The Fire

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beth watkins -the fire3by Beth Watkins | Twitter: @iambethwatkins

I was still young when I learned of the fire.
I grew up in its proximity, among others who were alight,
and I was in love with everything about it,
asked to take it from my mother’s table
As early as I can remember. I asked for the fire;
This light, this warmth, surrounded me;
I asked, and I received, and I burned.

*

As I grew older, I learned to tend it.
I would sit outside, talking to my Maker,
Reading words of others, ancient and alight
And I fumbled with my own, trying to grasp and articulate the ungraspable, un-articulable,
what had to be experienced.
I sang of the refiner’s fire –
How the flames can burn our selfish desires, melt away our masks, forge our character;
Can melt our hardness,
Burn and blister, and give wounds that fester,
and cleanse and refine.
And I asked, and I received, and I was burned;
Cleansed, and refined, and wounded.

*

I grew stronger in the fire, and weaker too,
Stronger and weaker than I had believed possible;
The fire began to swallow me whole, Jonah and Whale,
Eaten up by hunger,
By aching for righteousness, with no room for peace –
Was this what the fire wanted? Is this what the light was for?
To burn us up until there was nothing left
But a hunger for all to be fire?

*

When that fire burns, I forget that this light of mine – it is small;
A flickering, dying light, kept alight by sure, surrounding hands,
But small nonetheless;
I am not the light of the world,
Though I do get to take part;
I get to carry my own,
Though it needs to be tended, and so, I force myself
To remember to stop. Habitually stop. Before the light is smothered.
I must burn, but not burn up.
Roar, but not rage.
Smoulder, but not go out.
Flicker, but not be quenched.

*

When that fire is disturbed –
On the first cold September night out in our backyard,
And my husband and I will use up the last of the wood from the summer,
And watch the flames jump and play, and I play too,
And, impatient, turning over the slower burning logs,
And, in clumsiness, let it drop –
It sends up sparks –
Into the air, and over the tomato plants,
And not, we hope, into our neighbors’ yard –
What flames, in each of us, did not start with a single spark?
We must tend to these sparks, to the fire in others.
And bless the disturbances that send new sparks in the world.

*

Our fires are restless, with wills their own,
Ungraspable, un-articulable
A well-tended fire requires attention and patience,
But a fire tended carefully can last through the longest winter nights,
And so I rest in its warmth,
The comforting glow, that draws us away from our comforts and yet still to the warmth.
I tend it with the pruned branches, broken off my own limbs;
A painful break – hopes deferred, fruit that did not come, losses counted – but not only my own;
With the ancient texts of the saints of old,
With my hands in the earth, and in the hand of my neighbor,
Open to ask, receive, and again, burn.
We find the fire in strangers, in the broken,
And our enemies, when we dare to look,
Among those the world tramples on,
And among those we trample.
Yet, defiantly, indifferent to our directing and control,
The fire is burning, has burned, and will burn. So too can I,
As I rejoice in the light, and mourn the dying,
Burn – Sometimes a roar, sometimes a smoulder
– Yet somehow, by grace, I manage to stay lit.

[Twitter “I was still young when I learned of the fire.”]

____________________

IMG_20170110_143201_905Beth Watkins spent the last 6 years working in North and Sub-Saharan Africa with street children, refugees, and other vulnerable populations. She is currently settling back in the US with her immigrant husband and writes about living toward the kingdom of God and flailing awkwardly into neighbor-love at http://www.iambethwatkins.com, where her free e-book “For the Moments I Feel Faint: Reflections on Fear & Showing Up” is also available.

 

 

 

 

 

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  • So much wisdom in these lines:
    “I am not the light of the world,
    Though I do get to take part;
    I get to carry my own,
    Though it needs to be tended, and so, I force myself
    To remember to stop. Habitually stop. Before the light is smothered.
    I must burn, but not burn up.”

    Thank you, Beth, for sharing your fire-words.

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