This spring I am in the process of burning piles of downed trees and branches, which are the result of last summer’s big storm. It takes time to tend each fire, so that all the bigger pieces of wood burn properly. It gives me time to sit by the fire and engage in contemplative prayer. I often reflect on the image of the Holy Spirit as the fire of God. John the Baptist, in referring to Jesus said, “He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matt 3:11). On the day of Pentecost, when the Spirit was poured out on the disciples, “They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each them” (Acts 2:3)
These verses makes clear that the person of the Holy Spirit is like fire within us. I am continually reminded of the image of a log of wood being burned in the writings of St. John of the Cross, as I tend my fires. St. John referred to the Spirit as, “a living flame of love.” Spiritual director Wayne Simsic observes, “He [John] compares the soul to wood that remains unaware until it encounters fire. At first it smolders, revealing just how damp it is. Eventually, though, the fire transforms the log into itself; the soul becomes flame, and all it activities issue from this intense fire of union with the divine.” “All the soul’s infirmities,” writes St John, “are brought to light; they are set before it eyes to be felt and healed ……just as dampness of a log of wood was unknown until fire applied to it made it sweat and smoke and sputter.”
Here are some thoughts from watching all those logs being burnt. First, the intensity of the fire. The fire, the Holy Spirit of God, abides in your heart. You aren’t going to get more fire. There already is fire in your belly. The question is, “What are you doing about the fire?’ You can open yourself to this unquenchable flame within, or you can ignore what is burning within you. Jeremiah said God’s Word, “is in my heart like a fire, a fire shut up in my bones. I am weary of holding it in; indeed I cannot” (Jer. 20:9). Joy comes in release not containment.
Secondly, the image of wood getting all carred, turning black and smoking, before it become a bright flame. This is the image of the Holy Spirit showing us all the darkness still left in our hearts. All that sputtering and hissing of the log is the work of purifying going on in our souls. But remember that this is “a flame of love.” There is no short cut to becoming a flame burning for the Lord. The darkness has to be brought to the light and healed. It can get ugly and uncomfortable at times. But there is no other way.
Thirdly, as the fire blackens the wood burning on the outside, the log is transformed into a flame as it burn from within. The fire of God’ s love purifies our egos. It then ignites our minds, words, wills and actions. God yearns to set us ablaze. As we open ourselves up to this divine love, we discover a fire being ignited in us. As Albert Haase observes, “God initiates the process of spiritual transformation by throwing a divine spark into our lives. God then waits for our response.”