I write this, in some sense, for myself, because for many years – too many to mention – the Christian faith has been too often about the development of an idea rather than an encounter with a person. I have fallen for the outer trappings of faith rather than the inner reality, experienced mystically through prayer and the sacraments.When Moses stepped aside to see the bush that was burning, he was initially fascinated with how the branches were burning but not being consumed. However it was not the bush and the non-combustible properties of its parts that, in the end, changed his life and the life of his people forever, it was the reality that was within, beyond and above the fire. That’s why I love the following story from the lives of the desert fathers:
Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, ‘Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace and as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?’ then the old man stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire and he said to him, ‘If you will, you can become all flame.’
Abba Lot did everything right, everything expected of a monk or hermit. He said the office, prayed, fasted, meditated and tried to live out his life in a God-pleasing way. But he discovered somewhere along the way that that was not enough for him. He sensed that there was still something more or even something missing, and he wanted it.
We can all relate to God in this way and be good Christian people, living out the faith as a mixture of religious rules and self-discipline, but as with Abba Lot we sense, if we are open to it, that there is more. A lot more. In fact the greater part of what the Christian faith is, has all along, been missing.
So Abba Lot visits Abba Joseph and asks him, for us: “What else can I do?” Abba Joseph’s answer, complete with visual aid, is that if we want the fulness of God, God has to have the fulness of us. If we want this somethinig more, we must come to that place where God consumes us in our waking, sleeping, thinking, praying and living. Sure he wants our head and our intellects, but that is only a part of the total.
I too want to become fire. I don’t want to play at being a Christian, I want to be one. I don’t want to live out of my intellect, I want to live out of my heart as well. I don’t want luke warm, I want hot. I don’t want just a snippet of God, I want as much as I can bear. I don’t just want the bush, I want the fire.