Thursday, July 21, 2011

Heating up…

Have you ever pondered the similarities between spirituality and summer weather?

Me neither. The two are not, let’s say, obviously comparable. But since Minnesota’s done its darndest in recent days to imitate a sauna- and done so quite well, unfortunately- I’ve found myself praying for relief, sweating like a cold beverage and subsequently sublimating those frustrations by turning them into fodder for spiritual discovery. Call it a Church-Nerd survival technique.

For instance, I’m sure you’ve heard before, probably said, something like, “This weather, it’s a dry heat.” Or more recently, “It’s not so much the heat as the humidity that’ll get ya.” Those sound like clichés, but they’re no less true for being well worn. The Weather Chanel app on my iPhone displays both the temperature of a given moment, as well as what the temp ‘feels like.’ So yesterday was 96 degrees technically, but with a humidity reading more natural to rain forests than high plains, it ‘felt like’ 118 degrees, according to said phone (which is ridiculous, I might add, especially when our power went out and the A/C stopped working). In other words, yes, the heat was hot, but the humidity did, in fact, get us. Or rather, and here’s what got my mind racing, not all heat is the same.

Fire, flame and heating images flare up throughout scripture, you’ll recall. God is more than once described as “a consuming fire.” The Holy Spirit, on Pentecost, descended on the Disciples like “tongues of fire.” Jesus implores us in Matthew never to light our spiritual candles and hide them under a bushel, but rather, to be “lights to the world.” Aka Christ imagines his church as a bright, burning bonfire of justice, peace and righteousness. A fiery beacon illuminating the darkness, if you will.

Even in contemporary Christian circles, the notion of being ‘on fire for God’ ignites many a spirit and worship service. I suspect the point is that living faithfully is no exercise in lukewarm, wishy-washy, get-along-to-go-along behavior. No, the ‘on fire’ Christian blazes with hope and expectation, convinced as she is that any given Sunday, Saturday or second, the glory of God hidden all around juuussst might burst forth and deliver ‘a peace that surpasses understanding.’ To God’s People, but more importantly, through God’s People, and for the good of the common good. If we’re willing to allow God’s Spirit to (w)hol(l)y light up our lives, that is.

I find that idea spiritually compelling, you might’ve guessed, since it demands greater submission to God’s purpose and giving up control to God’s love. Both ideas I’ve snuck into a sermon or several. But as this summer reminds me, not all heat is the same. One might burn with holy fire, and so warm the world. Or one might simply scorch oneself and others.

I met a preacher once whose eyes glowed with lightning and voice boomed like thunder. He was, I’m sure he’d claim, deeply spiritual and ‘on fire.’ But his words crackled with hate and exploded with judgment, leveling entire crowds of people into “Us v. Them.” As if God’s favorite activity is deciding whom to incinerate. For many Christians- like me- who believe God’s love wildly inclusive, we look at such ‘spirituality’ and recoil with disgust. Maybe we think, “Whoa! If that’s Christian spirituality, I better turn down the heat.” As if the only choice is between that, and going-along-to-get-along.

But maybe, I’ve thought recently (when I wasn’t chugging bottles of ice water), there’s more than one way to be ‘on fire’ for God. Not every flame’s purpose is to destroy, after all. Not all heat is oppressive. Indeed, I’ve known many Christians who’ve devoted themselves entirely to God’s purpose by giving generously to help the poor or spending countless hours visiting the sick. Ever seen a Christian, in Jesus’ name, stand up to a bully, declare, “God expects better,” and felt your spirit warm with admiration? I have. And I’m inspired, ignited even, by such fired-up spirituality. Notice, it’s not lukewarm, nor always even safe. But it’s the kind of heat that stokes the coals of God’s Kingdom; where, Jesus claimed, the weather’s always great.

Grace and Peace,

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