My article published in the July 2014 New Hampshire Episcopal News:
Fire marks the celebration of Memorial Day, Independence Day and Labor Day for many of us. At the grill, my mouth waters impatiently while watching all that food cook slowly. I want a firestorm in the grill to get that meat done now. But that’s where the danger lies. Because of my carelessness, I know that I’ve gotten food poisoning from my own undercooked hamburgers that appear cooked but are still raw on the inside.
Fire symbolizes the celebration of Pentecost Day, the coming of the Holy Spirit. Like fire cooking meat, the Spirit prepares, changes and transforms us. We need the Spirit’s fire to “cook” us and convert us into followers of Jesus. Have we spent enough time in the Spirit’s fire to be prepared all the way through? Have we been in the fire just long enough to appear cooked while in fact being raw on the inside?
Evangelism is popularly described as “one beggar telling another beggar where he just found food.” We don’t provide spiritual food by pointing to an institution, a building and a hours of service. We can live lives that have the appearance spiritual done-ness (church busy-ness, gossip and endless committees), while we keep the Spirit away from our interior lives. Without our own inward conversion, what can we offer?
Food poisoning is awful: you can lose your lunch and become dehydrated. When it’s serious, you need a doctor. Jesus gave us a faith whose primary metaphor is food: bread and wine. So, food poisoning carries spiritual meaning. How can we recognize its symptoms and what can we do about it?
First, if we lose our lunch, we consume much (liturgies, outreach, etc) but we fail to digest it, for it to become part of us, body and soul. We should always return to the basic practices of Bible-reading and prayer, by which we “read, mark, learn and inwardly digest” all things necessary for salvation (BCP, p. 236).
Second, if we become dehydrated, we need our connection to the living water that “gushes up to eternal life” (John 4:14). We can reconnect it by reminding ourselves of our own baptisms. Open a Prayer Book and re-read that covenant to yourself in a spirit of re-affirmation (BCP, p. 304-5).
Third, see a doctor! Consult “a discreet and understanding priest,” a spiritual director or a trusted soul-friend (BCP, p. 315). Their outside perspectives can help put your inner dis-ease into perspective.
Thankfully, spiritual food poisoning is easy to diagnose and to treat. Absorbing the Holy Spirit’s fire to cook and transform you all the way through. With a well-seasoned, savory spiritual life, you will be prepared for the essence of evangelism: to share with a hungry friend.
God wants us to be Happy and He told us how: ‘Love one another!’ Love a snake if the poor thing needs love. Love thy neighbor…. And by ‘love’ He didn’t mean a namby-pamby old-maid love that’s scared to look up from a hymn book for fear of seeing a temptation of the flesh. If God hated flesh, why did He make so much of it? God is not sissy. He made the Grand Canyon and comets coursing through the sky and cyclones and stallions and earthquakes–can a God who can do all that turn around and practically wet His pants just because some little sheila leans over a mite and a man catches a sight of…? You know better, hon–and so do I! When God told us to love, He wasn’t holding out a card on us; He meant it. Love little babies that always need changing and love strong, smelly men so that there will be more babies to love–and in between go on loving because it’s so good to love!
Robert Heinlein, Stranger in a Strange Land