Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Sustaining without the "self"

He makes His messengers winds, His ministers a flaming fire. 
~ Psalm 104.4

Fire. A force that can wipe out or sweep away life in an unstoppable wave of destruction. It can also purge, purify. Be a source of warmth, a sustaining element of life. There is no home in Hogsback that I know of, without at least one fireplace or wood-burning stove. Sourcing, chopping, collecting and storing of firewood forms part of every family's life on the mountain as much as eating and sleeping. Making and feeding the home-fires is part of a comforting daily routine, often not only limited to the winter months. Children learn from very young that it hurts as well as warms, and are taught to respect it and tend to it in the home in equal balance. In the chill of sunless days, our house would be a dreary place without a flicker and crackle from the flames. Fire is not a novelty, it is a necessity, and a large part of the community still rely on a wood fire to cook their daily meals, and to warm water for washing and bathing.

This morning, after an unusually balmy day, the view from my window is once again limited to a few meters of ghostly shapes among thick tendrils of swirling mist. Winter is loosening its grip on the land and blossoms defy the last snaps of it's jaws. Shoots of green are borne high on branches, grown gangly and bare during the slow season. Two sweet faces peep out from a blanket on the couch, their heads close together in concentration. My fingers on the keyboard are cold, but a comforting warmth from the fire touches the stiff places on my back. As always, there is hesitation and no small amount of uncertainty as I start writing. Our dogs send up a haunting choir of howls. I imagine the wreaths of warm breath hanging in the air for a moment, before being swallowed up by the cold air.

As a born and bred city lass, adapting to life in the mountains has been quite an education. A culture shift, a slow acceptance of a gentler life in a harsher environment. Some of the adjustments came more naturally than others, some habits and expectations were more tenacious and harder to let go of. But it happened. Like a complicated dance routine that suddenly becomes part of the memory of muscles and limbs, rather than a conscious effort. Making fire is the one of the twirls of the dance, watching it spark and catch alight and grow until the flames lick and twist in ever-changing "hues of hot".

I remember when I was first introduced to an enthusiastic group of Christians back in the city, after a bleak, dry period in my own spiritual walk. There was much talk of "being on fire for the Lord". It was a foreign concept to me. I knew about the eternal fires to which the lost are doomed. The all-consuming fire of God's jealous love for His people. His ability to set a mountain atremble when He descends on it in a blaze. But the thought of my own heart "on fire" felt out of control, frightening.

The more I tried to protect myself from being scorched, the less alive I felt. It was like lying in a tepid bath for too long while your skin starts to pucker and lethargy descends heavily on your limbs. For long periods of time I managed to justify this "state" as a resting place where God allowed me to linger, after the "heat"of emotional turmoil or personal stress.

One of the first times I came face to face with the true meaning of this "type" of Christianity, was when I stopped to think over this passage in Revelations 3:15,16: "I know your deeds, that you are neither hot nor cold, I wish you were either one or the other. But since you are like lukewarm water, neither hot nor cold, I will spit you out of my mouth!"

Anyone who has ever deeply loved another and not had their love reciprocated with the same depth, knows the despair it brings. The cry of anguish in those verses is that of a Lover, a Bridegroom faced with a bride with wandering eyes. Like a playful butterfly she flits and darts from one sweet place to another and turns to Him only for her own needs. She gives ear to another, who whispers half-truths and veiled promises about a comfortable faith on a wide road strewn with blessings. And then turns to her groom for comfort or when the blessings turn out to be empty and her feet are tired from all their wandering.

I did not want to be "her" anymore. I did not want to be "spat out" for want of passion. I wanted to burn. To stand in the fire with the Son of Man and feel the ashen embers of my own heart be revived. To know what it is to be part of the all-consuming fire of God's love. To be purified by it so that He would see His own image reflected in me. To feel the tongues of fire descend on me through God's Spirit and have the chambers of my heart sealed like a vault. A holy place where only the High Priest himself is allowed and the deceiver has no access.

But I had to kneel low and embrace all of the loving, fiery, merciful and just God for whom my heart longed. The Lord who saved me from a place of eternal agony. Who felt the desperation of abandonment from the Father, who averted His eyes from Him so that I may slip free from the knots and tangles of my sinful self. The Lord who will test the quality of each man's work, because it is also to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test it on the day of judgement. The Lord who also cares for me with a protective shield and confronts the devil himself on my behalf when I am weak.

But the Jesus I met as I knelt there, was so full of gentle love, that instead of a fiery ignition into a race towards perfection and glory, a wonderful warmth flowed through me. Gentle as my Saviour has ever been with me, He blew those dormant embers into a flicker, then a flame. But ever will he continue to tend to it. There will never be a tempest harsh enough to snuff it out or a fiery trial so great that it will consume me altogether. He is my board and my hearth, in Him is all I need.

In the darkest night and on each lonely path of doubt, there will always be the flickering and beckoning of life-affirming reassurance, calling: "Come home to Me, ye who are weary, come home".