Beyond scrambled eggs
Horror stories of burns are traded between professional cooks like baseball cards. People learn to have a healthy respect for fire. As humans, we often shy away from flames. We all know what it’s like to have bacon grease pop, or to run the iron over our fingers, or to stand with the car hood open staring into an overheating engine. We immediately move away, we turn our faces, draw our hands back, and vow never to do “that” again.
In her book Wearing God, Lauren Winner writes that God is like fire. Fire, she said, is powerful and self-sustaining. Fire is needed for human life to flourish. Her metaphor is beautifully painted. God uses fire as a means of revelation multiple times in scripture. God appears to Moses in a burning bush, God leads the people in Exodus as a pillar of fire, the Holy Spirit comes to the disciples as a flame. We pray that we are fervid in our love, that our hearts light up like a fire. We give candles at baptisms and build a fire at Easter. Fire has captured our holy imagination with good reason.
When I taught people how to cook, they could do it standing three feet from the stove, with arms outstretched over the pan. But they never were able to get really good. They would always cap out at a certain point. Until they overcome the fear of fire, until they could accept the inevitability of getting burned, they just weren’t going to move beyond scrambled eggs.
So I return to God as fire. Do we ever stand with our arms outstretched three feet away, hoping not to get burned? In our lives of faith, how do we ever expect anything to get cooked if we don’t move towards the holy fire? Keeping God at a safe distance doesn’t yield a five-course meal of a spiritual life. In standing so far from holy fire, we cap out. Our spiritual growth hits a certain limit.
A life with God certainly isn’t free from danger or complication. God asks us to love people who are difficult. God asks us to do things or go to places that are uncomfortable. Like a refiner’s fire purifying metals, God turns up the heat to burn off aspects of our spirits that aren’t so holy. God isn’t ever completely tamed. Just as a pilot light on a stove is always burning, God is always on the loose. But we can approach God, through prayer, worship, study, time spent in service, time with others. We can see, touch, and be touched by holy fire without being consumed.
The best cooks have learned to get over their fear of fire. Their hands and arms are decorated with a constellation of burns, but they still keep going back for another encounter.
Holy fire works on us in the same way. Maybe the best faith life is decorated with a constellation of burns as well. We aren’t left unscarred, we aren’t left unchanged by the work God is doing in our lives, but we can leave behind our fear. We can learn to approach, to draw closer. We can learn that this holy fire is the best thing we’ve got, that it isn’t always going to burn, and it just might yield something amazing – something way beyond scrambled eggs.