The desert fathers tell this story:
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 10 lamps of fire. He said:
Why not become fire?
God ignites our fires at baptism. We are, after all, made in the image of the triune God—burning bush, pillar of fire, light of the world, flaming tongues. Clearly our God is not a weak flicker. Our God is a consuming blaze of all that is good and right and just. The church commissions us at baptism to keep this flame of faith alive in our hearts. We are called to embody the divine blaze.
But what does it mean to become fire?
Jesus offers some insights in his parable of the lamp under a basket. “You are the light of the world,” he declares to the crowds then and now (Matt. 5:14). Name it and claim it: You are light. You, yes you, with all your flaws and foibles. In the words of St. Catherine of Siena, “Be who God made you to be, and you will set the world on fire.”
To become fire is to claim your flame.
Jesus continues, “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket” (Matt. 5:15). It sounds silly—a lamp under a basket? But how often do we do just that? How often do we allow the bushel baskets of doubt, despair, and division to suffocate our flames? As if our flames are only a flicker. As if the bushel baskets hold all the power.
The truth is the blaze of our triune God can burn any basket. Moses thought he was too impeded to speak to the Israelites. God burned his basket of doubt. Mary Magdalene wept in agony over the death of her friend. The risen Christ burned her basket of despair. The earliest Christians weren’t sure how to come together. The Holy Spirit burned their baskets of division.
This same God ignites our fires today. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket. Why? Because the bushel basket doesn’t stand a chance against the force of our flames.
To become fire is to burn your baskets.
In Matthew 5:15 Jesus calls out: Put the light on the lampstand where it gives light to all in the house. Find those lampstands—people, places, positions, prayers—that support your fire. Then thrust your light atop their sturdy foundation. Fan your flames as big as they’ll go.
“Let your light shine before others,” Jesus implores, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16). This is fire’s call. This is our call.
To become fire is to shine wildly.
Rage and roar with divine energy. Radiate the warmth our world so desperately needs. Imagine yourself becoming fire—really imagine it. Where do you shine brightest? What values do you illuminate? Whom do you hope your sparks kindle?
The embers are already aglow within you.
Why not become fire?
This article also appears in the August 2019 issue of U.S. Catholic (Vol. 84, No. 8, page 10).
Image: Unsplash cc via Courtnie Tosana