Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Fire Tending

I had never owned a woodstove before this year. But this winter – and this early spring - I find myself tending a fire regularly. We do not heat our home exclusively with wood, but most nights I build a fire in the box. I do it to save money on our propane bill and simply for the joy of it.

We have one of those woodstoves with a glass front through which you can view the fire burning. So we have the ambience of a fireplace while heating the house more efficiently than with an open fire.

I find it difficult to take my eyes off the fire. When I am reading or watching television, I find my eyes drawn irresistibly to the stove – to see if it needs more wood or just to watch the movement of the flames. It is so much more interesting then the flickering images on TV.

There is something mesmerizing about fire … and something very spiritual. Fire is a universal symbol for the divine. In the Hebrew Scriptures, sacrifices were offered through fire. In the Vedas, fire was the primary focus of Hindu worship.

The Holy Spirit descended on the apostles in tongues of fire at Pentecost. God appeared to Moses in a burning bush. There is something about fire that connects us to the spiritual realm.

Tending a fire feels like a spiritual practice. It is like tending to the spiritual life. A fire needs watching; so does the soul. Without attention, the flames die down and quickly go out. So does the fire of the soul.

There is nothing so dead as a cold woodstove. There is nothing colder than a dead soul. On the other hand there is nothing that warms the heart more than a blazing fire on a cold night.

I will leave it to the reader’s imagination to explore the details of this symbolism. How does one tend the fire of the soul? What is the fuel? What is the flame? Who is the one who tends the fire?

An ordinary wood fire easily becomes a complex allegory in the mind of a preacher sitting by his woodstove on a cold night. Undoubtedly my imagination is going too far. But how can I not speculate? The fire inspires.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Thaw of the Soul

It is March and the intermittent thaws send water flowing in the streets. Melting snow finds its path across roads, making its way into the lakes.

As I drive down Squam Lake Road, the water seems impatient with the customary routes of creeks and brooks. Water dashes in wide swaths across the road, seeking its rest in the mountain lake.

The sight stirs my soul. My inner being feels this way about God. My soul races toward God. I could not stop it any more than I could stop water from flowing downhill.

My soul seeks its home in God. My soul came from God and will return to God. In the meantime I sojourn here.

The soul is God’s. It is deeper and stronger than my mortal personality. It hungers for God. It flows from God. It empties into God.

I could not stop its flow if I wanted. But I do not want to stop it. Indeed, I wish to follow it to its Source. I ride the current of my soul like a twig carried by a river.

Revelation says there is a river that flows from the throne of God and flows through the streets of the New Jerusalem. I know what path it takes. It flows through my soul.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Fifty Thousand Thoughts

I was watching a new episode of the television show “House” recently and saw a segment called “House Call.” It is a fifteen second spot that presents interesting medical facts. This one was entitled “Thoughts.” (You can watch it here.) It stated that humans have about 50,000 thoughts a day. That is 2083 thoughts per hour or one thought every 1.2 seconds. That is almost as many junk emails as I get!

I have been thinking about those thoughts. It seems like an awful lot of thoughts. It does not leave much time for other things. But I know that it is true. My mind is a never-ending thought-producing machine.

Many of my thoughts are repetitive cycles of thoughts. I continuously rehearse the past or speculate about the future. Too many of the thoughts are negative. I read Norman Vincent Peale’s “The Power of Positive Thinking” years ago. It didn’t help. The more I try not to think negative thoughts, the more they appear.

It is like someone saying, “Don’t think of pink elephants.” Well, of course pink elephants pop into your mind. Then I start thinking of whether they are African or Asian elephants, and how a pink elephant could be born of a regular elephant, and where that recessive gene could have come from, and so on.

After thinking so many worthless thoughts, I have decided that thinking does not get me anywhere.  Even when I think godly thoughts, they don’t seem to bring me closer to God. Thinking thoughts about God keeps me bound to my restless mind instead of enjoying rest in the Spirit. Thinking about God becomes a substitute for experiencing God.

Thinking seems to erect a barrier to God. That is a rather disturbing thought for a pastor. I have been trained as a theologian. My job is to think about God and communicate those thoughts to my congregation in thoughtful sermons. It’s what I do; I’m a preacher.

But this preacher is thinking that thinking is an inadequate approach to God. It is all right as far as it goes; it just doesn’t go far enough. At some point in your thinking you come to the limit of thought. Then all you can do is point beyond thoughts in the direction of God.

You often have to use words to point, but they are words that point to the Reality beyond thoughts. They are triggers of faith. Faith is not believing thoughts for which there is insufficient evidence. Faith is stepping beyond thoughts into the realm of Spirit.

Faith is resting in the Ground beneath thoughts. It is living in the space between thoughts. If we have 50,000 different thoughts a day, then there are also 50,000 spaces between the thoughts, however brief they may be. That is where we meet God - fifty thousand times a day. What a glorious thought! Our minds are filled with God. We just have to know where to look!