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Fascinated by Fire

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Flickr photo by by halseike
Flickr photo by by halseike

Many startling self-revelations can occur through the process of entering seminary. The battery of psychological exams, including the 600-question, entirely true-false formatted exam called the Minnesota Multi-phasic Personality Inventory, or MMPI, proved especially enlightening for me. The MMPI is designed to flag those candidates with severe pathologies. In short, it’s there to weed out the crazies. That fact isn’t exactly hidden from us prior to taking the exam.

So when faced with statement-questions like “I love my mother” followed by “I am being followed,” I wasn’t too fazed. I understood how a competent, sane person should answer. Yes, no. Now can I go be pastor?

But going about these tests with a theological mindset can lead to trouble. Namely, we religious types think we can call on theological gloss to weasel around our weird answers. Which led me to stop at this question:

“I am fascinated by fire.”

Every campfire, candle, match-strike, Bunsen burner blaze and forest inferno rushed to mind. Fascinated? Of course I am. As a girl I could sit for hours beside small fires in the campground pit, s’mores long gone and songs quiet, my back growing cold while the embers in the fire’s core seemed alive in the way orange, red and blue colors migrated through them.

Oh God, they will flag me as a pyromaniac! If I check “Y?” All they will see is a torched Sunday school building in my future. If I have any hope of seminary, I must check “N.” A wave of sadness. I weighed the possibility of betraying all those campfires, all those candles, all that romance. I took a deep breath, checked “Y,” said a prayer, and moved on.

Lucky for me, all of Christendom has my back on this one. Well, let me revise that. Ancient Christianity, as expressed in its rituals, showed the same love for romance, story, and fire as my camper-girl self. That love, and those rituals, is making a comeback in the church of this day. Welcome now to the Easter Vigil.

It is near sundown on Saturday night. A small group gathers in the church parking lot. There is the pastor and assistants, robed in white. With them in white robes are all those who will be baptized tonight. They begin to sing. In the middle of their circle is some dry tinder and logs in a simple metal basin. Someone strikes a rock. Sparks ignite the tinder. A blaze rushes up. The singing continues as an acolyte uses a wooden shim to take a flame from this new fire to light a huge candle. From that candle, all the people light their smaller, hand-held candles. They turn and walk slowly but joyfully around the block and into the sanctuary, singing all the way, lighting the dusky evening.

As they hold their lights, they tell stories. God creates the cosmos from nothing. Children bring stuffed animals from home as Noah’s ark fills. A teenager shakes a tambourine with Miriam, safely through the parted sea. Everyone laughs when Jonah goes to Tarshish instead of Nineveh, knowing the end of that one. Some are moved to tears when they hear of not three but four figures in Nebuchadnezzar’s terrible furnace, which can’t even singe the eyebrows of Yahweh’s faithful. Folks chuckle a little again when Mary, blinded by grief, mistakes the Risen Lord for the gardener.

From storytelling, they move to greater mysteries: water, bread and wine. All of it abundant. New Christians are welcomed into the fold with buckets of gleaming water and the rest of the group splashes around in it too. The feast they share is warm and rich: good bread and fine wine. Maybe even champagne.

It’s late now. Everyone returns home and sleeps really well.

Having checked “Y” in the question of fire on that fateful exam, I did get a chance to explain myself. Each candidate, having been tested, meets with a counselor to review the results. Here is where I will be told I am far to crazy to shepherd any flock.

“So, what did you mean by checking ‘yes?’”

I responded with my campfire stories, my memories of candlelit dinners. Romance.

“Oh, I see. Well, no worry. You clergy types always rate a little bizarre anyway.”

Bizarre! Hear that? I’m bizarre.

Actually, I love the word. If that’s what it means to be fascinated by fire, I’m there. Let’s found First Lutheran Church of the Bizarre?  Who’s with me?

This Saturday, the people of Salem Congregation, All Saints Lutheran Church and a handful of folks from a wide diversity of other communities will gather at 7pm much like the folks I described above. It will be beautiful, and rather bizarre.

And because therRisen Christ still joins this merry band in every time and place, it will be the church: blazing, bizarre, and blessed.

Liv Larson Andrews

About Liv Larson Andrews

Liv Larson Andrews believes in the sensus lusus, or playful spirit. Liturgy, worship and faithful practice are at their best when accompanied with a wink, she says.

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