When I was fourteen, I loved starting fires. I particularly enjoyed pouring gasoline on things, tossing on a match, hearing the “whoosh,” and watching things burn.
(I liked blowing things up too. But we’ll save that for another blog.)
While aware that my penchant for fires may have been symptomatic of pyromania, I suspect a fair number of teenage boys go through a faze like this. And I am happy to report that I seem to have outgrown this predilection.
Nevertheless, there is something fundamental in the power of fire.
In the late summer of 1988, a number of small fires in Yellowstone National Park came together to form the largest wildfire in recorded history. The fire raged uncontrolled and unabated for months. It burned nearly 800,000 acres; over a third of the park.
The park was closed. Bureaucrats debated fire management. And with vast swaths of the classic Yellowstone landscape destroyed, there were widespread predictions of economic calamity.
During many of the summers that followed the fire, I drove through Yellowstone on my way to the Tetons. The scale of the devastation was unimaginable: mile after mile after mile of barren landscape. Nothing seemed to survive.
Yet it did. And not only that, it thrived.
In a few short summers, the wild flowers appeared everywhere among the charred remains of trees. And soon the scrub brush appeared. And not many years later, the trees. And the forest became lush again. And full of life.
Fire cleans things out.
It is the same in our lives. The fire of change. The fire of uncertainty. The fire of calamity. Things get shaken up. The earth gets scorched. We get burned. New growth happens.
Fires provide energy. And light. And heat.
Sometimes we need to start the fire. (Or have a fire started under us!) Sometimes we need to mix it up. We get complacent. Debris clutters our lives. We become stagnant.
Sometime we just need to be reminded.
Our funny and engaging friend Dan’s all too soon death ten days ago whacked us upside the head and called us once more to ask the hard questions: Are we living deeply enough, thoughtfully enough? Are we sucking the marrow out of each day? Are we nurturing the relationships that matter? Are we living our path with heart? And with zeal? Or are we muddling through? Do we know in the soles of our feet how blessed we are? Or are we caught up in our own self-centered kvetching?
Strategic coach Dan Miller asks: “do you need a small fire in your life?”
The mystic William NcNamara writes, “I think of the young novice in the desert who went to the elder, the holy man of God, 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?'”
There is no time for “little.”
McNamara goes on to say, ” Few of us have the courage to burn – to be totally called, awesomely marked, thoroughly spent, and imperiously sent.” Because of fear.
We have such a propensity for quiet desperation and mediocrity.
Are we living a life that burns?
Burn with passion. Burn with gratitude. Burn with joy.