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The Fiery Face of God

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in a flame of fire out of a bush; he looked, and the bush was blazing, yet it was not consumed.” Exodus 3:2

Fire is an amazing phenomenon, almost like something outside of the rest of creation. Its sustenance requires three things: fuel, oxygen, and heat. Combining these three elements is not sufficient for a fire to actually manifest, however. There must also be an ignition source – a spark to initiate or invite the fire to begin. Fire, like electricity, is neither good nor bad; rather, fire can produce either good or bad results. Fire can heat a home, cook a meal, and provide soothing light; fire can also reduce a home to ashes or burn a person beyond recognition.

God manifests as fire in numerous places in the Bible. In Exodus, God appears to Moses as a burning bush that is not consumed by the flames. God leads the Israelites out of Egypt as a pillar of fire by night (Exodus 13:22). Psalm 29:7 proclaims, “The voice of the Lord flashes forth flames of fire.” The New Testament author of Hebrews writes, “…for indeed our God is a consuming fire” (12:29). You get the picture: one of the faces of God is fire.

The ancient science of Alchemy used fire to purify metals like gold and silver. The art of the practice was to apply the right amount of heat to a substance in order to burn away the impurities without consuming the precious metal. Considering alchemy in an allegorical sense, God is the divine alchemist applying fire to us in order to burn away that which is unhelpful in us. The difficult, challenging, and painful times of our lives can be seen as a divine torch, burning away our narcissism, humbling us, and sometimes driving us to our knees in a cry for mercy. While I do not believe God rains hard times down upon us – we do that to ourselves – I do believe God takes what remains and stands ready to remake us anew. In the sense that one of the faces of God is fire, that fire is a resurrecting fire. Unfortunately, some measure of destruction is necessary for resurrection to occur, so the initial phases of the rebirthing process often feel more like a punishing fire from hell.

A legendary bird, the Phoenix, was said to live until reaching a certain stage of decline when it would simply burst into flame, reducing itself to ashes, only to rise again as a new creation from those very ashes. It is a mythical example of the pervasive cycle of life: birth, growth, decline, death, and rebirth. A more down to earth example occurs annually in the Flint Hills of Kansas, which are burned to black stubble every spring, only to be reborn to an iridescent green a short time later. The centuries-old practice of prairie burning purges the old growth, replenishes the nutrients in the ground, and clears the way for the rebirth of the prairie.

The analogy of God manifesting as fire assures us that our God is not an emotionless bystander. Fire is symbolic of passion and action. God’s love for us is fierce and tenacious. We do not consciously experience the fiery love of God because we are seldom in a state of sufficient awareness to recognize it. Regardless, God’s love burns brightly for each of us. The creator in God recycles all the elements of the earth in a never-ending dance of recreation, molding new combinations and rebirthing the old. Nothing is wasted, ever – no experience, no element, no being. When necessary, God manifests as a consuming fire, forcing the old to release the elements of its construction in order to allow a new creation to enter.

One face of God is fire – feel the burn…

Note: this is the tenth in a series of Life Notes on the Faces of God

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Life Notes

 

A Divine Spark

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to carry his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. Matthew 3:11

There is a divine spark within each of us. It burned before we were born, and it continues to burn after our earthly passing. Some call it our soul, our spirit, our True Self, our essence, but it is that which connects us to God – and to each other. When the Bible records in Genesis that we are made in the image and likeness of God, it is because this spark within is from and of God, as if a candle lit from the flame of God.

When we come to earth, that spark clothes itself in a human body, grows, and gets lost in the various phases of our earthiness. The spark within often becomes buried so deep underneath our busy schedules and many obligations and material distractions that it is hard to find or even sense its presence. But it continues to burn. When our earthly body gives out – as everything of the earth eventually does – that spark, which makes us who we are at our core, exits its physical body and continues on, because it is inseparably connected to our eternal God.

There are moments in life when we find ourselves very close to that spark – times when we feel most like our true, genuine, and naked selves, most at home, most contented, most at peace, most loved, and most loving. Simone Weil writes, “In everything which gives us the pure authentic feeling of beauty there really is the presence of God.” Sometimes those moments occur in periods of great sorrow, but it is in those moments we may catch a glimpse of God shining through others and us. It is in those moments we learn something of the nature of God, and the nature of ourselves in God. In those grace-filled times, we experience a connection that stretches into eternity, and we know with a knowledge beyond all knowing that God is good – that God is Love. Once we have approached that fire we cannot keep ourselves away from it. We are drawn to it like a moth to a flame. We are baptized by fire, to use an image provided by John the Baptist.

Like all fire, we may be warmed, or we may be burned, but we will be changed. When we trust in God’s goodness, we know that however the fire of the spirit changes us, the change will be for good.

Come home to church this Sunday. Draw near to your divine spark.

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