Totally Turn to Fire

Originally published in Radish magazine, February 2009.
http://www.radishmagazine.com/archives/February2009.pdf

By Rev. Roger Butts

Perhaps everything that may be said about love has been said, by everyone from Shakespeare and The Smiths to poets and writers of sacred literature.

Nonetheless, the opportunity continually presents itself to conjure up images and stories in our own lives of moments when love came to us with the promise of renewal and transformation.

Some life-giving images from my life and reading follow as an invitation to you to do likewise.

I love Catholic monk Thomas Merton, who lived in a Kentucky monastery. He eventually lived an even more cloistered existence in a little hermitage in the woods. Once while traveling, he watched passers-by in Louisville’s busiest com- mercial district. In that moment, he had a great epiphany: We are all brothers and sisters, related to one another in life’s unfolding story. Here is what he wrote about the experience, in simplified terms: I suddenly realized that I loved all these people, that we could not be alien to one another. I am keenly conscious not of their beauty (I hardly think I saw anyone really beautiful by special standards) but of their humanity. I wish I could stop each of them and tell them they shine bright as the sun.

And so, why not ask: In what way am I connected to all of humanity? How can that impact how I love and live?

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., early in the struggle for civil rights, came to see the enormity of the task before him. He became afraid. He felt alone. He was ready to give up. The fire in his gut and his call to help form the beloved commu- nity that he envisioned pushed up against the reality of the violence and resistance he faced.

Why not turn to your beloved and say, “I am so glad you are here”?

One night at the kitchen table, he threw up his hands, deciding that he could not go on. And in that moment, he later said, the divine presence, the beloved, the spirit of life, came to him as if in a voice, saying, “Do not fear. You are not alone. So speak your truth. Stand for justice. I will be with you.” King resolved to con- tinue because he saw that, though the road might be long and the way unclear, he was not alone. The fire, his passion for justice, returned.

Today, right now, why not think about the way that life invites you to keep on, despite the odds? Why not think about the way that love insists that you are not alone?

For the first four years of my ministry, I had a congregant named GladysHitchings. I knew Gladys when she was 101 until she died at 105. In those fouryears, she came to church precisely twice a year, when her “kids” (who were in their 70s) came to town. It was always a special treat when Gladys came to church because in the receiving line at the end of service, Gladys would wheel herself toward me. We held hands. She brought me into her face, and she whispered to me: “I am so glad you are here.” She did not know that much about me and my work. Rather, from a place of deep gratitude and unconditional love, she spoke of affirmation and grace: I am so glad you are here. The warmth of her smile I will never forget.

Why not turn to your beloved (a friend, spouse, child, parent or pet) and say, “I am so glad you are here”? How can you express the warmth of your deepest, unconditional appreciation and love for your beloved?

In her book, “Dakota: A Spiritual Geography,” Kathleen Norris tells a story from the desert fathers: One day Abbot Lot came to his teacher, Abbot Joseph, and said, “As best as I am able, I keep my fast, I keep my rule, I say my prayers. I keep my silent contemplation and strive to be void of all unnecessary distraction. But it is not enough. What shall I do?” At this, Abbot Joseph looked at his pupil and stretched his hands towards the heavens; momentarily his fingertips turned to fire. “Why not,” he asked, “turn totally to fire?”

Today, remind yourself of your great passions. Ask: What brings me to life? How can I turn totally to fire?

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Roger Butts

Author, Seeds of Devotion. Unitarian Universalist. Ordained 20 years.