I am the fire tender in my home. Despite raising a few capable Scouts, tending to that fireplace is one of those regular disciplines that I don’t really mind. We often have a lot of romantic notions about fireplaces. Mine reminds me of fond family gatherings, Christmasing, and years of warm snuggles watching the burning embers.
Throughout my growing up years I was chief hearth tender and log-splitter. (Not having any brothers, my father taught us gals how to chop wood with a wedge and a sledge. Just recently my younger sister and I were laughing about our prowess with a sledgehammer and a long-handled axe. Ah yes, we were formidable women in our day!)
Last week I tended a fire amidst yet another New England snowfall. The simple act of fire tending caught me by surprise. There, as I knelt on the step of the open hearth, surprisingly, it felt to be about the height of a church kneeler. A simply thought occurred to me… what if I treated my prayer life with the respect I tended the fireplace? There’s a lesson in there somewhere.
Kneeling as if on a prie dieu, I placed one hand on the warm bricks in front of me while my other hand grabbed a new log from the bin. I leaned into the radiating warmth of the fire as I slowly took the poker to arrange the logs, ensuring each one catches. There’s nothing haphazard about my technique, I know just where to place a log so it will be fully consumed.
A successful and continuous fire is one part method and one part raw materials.
First, long before I strike the first match, I open the damper and clear away the old ashes that have piled up around and under the grate. The flow of oxygen is needed to keep the coals burning… a fire can be snuffed from the inside out if there is no room around the grate for an oxygen supply to heat the inner flame.
Similarly, for a strong prayer life, I first need to open my mind and heart to the idea of prayer and open my consciousness to God’s presence. Secondly, I need to have regular confession and reconciliation to clear away the "old ashes" of sin and bad habits. Openness and clearing away negative debris prepares the hearth for a blaze. The same happens in our hearts. We must prepare a place where the embers can burn with a holy passion.
Once I’ve got the fireplace clean and open, dry tinder and kindling must be laid… we need fuel for the spark to catch fire.
In prayer, we’ve got to lay down dry tinder and kindling. It’s about focus. Sometimes it requires some creating a space for prayer, both mentally and physically. Limiting noise, minimizing distractions, and sitting or kneeling in a comfortable posture allow preparation to settle into prayer.
It’s also about bending my will… choosing to go to prayer, and offering myself in that time, really, is a discipline.
We finally strike the match when we choose to utter a prayer, and we choose to talk to God and listen to him. Like dry tinder we "catch" the flame of the Spirit.
As we experience the warmth of this flame, we might choose to add more fuel… just as a well-placed log builds the blaze. Likewise, as our prayer continues, perhaps we’ll meditate on the mysteries of the Rosary, or the Divine Mercy chaplet, or pray the Scriptures with Lectio Divina, or attend Mass. These are holy additions to the fire of prayer, hefty "logs" that keep us burning, and radiating with the love of God.
What’s more, keeping prayer alive in our hearts ignites our desire to seek and know the face of him who IS the Sacred Heart aflame, the Fire Tender. And that’s where a shift occurs. Its no longer about what we are doing in prayer; it is what He is doing with us.
Suddenly we discover that this whole process of spiritual fire tending is not at all about keeping a respectful distance from the flames, but about building bigger bonfires that acclimate us to holy heat. That we may enter into the purifying heartfire of Jesus Christ, surrendering the wood that we are to his all-consuming love.
Come Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful and kindle in them the fire of your love. Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created. And You shall renew the face of the earth! Amen.
©2010 Patricia W. Gohn
About the Author
Pat Gohn is a married empty-nester with three adult children and four grandchildren. An author, catechist, speaker, and host of the Among Women podcast since 2009, her books include the award-winning Blessed, Beautiful, and Bodacious: Celebrating the Gift of Catholic Womanhood, and All In: Why Belonging to the Catholic Church Matters. She works in Catholic publishing as an editor. Visit PatGohn.net