Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Beginning Our Week of Fire

Our week dedicated to air has concluded and now we've moved on to fire. Fire has always been a challenging element for me to feel kinship with. I most often notice this in tarot cards--though I don't use them much these days, I've collected some lovely ones that I still enjoy occasionally. Most decks use a symbolism that incorporates fire, and I never feel like fire is well differentiated from the other elements. I know, I know, it's not the cards. I'm not a fiery person. I'm a born and bred New England Yankee, prone to be a little buttoned-up--maybe even more than a little; at least on the surface. I've always wanted to be one of those people who lets it all hang out, singing one moment and yelling the next. (Okay, maybe it's not so fun to be on the receiving end of that kind of outburst. I don't even know how it would be to live that way, it's so far from my experience.)

I got off to a slow start with fire. When I started thinking about air it was easy to incorporate my consciousness and appreciation of that element into my life. But fire is a little bit more metaphorical: we see sun, or light, or feel warmth frequently, but fire itself is not present much in our everyday lives, whereas air surrounds us constantly.

But maybe this will turn out to be a slow burn! First of all, as before, Christine's book chapter on Fire was extremely helpful in opening up several new perspectives on fire. I thought more about how fire and light illuminate; how they represent the spark of life, spirit, and creation. I thought about the volcanic fires at the core of our earth (and we're seeing lots of great Eyjafjallajökull photos on the web to help with visualization!), volcanic vents in the ocean, and the fires of stars, other cosmic objects, and solar winds--fire and light permeating the cosmos in so many ways. And I thought about the passion and joy of creativity. I love creativity and immerse myself in many ways, so it's just a matter of paying closer attention to this or reframing it in my consciousness.

On Monday I didn't have any chance to meditate or pray, but I went running. It was hot under the sun and I was slogging up a hill that always challenges me as I near the end of my run, pushing the jogging stroller and fogging up my sunglasses with heat and sweat. My mind was wandering and I happened to think about someone I have good cause to really, really dislike--though fortunately his role in my life is well past. My first thought was to use that anger, along with my iPod music, to hit a rhythm and move forward more strongly. But suddenly I found myself flagging and weary, much more so than I had been. And then I thought of my readings on fire and moved to positive imagery, forgetting that jerk and instead thinking of a flame kindled inside me and radiating outwards. My pace picked up and I powered forward again, feeling much more comfortable. I've never experimented with this kind of imagery before, so the power of the positive flame--and the taxing feeling of negative thoughts--was a revelation!

Today I did have a chance to both meditate and pray, but I've felt really scattered recently and it was a challenge to get centered. (As an aside: It doesn't help that, literally, I don't know how to pray. I am sure there are many traditional ways. Supplication, meditation, openness to the moment? But I have not been taught any of them.) I couldn't decide how to approach my time, and found myself jumping from mindfulness meditation to Christian meditation to prayer. At long last, in a traditional posture of prayer, I settled in and, interspersing my thinking with a prayer to be opened to the understanding and experience of fire, turned over some of my favorite images and words from Christine's book:

  • the bush that burned but was not consumed, and Moses removing his shoes as he realized he was on holy ground
  • the transfiguration of Jesus, and the mystic who said it was not that Jesus shined brightly but that the disciples were, for a moment, able to see him as he truly was
  • the story of the Abba Joseph, who said "why not become fire?" as his ten fingers became like ten lamps
  • the burning of the sun and its reflection by the "mirrored ball" of the moon
  • the heat of a summer's day
  • the spark of life
  • the fires burning at the core of the earth, revealed to us directly or indirectly by volcanoes, geysers, and vents
  • the images of deserts and purification; the fire which burns all of that except which is necessary
  • the Ironwing Tarot, which was made in the desert, by a woman who is a blacksmith, and is filled with symbolism deriving from both
(When thinking about volcanoes and vents I also focused on a painting I just bought, after much anticipation. It is called "Shedding" and the artist says: "This is a painting about ancestry. The antlers and the steam grow from the same source. The ground is wetter and warmer around the source; moss and lichen grow there more readily." Not directly fiery, but I find it compelling!)

I thought about that sacred moment, being in the presence of the magical fire that does not burn. What would it feel like, to see the sort of light that makes you realize you are in the presence of God? To be on ground so holy, you remove your shoes? And then I thought, but as the mystic said about the story of Jesus's transfiguration, that light permeates everything; it is just a question of whether, in the moment, we see it. And for a few moments I could see myself, kneeling in prayer, bathed in fire and radiating light.

I thought, too, about how these images show two different kinds of fire, the fire that burns and the fire that does not. But even the fire that burns does not burn everything: it purifies and leaves only the necessary, the bare bones of what is. What is more, even the hottest fire can be a creative force, not destructive: out of the hottest fires of all emerge glass work, diamonds and rubies, gold and silver work, iron things and metal. I saw an image of gifts emerging from fire, and it was surprising and joyful to realize that in fire, as in just about any aspect of our universe, destruction and creation are coupled: to strip down to the necessary and the barest elements or to subject something to brutal heat and pressure can lead, in the end, to proliferation, newness, and beauty.

This week I'll hope to build on these reflections and continue to gain an understanding of fire rooted in my heart and not my head: especially to think more on fire as a creative, bountiful, and life-giving force even when it is simultaneously searing or stripping down. And I will continue to be aware of light, illumination, creativity, passion, life, and warmth: not in the overwhelmingly obvious or ham-handed way I seem to have pictured them until now, but envisioning them as woven throughout my everyday life, and becoming more conscious of fire's many little sparks as a matrix in which I move and exist, just as much as I exist in an ocean of air.

A thought about the general theme of this series: resurrection. I am indeed finding this a time of resurrection, but I am also finding that it doesn't help me to look at the topic of "my self" or "my needs" too specifically or directly. It feels too much like me, me, me, uninteresting and limited and prone to make me neurotic or to feel sorry for myself. Instead I find that when I turn my thoughts outward, I grow on the inside. I suppose the analogy would be tending the garden--tilling the soil, letting in lots of light, watering it--rather than overpruning the plant. So these things I am letting unfurl gently, of their own accord, for now.

1 comment:

  1. Blessings on your journey through fire - enjoyed reading your musings. I haven't even be able to start the fire section yet, but am giving myself permission to be "behind" :)

    Regarding prayer - I know how you feel, as I struggle with forms of prayer too. Meditative? Intercessory? How to do it right? Do I do it enough? Is it a conversation? Am I supposed to feel something? I'm not sure there is one right way to do it, or an answer to any of those questions. Prayer is a varied as we are different :)