Sunday, August 20, 2006

the eternal flame

I recently read a story within a story out of my favorite literary journal, Image. The writers are so rich in their creative insights that reading anything out of this journal is like being engrossed in a fascinating conversation with a best friend. But the story goes, an old hermit suffered from forgetfulness. He went to his Abba to seek a word of wisdom on how to deal with his problem, but by the time he made it back to his cell he had forgotten the word. And so this went on many times. Eventually the old man apologized for taking up so much of the Abba's time, but the holy man replied with a question: Does a lamp suffer diminution when other lamps are lit from it? The holy man told the old hermit that if the entire population of the area came to him constantly it would not diminish the flame that originates with Christ.

I believe the greatest difficulties I have in life are due to forgetfulness. Spiritual amnesia creeps into my life and becomes a hope-killer. I forget what I've done in the past and why, I forget what other people have done for me and why, God included, I forget my true purpose in life and measure myself against other people much more accomplished, busy, productive-I forget the divine flame inside, and depression steals over me like a damp and cold morning. I'm still reading James, and there is a series of verses that say you have not because you ask not, or you ask for the wrong reasons to spend what you get on your own lusts-don't you know friendship with the world makes you an enemy of God? I forget the path, that it is my own, and that it will always be my own, no matter how overgrown it may be or how small a footpath in a dense wood of so much "elseness" that seems so much more real and important.

Yesterday was one of those days, in a series of days, leading up to this one period of rage, lonliness, unfocused confusion, deep sadness-I tried so hard to make something of it, but like an aborted painting, it refused to come together into anything meaningful in my eyes. I bounced around the house like a ping-pong ball, room to room, straightening pillows, doing two dishes and then sitting down to sigh. And then all again, upstairs to lift my pencil for 5 minutes, pick up a book, put down a book, come downstairs, sigh and eat candy. All day long this went on and the feelings inside continued spun around and mutated into different forms all of the the same substance like a lava lamp. I went to bed with not much resolved except the grateful feeling of the day ending finally.

This morning I had to return to the Abbot in prayer and be reminded of things I know a million times over. I'm human and desire is the driving force of my life. The flame weakens and becomes misdirected by the winds of circumstance and inner strife, but it will always be there. The mission of life is not to kill desire, to never feel, but to protect and direct the passions we have, and realize, they are good, as God pronounced human beings very good, and continually dip our life's wick into the Holy Spirit's divine flame inside. Timothy was urged to fan the flame of his spiritual calling. Our calling is first and foremost the passion for God Himself. And sometimes life is simply slipping our hand in His during periods of intense grief and apparently pointless inactivity or activity. I have to remind myself to "therefore stand, having done all I can to stand". I want to move, to run, to assist and wave that flame around, but so often I must just put it on a stand to light the small room in which I find myself enclosed, and remember that other people are looking to that light no matter how small and insignificant it is. The divine flame is never diminished, especially in the dark.


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