We tend to a great many fires in our lives, some of our own choosing, others not. Some flames we observe from a distance, stunned by their creative and destructive capacity, while others we engage with directly, as we participate in the radical shaping and forming of our own unique path.
I remember watching a church actively burn down while I was a country pastor in upstate New York. A small neighboring congregation huddled around the periphery of the smoldering building, their own pastor mourning from a distance at his home, while recovering from knee surgery. So I went instead, knowing this could easily have been my own church.
A sparked fuse in the wooden belfry could have easily taken down our nearly 300 year-old sanctuary. I imagined looking out of my daughter’s bedroom in the next-door parsonage where we lived, staring in disbelief and frantically making phone calls before the sun came up. But it was another equally historic and beloved church that caught flame, while my daughters slept peacefully through the night.
So I went. I witnessed. I comforted, while it burned, completely out of our control - the future looming just ahead in silent paralysis.
When we witness the fires in our life, we often find ourselves utterly immobilized.
A relationship imploding.
A marriage disintegrating.
A career reduced to rubble.
A religious system one has painstakingly outgrown.
A hope brought to a devastating halt.
A diagnosis with a finality beyond human comprehension.
A loss that reverberates with volcanic intensity.
But there are wakeful embers that stir beneath the broken glass and debris that surround our complicated lives. The fires that serve to re-frame, refine, and crystalize the foundational truths in our lives.
And these are the fires we are called to stoke, to preside over, to give fuel to.
In many ancient civilizations the open flame served as a central spiritual symbol and a reminder of our basic needs for human survival. With the difficulty of starting a fire in harsh weather, a fire tender kept watch over the beaming red coals, ready to kindle other fires in the community when needed. Those entrusted with tending this flame often held a sacred role within a community, as they created a purposeful space for storytelling, healing, and connection.
The practice of fire tending is an important practice for women, as we often are expected to tend to others’ needs at the expense of our own. As we enter the darkest days of the year, might this be an opportunity to tend to our own fire, our own light, in ways that have been long-forgotten and perhaps resisted by those around us.
Fire tending is not merely about survival. It is about breathing into our deepest calling, which is so often fractured and minimized in our lives as women. Fire tending is about cultivating the most authentic parts of ourselves and reinforcing, protecting, celebrating those aspects of self that are a core part of our identity. And in tending to that inner flame, others may respond in ways that question, judge, or even reject our intentional choices and ways of being in the world. Yet we tend to the flame, still.
What fires have you witnessed in your life? What fires are you called to mindfully observe and walk away from, as their destructive energy no longer serves you? What flames are worth tending to, in order to re-claim your voice, your value, your purpose? The choice is yours.
Come and sit and tend to those fires, as the nights grew longer and the spirit-within beckons.