The Fire of The Holy Spirit
August 8, 2015 | Reflections From Sr Mary
I want to begin by asking what could be called a “Post-Pentecost question”:
How goes your fire?
Or, to put it another way, How goes your passion?
The great Feast of Pentecost presents us with many themes, messages and images but the one word and image that outshines all the others is FIRE! It was the fire that scorched, seared, purified, changed, strengthened, encouraged, empassioned and missioned the early disciples…it was the fire…or as we might say these days – the fire in the belly that gave birth to the Church that day.
So, I ask again, how goes your fire the day after another Pentecost? How goes mine?
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him,
“Abba, as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and mediate, I live in peace and as far as I can, purify my thoughts.
What else can I do?”
Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of
fire and he said to him, “if you will, you can become all flame.”
The Sayings of the Desert Fathers. Benedicta Ward.
We’re all very familiar with this little story from the Desert Fathers and I know that some of us love it and return to it often…so in the context of my questions this morning, let’s unpack it a little to help us put a monastic slant on Pentecost.
Abba Lot is not incorrect in what he is doing, nor is he despondent or in error. He, presumably, truly does pray. He truly does fast. He truly does meditate and pray the Office he has been given and he truly does try to purify his thoughts and live in peace. He is not presented as someone who is mediocre, but someone who is accurately and honestly giving an account of the spiritual life as he is keeping it, as he says “as far as I can”. Basically, Abbot Lot is living to the best of his ability and, as far as he can, he is living the values of the monastic life. But, the very fact that he approaches Abba Joseph and asks the question, “What else can I do?” shows that he feels he is missing out on something…that perhaps there could be something more…something better. Using our fire metaphor, we could say perhaps that Abba Lot’s experience of life was an ember experience! The embers were alive and well…they were glowing, warming….doing everything that embers are meant to do…..but they were also waiting! Embers are good and necessary but, as Abba Lot experienced, they’re destined for something more!
And it is precisely to this which Abba Joseph responds:
Then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, “if you will, you can become all flame.”
The ultimate response to Abba Lot’s query is not to suggest other ways in which the monastic life can be lived, other practices, other means, other values. Abba Joseph simply calls Abba Lot to go further – to stir up the embers, to fan the flames, to reach out his hands towards Heaven and believe that he can be transfigured by the fire of God.
So, in the context of Pentecost and this monastic story, again I ask you and I ask myself:
How goes the fire of your monastic life?
How goes your passion for the monastic life?
What state are your embers in? Are they stoked and stirred up and flaming out with sparks of enthusiasm and grace….or are they perhaps pretty healthy, glowing nicely but waiting for something more, some kindling,
some stirring…..or are they barely there – now and then showing an occasional glow but getting blacker and colder by the day…..or have they died altogether???
How goes it?
Let’s take a minute to reflect….jot a few things down if you wish….note other questions which might come to mind…
The words that spoke strongly to me from the Desert Father’s story were as far as I can. As far as I can seems to be talking about the embers of our lives not the essence, not the challenge, not the passion or the “walking the extra mile”. The mystics talk about God as the living flame within each one of us – is it there within us now as an ember or a raging flame? What would it mean for you, for me, for us as a community to become all flame?
Before R & R we began looking at the values and practices in our life. Especially we looked at the areas where we tend to fail in the hope that we would resolve to renew those practices and values – to purify them and turn them into flame. This is a good time now, after R & R, for us to continue our exploration of the values and practices and make a firm resolution to set them aflame in our lives and to live them faithfully together in community.
With Abba Lot perhaps we could say “as far as I can” I live the values and practices but where is the fire? The embers are not enough. They are always waiting for more. The feast of Pentecost reminds us of the power
of more, and challenges us to stir, to shake, to wake…to do whatever is necessary to open ourselves to the full force of the Spirit of God who will fan the flames of our monastic life and set us on fire!
If in true humility, we follow Christ, we do not simply follow a collection of practices, but instead, use them to move us towards a real transfiguration, a real change into a holiness of life. If we cannot put into effect the extremes of the desert elders practices, we can at least try to catch their motivating spirit and try to become intoxicated with God.
If you would, you could become all flame.
If we would, we too could attain to this transfiguration in our lives. What is required of us is precisely what is proclaimed by Abba Joseph – that turning of the will, that desire to follow Christ, to choose the better lot that is set before us, and in this life, this freely lived obedience to God, the transformation of our person, the transformation of our weaknesses and our sinfulness, the transformation of all the cosmos will become all flame. We will all be gathered up into that flame that sharpens and enlivens our vision and best of all, fires us up to proclaim it through our words and actions.
Fire, flames, stirring up, sending out…the stories of Pentecost and the Desert Fathers are, in a sense, intoxicating, inspiring….but the nitty gritty of it all brings us back to the question:
“how do we do it…how do I do it?”
The prelude to Pentecost gives us the clue to the answer…the disciples and Mary were gathered together in prayer…. it’s as simple and as difficult as that.
Last week, I was reading Michael Casey’s latest article in Tjurunga entitled: “The Word became Text”. Just the title sparked a flame within me… “The Word became Text” and I was drawn to open the pages and read on. I found it very challenging especially where he suggested the following:
Add up the hours spent each week with radio, television, internet, social networking. Then compare these with the hours spent weekly in lectio divina. It should not be too difficult to calculate which of these sources of formation has the greater influence on our thought and, eventually, on the way we conduct ourselves…..
To make ourselves strangers to the world by our actions (RB4:20), we need to have a distinctive world-view based on the Gospel. We cannot develop a world-view based on the Gospel unless we allow the text of the Gospel to enter our present situation and interact with it. This means regularly making time for lectio divina.
What is going to fan our embers into a flame is the amount of time spent in lectio divina with the Gospels – our contact with the mind and heart of Jesus. If we are not in touch, every day, with Jesus we are not going to be set aflame……we may retain some embers but they need to be “fanned into a flame” by the Word who became Text! If we spend more time with lectio divina than with the activities Michael mentions – or indeed others which we could add and know that we spend way too much time on – then we are on the right track and will live within the fire of God’s purifying love and will then be able to share that flame with others – especially those with whom we live.
The goal of the desert elders was to experience God’s presence in each moment and activity through a disciplined pattern of prayer, lectio divina, and labour. This awareness released them from a dependence on the limited and narrow desires of the ego and widened their horizons to see the sacred dimension of labour, food, relationships, time, prayer and their neighbours – to go beyond their comfort zones and become all flame.
This is also our goal in embracing the values and practices of our life here and now in 2015. The desert elders lived a long time ago but the fire of their teachings is still relevant to us now. And, as yesterday’s feast reminds us, the power and fire of the Holy Spirit is still relevant and available to us now.
So, through the prayers of all our sisters who have gone before us in the monastic life, with Abba Lot and Abba Joseph, and all the saints, let us pray that we will claim and reclaim our passion and desire for God and “become all flame”. Amen.