In the dead of night he suddenly beheld a flood of light shining down from above more brilliant than the sun, and . . . the whole world was gathered up before his eyes in what appeared to be a single ray of light.
–The Life and Miracles of Saint Benedict by Pope St. Gregory the Great,
If the landscape reveals one certainty, it is that the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances . . . The whole show has been on fire from the word go. I come down to the water to cool my eyes. But everywhere I look I see fire; that which isn’t flint is tinder, and the whole world sparks and flames.
-Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
I am in the midst of two exciting writing projects these days. I get to spend much of my time immersed in the contemplation of (and writing about) either praying with art or praying with nature, so you know I am filled with joy right now. When I get to the place of feeling stuck, of the words not flowing through me, I go outside and take a long walk, reveling in the beauty of creation for a time before heading back to write more about it. I am certain you will be hearing a great deal about the writing journey in coming weeks.
I am writing the chapter now about praying with fire and the two quotes above written by mystics 1500 years apart have my heart burning. Annie Dillard says it well: “the extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation” — the beauty found at every turn. I take her words on a walk with me. I engage in a process of lectio divina as I go, first relishing that line of poetic prose, holding it within me. Then I allow my imagination to unfold, to let images, feelings, and memories stir in me. I am flooded with images of sitting by the sea, of walking deep in the woods, of climbing a mountain, of breathing in a field of wildflowers.
From these images and memories rising up in me, I listen for the invitation God has for me. How am I being called in response to what I have seen and heard in my prayer?
I saw clusters of daffodils splayed across patches of grass. White and gold petals open in prayers of supplication, illuminated by sunlight. And in a moment of vision I see that the daffodil is not just radiant because of the sunlight dancing across its surface. Suddenly the daffodil is lit from within. The sun merely calls this spark of God forth, the spark residing within each person, each extravagant moment of creation.
And I see that as it is with the daffodil, so it is with me as well. The sunlight spreads across my skin, warming me with its radiant heat. I am glowing, in part because the sun is making everything beautiful today. But even more so because the sun has reminded me of the way God illuminates me from within, dwells deep within me as a spark, when I open my heart I become a burning flame. My invitation is to carry this flame into the world and to see fire everywhere I look.
What is the invitation of fire for you this day? What is blazing in your heart?
(top two photos above taken while staying on the Hood Canal, daffodil at the Key Peninsula, and the bottom photo of me at age 5 in NYC on a brilliant spring day)