August 10, 2017

Revealed with fire

By Elizabeth Kelly *
Credit: Unsplash
Credit: Unsplash

Bedouins are an exceptionally hardy, hospitable people. I learned this in the Holy Land from my friend, Tony, a Catholic archeologist who grew up in Jerusalem and is presently completing his dissertation on King David, examining his life in the rock and ruins. Tony tells me that he will sometimes employ Bedouins to work on his archeological digs especially during the blistering summer months. He hires them in particular for their work ethic, but also for their ability to withstand the crushing desert heat. He speaks of them with sincere admiration when he says, “I am a son of the desert, I know what 120 degree heat is, and even I can’t work past about ten a.m. some days. But the Bedouins,” he adds, nodding his head in approval and a touch of disbelief, “they can work all day.”

They have their methods. One day while working alongside them, Tony was about to collapse due to the rising temperature. About mid-day, he told the Bedouin workers to quit for the day. Instead, they made a roaring fire and sat around it, close, drinking very hot tea. Curious, Tony joined them. After about twenty minutes next to the blaze, he said, “I’m cooked! I can’t take any more!” and he got up to move away from the fire. 

As he stepped away from the blaze, he stopped short – he suddenly felt completely cool. It was over 120 degrees, but sitting next to the fire, drinking the hot tea raised his body temperature such that he actually felt cool when he returned to the dig. And he was able to work vigorously the rest of the day alongside his Bedouin desert brothers.

God’s method of mercy is often just like this: a roaring fire in the desert heat. Sometimes, Jesus brings us a little bit closer to the blaze, asks us to drink just a little more of that hot cup of suffering, whatever it might be – persecution or poverty, loneliness or rejection, illness or isolation – but it is to prepare and strengthen us, that we might go back out into the heat of spiritual battle and continue to fight with fresh courage. 

The question becomes, will I trust his method or will I run for shade? Am I just too attached to my own comfort that I refuse to drink that burning cup?

O, God of fire! In his word, you cannot miss the multiple references to the Lord as a consuming fire, or his curious choice to lead the Israelites by night as a pillar of fire, or to appear to Moses as a burning bush, or the tongues of fire that descended upon the trembling first faithful in the upper room. I could go on. Yahweh seems rather smitten with his creation of fire – for its power, for its heat, for its refining properties, for its dancing illumination. Who could possibly know the effects of fire better than our God? 

How’s the heat where you are? Is the Lord offering you a seat close to the roaring blaze? Is he handing you a miserable burning cup when all you long for is a sip of cold water? Can you trust his method just a little bit longer until he releases you into cool, blessed relief?   

Lord, you are a consuming fire. Devour my fears in the flames of your Sacred Heart. Give me the grace to withstand your refining holy heat just as long as you know I need it. Fire of Heaven, I trust you.

Elizabeth Kelly is an award-winning speaker and the author of six books, including including Jesus Approaches: What Contemporary Women Can Learn about Healing, Freedom and Joy from the Women of the New Testament. She is trained as a spiritual director in the Ignatian exercises and leads retreats with a particular focus on helping women to flourish in their faith. She teaches in Catholic Studies at the University of St. Thomas (MN). Her website is: www.emkbooks.com.

* Catholic News Agency columns are opinion and do not necessarily express the perspective of the agency.

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