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It seems that unquenchable fires besmirch social media, crisp psyches of world leaders, and incinerate trusted values, that planet Earth is afire. Dulled by decades of saber rattling, of “limited” wars, of police in riot gear and protesters hitting the streets, of arrests and imprisonments and torture, these clashes seldom shock—just more of the same. Yet, violence continues stalking the unaware, sucks them into the security of the humdrum within which addictions proliferate and jam emergency rooms.

No amount of intelligence gathering seems to stem this escalation. No amount of special committees, with more than ample funding, produce effective strategies. No amount of prayer vigils with tears, flickering candles, flowers, and Teddy bears stay God’s hand over this mayhem. Always, there’s more.

But there’s another way to look at this deadly scenario. We know that firefighters fight fire with fire. We must do similarly, but first we must uncover our instinctual fires, burning within shit-piles, hidden within our unconscious; then name them: pride, anger, greed, sloth, envy, gluttony, lust, and envy; then, own their domination over our thoughts and choices; and then, practice restraint—a tall order, to be sure.

Despite this malady endemic to the human condition, there is help.

Jesus cried, I have come to cast fire upon the earth and what would I but that it be enkindled (Luke 12:49). This purifying fire requires clamping firefighters’ protective gear around our spirits and consciously setting to work on our stuff. That’s the rub. It’s a rough discipline, but the only path toward harmonious living with others. It works. It just takes practice…

 

 

At 4 a.m., nerve pain in my foot, a recent symptom, roused me from this dream:

It is afternoon, in the city of St. Louis. I happen to meet a woman who I’ve not seen in a long time. She greets me with enthusiasm and tells me about her black friend and their participation in MSM, located in the county. She advises me to join them, that it will change my life as it has theirs.

This daylight dream suggests a new endeavor to add to my already more than full days. The urgency in the woman’s tone of voice compels me to look up MSM; its initials stand for the Mark Slay Ministries. In 1997, he had founded the Miracle Revival Church in Kirkwood, Missouri, an interdenominational Gospel community, still holding services on Sundays, Wednesdays, and Fridays.

The dream also references two women, a dyad in Jungian psychology. They stand united in their transforming experience and wish the same for me.

Further mulling over the dream prompts me to return to the study of Scriptures, usually experienced during Gloucester retreats where I could give full vent to Spirit and not get too carried away. It is about finding Jesus, afresh, in my present circumstances.

As I used to do in my room in Gloucester, I’ll sit by Joseph’s well (John 4: 1 -26) and see who joins me.

 

“To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven that a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, until it was all leavened (Luke 13:20-21). Jesus likens this pedestrian image to the kingdom of God, an image unique in his teachings and often expressed in parables.

During the time of Jesus, Palestinian women always put aside moldy bread or leaven—a kind of poison—for the daily baking for their families. Only the smallest amount was used for their loaves that ballooned in the morning sun. But Jesus speaks of this woman hiding leaven in three measures of flour, enough flour to fill a warehouse with bread—an absurd exaggeration, until his listeners catch on. Jesus is referencing humankind’s relation with God, in all his disguises. Such parables inflamed the imaginations of his listeners: they would remember.

I, too, had a similar response to the parable, one that recasts my terminal illness in a different light.

Like the leaven hid in the flour, terminal disease hides out in my lungs, imperceptibly hardening their airways and compromising my breathing—a slow process, admittedly, but relentless in its damage. Yet, paradoxically, this disorder continues expanding my passion for communion with God, within this mysterious kingdom.

Just as the fire of the bake oven transforms the dough, the fire of diminishment transforms the psyche: critical processes to be endured. This is Kingdom living, both here and hereafter.

 

A small fire at night.

 

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