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Flame of Life & Spirit

(Second in a series on the four elements.)

Let’s begin with the story of John the Baptist in Luke 3. In this scene, John is baptizing people, but at the same time letting everyone know that “…someone is coming who is mightier than I… this One will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in fire. He will gather the wheat and burn the chaff.”

What does it mean to be baptized in fire? I don’t think this is the same as our phrase “trial by fire” which essentially means that we’ve been thrown into something that we are not ready for and may very well be burned by it.

 Being baptized in fire invokes the power of fire to strengthen, transform,  and ignite. It calls upon the Flame of God to purify us by releasing us from our illusions, the stories we tell ourselves, our negativity, and all that keeps us from our deepest, truest selves and the divine within. It suggests that one will be filled with light and energy and a power for change. Perhaps this story helps explain what it might mean: 

Abbot Lot came to Abbot 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 ten lamps of fire. He said, “Why not be totally changed into fire!”

Do we dare to be changed into fire? Do we dare to risk being changed at all?

Sara Beak has written a couple of unconventional, bold, gutsy, mystical books. In one of them she tells the story of how she came to feel a mystical connection to the Hindu goddess Kali. Kali is a fierce goddess, known as a destroyer of the illusions, fears, and obstacles that we use to hide our true selves. Kali is associated with the color red, is unconventional, heart-centered, untamable, a divine who wants people who are all-in.

Sara enrolled in Harvard for a graduate degree in comparative world religions. Her final graduate paper was going to be on Kali. Despite all her personal, mystical experiences with the goddess, despite studying in Calcutta for a time to learn more about her, despite all her research and studying, she struggled to write that final paper. She spent months sifting through 5 years of research on her computer, slowly piecing together her paper. A week before it was due, she felt totally dissatisfied with what she had written. She looked up from her computer at her icon of Kali and asked, “How do I do this? How do I really write about You?”

The answer she received was: You are my best example.

The next morning her computer wouldn’t turn on. She ran to the computer repair shop, fingers crossed, only to find out that her five years’ worth of research, including her final paper, was irretrievable. Sobbing, she called her mother, who said, “Well, she is the Goddess of destruction.”

That night she dreamt that her hand was writing, moving gracefully, pulsing with red ink. Her very veins were speaking.

Come daylight she continued to write in waking life. For seven days and nights, with only a few hours sleep each day, she wrote (on a borrowed laptop) in a way that kept Kali alive in her research, she used her own experiences. She titled the paper “An Offering,” and printed it on red paper. She figured it was academic suicide. She said if any other professor had received that paper she probably would have failed and been sent for a psych eval. Instead, her professor called her paper “beautiful,” and said if we scholars don’t reveal essential personal experiences in our work, we’re actually stunting the study of religion.      

Perhaps a baptism in fire is when we allow ourselves to be consumed by the Divine, where we risk releasing our hold on convention, on what we think we are supposed to do and be, on trying to please everyone and be perfect. Instead, we let the fire of passion burn through us. Passion for justice, passion for truth. Instead, we let the heat of the fire flow through us so that others know warmth and compassion, comfort and healing. Instead, we let the bright, beautiful light of the fire emanate from us in love and sane leadership and hope.

Love & Light!