Since childhood I’ve always loved a wood fire. The English Tudor house where I grew up had an enormous stone fireplace, and I remember warming my toes in front of the sooty mesh screen. During my teens and college years my dad owned a 1860s era restored Southern mansion, and the fireplace in the kitchen burned warmly except during the heat of summer. When David and I lived in Florida during our early marriage, we used our fireplace several times a year, even if we had to turn on the ceiling fan and open the doors onto the screened porch to be comfortable.
Building a good fire is as much art as skill, I think. With practice I’ve gotten better at placing the logs so that air circulates around them, and I’ve learned a triangle of wood burns better than only two planks placed side by side.
A wood fire is an investment. A relationship of sorts. Tending a fire is part of the joy – restacking the charred logs before adding another. Stirring the ashes and blowing on them to cause a fresh flame. Poking and cajoling and lifting heavier pieces to expose hot pockets underneath. Being a partner in creating the warmth.
Some days, though, a fire simply won’t burn well. I’m not aware of building it any differently, and the wood comes from the same dry stack. Despite my best efforts, I don’t get the satisfying, constant glow of embers and dancing fingers of flame. The fire seems anemic somehow, as if all the energy has been drained away.
A recent cold morning was one of those times. I was working from home for a few hours, and a fire seemed the perfect accompaniment to the steady cold rain. Yet no amount of extra paper, kindling or rearranging would yield the cheery result I hoped for. The experience made me think of powerlessness. Acceptance. Of surrendering the outcome and staying in the moment.
I thought, too, about the fire’s analogy for important relationships, including with God. Sometimes the connection is strong and warm, and requires seemingly little effort beyond what is pleasing. Other times the attachment is blocked, the grate grows cold, and the flames are resistant to rekindling. Both scenarios are part of the normal cycle of a fire. Investments don’t always yield a positive return in a season.
Tending the fire is a statement of faith, especially when it doesn’t burn brightly. It’s helpful to stir and adjust and blow, and sometimes those things are all I know to do. Then I get to let go and trust the embers will eventually blaze once again, because God is the source of the inextinguishable flame.
Marnie C. Ferree