on fire

passion and destruction

fires fed by the same oxygen:

desire that is all consuming
and relentless

how do we know when it’s you?

there were massive bushfires in victoria and tasmania over december and january. some of the fires are still burning – they’re in accessible land, they’ll burn themselves out when the rain is persistent and heavy enough.

during a news broadcast at the time the weather bureau were reporting that the temperature at the centre of the worst fires was about 1000 degrees celsius [that’s over 1800 degrees fahrenheit. The spokesperson continued to say that at temperatures that extreme, fires create their own weather.

i remember thinking that i hoped no-one grabbed hold of that quote and used it at pentecost. it’s so tempting. it’s a wonderful image. except when it’s real.

we create wonderful fires in worship at pentecost – with bowls of kittylitter and meths, fans and cellophane, masses of candles and red fabric, etc. etc. We use them with meditations about how the spirit is like the fire: it takes all before it. We speak of the spirit as sparks of love, of fanning the flames of faithful passion. But the reality is that fire is also an image of relentless, indiscriminating destruction…. of sheer, absolute terror… of ruined lives and communities.

i remember going to a baptism soon after the massive tsunami in 2004. i flinched at the images of water that were used… at the cruelness that this same water which blesses, destroys… i think there’ll be many flinching at images of fire during pentecost this year. which one’s god? the fire that warms, or the fire that destroys, indiscriminately? the water that cools or the water that consumes all in its path?

i think if i were to be designing worship for pentecost this year i’d want to ask those questions and let there be no answers. it’s not that we have to ‘redeem’ the image of fire to use it at pentecost, it’s that we have to hold both realities about fire in tension.

i wrote this for a reflection space just after the tsunami…

In the beginning the earth was under a roaring ocean

and then the waters of chaos
became waters of life:
fresh water
sea water
promising life,
bringing life,
holding life

until the tide turned.
And the water that quenched thirst
became the water that drowned.
Water that cleaned,
submerged.
Water that soothed,
flooded.
Water that brought life
became water that destroyed life.

holy
drowning
stagnant
living

it’s all water.

forgive us when we don’t know which is you, God.