulty here is that few of those who are devoted to prayer are also willing to reflect on what they are doing and then write about it in a systematic and yet accessible manner. The charismatic tradition tends to produce enthusiasts notable for their vision, courage and conviction rather than their ability to interrogate and analyse their experience. And while the contemplative tradition has produced an immense wealth of material, any attempt to mine it tends to become an academic exercise, more concerned with what was said then than with providing a map for the journey we are making today. Or it becomes personalised to an extreme degree – only of value to the individual in their specific circumstances, rather than useful to a Church in the process of dying and rising again.
So we need more than prayer or even a theology of prayer. We need a science of prayer: an understanding of how the Spirit transforms us as individuals and communities, and how s/he works beyond the Church in the wider world. It is no longer enough for this understanding to be personal, anecdotal, and couched only in the language of the emotions. Nor is it enough for it to examine the frameworks of understanding established by the authorities of the past. It has to make sense today, in our terms, and in the other tongues we speak today – in the language of self-realisation, personal and communal development, inquiry, policy and process. We need to understand how the Spirit helps us grow in faith, facilitate change, generate life, make creative decisions, see the truth of ourselves, practise discernment. So that we can practise – and teach – the ways of the Spirit to the “believing” and “unbelieving” worlds that overlap around us.
Previous generations were content to call upon the Spirit without needing to analyse this sub-structure. And many individuals are still capable of doing this – of living the mystery without needing to interrogate it. I have no problem with that. Let them do so. But the Church, as a whole can no longer do this, because in our present age anything that is not subjected to rigorous analysis is immediately suspect. We have to be capable of giving an account of the transforming power on which we rely. We have to be capable of saying not only where it comes from and what it achieves, but also how it works with us and within us to transform the world.
 In an article in The Methodist Recorder of
Pay attention to what you hear.
Fire – an image of power – ambivalence as an image of the power of God – purifying, awesome, destructive, useful, mysterious. One of the four basic elements – earth, water and air being the others.
Be careful what you hear. Too easy to read into this image the kind of power which we want – large, dominant, obvious, personal.
We tend to see what we want to see, hear what we want to hear. Ability to deceive ourselves is very great.
Need for power, influence, justification, vindication. Because we are small, helpless, weak, and guilty, lack confidence because this is so. Want to hear that God is powerful and will sort it all out for us. Want to hear that ministers are powerful and will do the same.
Not so. God’s power is not like that. Nor are God’s ministers.
So what is God’s power like?
God’s power – small, weak, mysterious, communal.