Tending the Fire

Snow has finally moved into western Michigan.

I’ve been preparing resources to build a fire in our home fireplace.

I learned from Native American tribes that fire is sacred. There must be a fire in a spiritual ceremony. It reflects that fire that burns in all life. It’s like the Quaker notion that “there is that of God in every man.” This reminds me of Emerson’s “In every man, there is something wherein I may learn of him, and in that, I am his pupil.”

As I laid up wood for this winter, I thought about where I learned to do that. We had a wood furnace as a kid, in our house on a lake. Dad would order in a truckload of wood. Together we would throw it down the old coal chute and stack it in the basement.

Splitting kindling, I learned from a long-haired Texan, chosen to tend the fire for a sweat lodge. This a special duty and responsibility. I watched him, beginning early in the day to tediously split the logs down to thin, long strips. It seemed to me the spiritual leader had selected him because of his special attention to detail. He took personal responsibility for each layer in building a fire.

Fire is more than a spark. It needs the same air that we breathe. And it takes fuel, from small, often overlooked kindling, to longer burning logs.

So what does it take to tend that fire in our fellow human being? To build in them the warmth of humanity? I think it may take the same attention to those fragile foundations. Being mindful of what actions we take. Attending with care the words we speak. Building up the stuff that relationships are made of. All so we can keep the fire of community, stories, and shared light burning between us.

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