He who learns must suffer, and, even in our sleep, pain that we cannot forget falls drop by drop upon the heart, and in our own despair, against our will, comes wisdom to us by the awful grace of God. - Aeschylus

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Love it to Death: The Tongues of Fire

The fire inside me has died many times.  Often, I did not feed it with enough prayer from the heart to keep it burning.  I let the kindling and the long-burning logs be turned to ash without refreshing them from the fruits of my daily labors.  And each time I am left with cold ashes on top of warm embers, I must rush to start the fire yet again, the fire which died because I did not tend to it with the attentive spirit of love.

I am grateful that each and every time the fire dies, there is a spark to help me rekindle the fires of love in my heart.  The spark of a heartfelt prayer lights my heart's fires up again and again, providing the impetus for the fires of love to roar in the hearth of my life once again.  The embers of my heart are kept warm by the fires of compassion which burn so long as I reach out in love to those who have less than I do, the poor and vulnerable who should be welcome to the best I have and not relegated to eating the scraps from my table.

Prayer and compassion keep the fires of my heart burning quickly and strongly, my selfishness being consumed in each instant to leave only a pure metal of love, the metal strong enough to pierce even the hardest hearts of stone and make them hearts for love alone.  Prayer and compassion are the languages of love, the languages which transcend differences of syntax and semantics and sonority.  It is the languages of love which allow us to speak to the hearts of all people whether we can understand the words they use or not.

The tongues of love which allow us to communicate without words are prayer and compassion, and it is these tongues which keep the fire of love burning in our hearts when our words fail us.  These tongues of love are the tongues of fire which light our hearts anew.

It is these tongues of fire which descended upon the Apostles at Pentecost in the midst of the mighty wind, the most powerful of winds which bore the breath of God that hovered over the waters at the creation of the earth.  The Holy Spirit which moved the waters is also the Holy Spirit which fuels the tongues of fire coming down to set fire to the hearts of those chosen by God to bear His message of love to the whole world.

The Holy Spirit fills us with the fire of Love so that no matter the tongue spoken by those we encounter on the journey, we can speak to them with the tongues of love which transcend our differences, the universal tongue of divine love revealed in the human heart.  Like the Apostles who gathered as one in prayer in the Upper Room, when we allow our hearts to be lit by the spark of Love Himself we can then be touched by the God who is a consuming fire.

As icons of Love Himself, we are made in the image and likeness of the consuming fire which burns up everything which is not made of the metal of divine love.  We are made to burn with the fires of love; we are made to be set afire, a new creation which is lit by the tongues of the fire of Love.  By the tongues of fire, we are set alight like the burning bush, ever burning but not burned out, the fires of love consuming all that is not of love, loving to death all that is not of Love Himself.

Along with the candles in our churches, we are to be lit with the spirit of love as an offering of prayer to Him who is Love.  Just as in the church the Paschal candle is lit at the Feast of the Resurrection so that it will give light to the sanctuary for the cycle of the liturgical year, so too we can be lit by the tongues of the fire of love which were given to the Church so that all of our years might be filled with the light of Love burning in the sanctuary of our hearts.

We are the lamps which must not be hidden under a bushel basket, and like the Apostles we are called to be set alight with tongues of the fire sent down by Love Himself.

By Jean II Restout - Art Renewal Center, Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6357981

Note: The above painting is a depiction of the events of Pentecost, when the fire of heaven descended upon the minds of men.

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