Abba Lot came to Abba Joseph and said:
Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and, according as I am able, I strive to cleanse my heart of thoughts: now what more should I do?
The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like ten lamps of fire. He said: Why not become fire?
Dearest monks and artists,
I love this story from the Desert Fathers and Mothers above. In the spiritual life we keep our practices, spend time in prayer, seek the sacred in all things, and yet at some point even all this is not enough and we are asked to become fire. Becoming fire means letting our passion for life and beauty ignite us in the world. It means, as St. Ignatius of Loyola wisely said, that we are called to set the whole world on fire with our passion for the holy.
We may find ourselves drawn to creative expression because it taps into what is most vital and alive in us. This burning in our blood seeks expression in the world, whether through art, song, cooking, gardening, our work, relationships, or in our presence to others. Becoming fire means saying yes to life by the very way we live.
St. Ignatius of Loyola spoke of the deepest desires of our heart as planted there by God. We have often been taught to mistrust our desires, to hold them with suspicion. Through the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius developed a retreat which incorporates ways of praying and a set of tools for distinguishing our truest, deepest desires as those that God wants passionately for us. The Exercises invite us into a process of listening for what we desire and to discern which desires come from our own ego and will and which come from our sacred Source. When we are in touch with these deepest desires, we can allow ourselves to become united with the fire that dwells within us.
In recent years we have heard the term “fire in the belly” be claimed for the men’s spirituality movement. It was the title of a book by philosopher Sam Keen inviting men to reclaim the vitality and passion found within. The original source of this metaphor is unknown but perhaps derives from the stoking of a pot-bellied stove. Do you have a fire in your belly or has it become dampened by life’s demands? Whether you are male or female, we are each invited to kindle our passion for life and love. Fire symbolizes what we are most passionate about, what we love most, where we stoke the flames of courage. It is the source of our vitality and energy.
We offer the flame of our kindness to one another when we reach out to someone in need. We kindle the fire of our passion when we show up to the blank page or canvas and allow space for whatever is moving in us to have expression. Most of all, we need people with the fire of commitment to nurturing life in all its forms and seeking justice in all ways possible.
During these days of pandemic, it may at times feel challenging to stoke your inner flame. Consider placing a candle on your altar or in your prayer space and when you light it, offer a prayer that even in the midst of struggle you might become fire.
With great and growing love,
Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE
*This reflection is adapted from my book Water, Wind, Earth, & Fire. We will be exploring the four elements during Advent through creative practices of writing, nature journaling, and movement. All the content for the Advent retreat will be brand new and the book is recommended as a companion but not required.