Winter, so far this year, is a tame beast in the Pacific Northwest. The south winds that shake our house have taken a hiatus. The north winds that lock our land into the deep freeze are on vacation. Even our quintessential drizzle has forgotten its business and we’ve had an extraordinary number of dry days.
And we’ve had no snow.
When I woke last night at 11:30, a glance out our bedroom window told me that that has changed. A skiff of snow blanketed our yard and rooftops, just softening the landscape and turning everything to white.
I’m glad it’s Friday night and that I don’t have to go anywhere tomorrow . . . Won’t the children be pleased . . .
Peering out the windows in this morning’s dim light revealed that the snow was still there. The house was cool, and I began shoveling the week’s build up of ashes from our wood stove in preparation to start a fire. More than ashes remained, and the coals, remnants from yesterday’s fire, warmed the air as I filled the old galvanized bucket.
They seemed dead black lumps of burnt wood. But there was life, the life of fire, still in them—I could feel it—and as I stepped out the back door into the snow, carrying my burden to the old bonfire pile behind the barn, I saw it. A dozen orange eyes stared back at me from the ashes in my bucket and bright sparks blew out in front of me, fire-jewels glittering against the snow. It was as though they were waiting—waiting for a breath of fresh air to renew and rejuvenate them.
Waiting for the wind to fan them to life—and for flame to consume them.
The blackened embers of the past do warm us, just a little; they brighten our memories and stroke our sentiments. But if that’s all we have, we don’t have much—a mind full of what has been living in the world that is.
Wishful thinking isn’t of any greater use. Optimism and ambition stoke our fire for a time before going out, starved by unbending reality, half-burned and unfulfilled.
Self-confidence dies hard, but at the end of the day, it’s self-consumed: wasted but unspent, squandered while hoarded, paid-out without return.
* * * * *
True to form this mild winter, our scant snow melts at midday beneath an azure sky.
One pinecone eye of the children’s snowman is missing, and beneath this sun, the rest of the snowman will follow soon.
Hours later, glowing coals I dumped on the bonfire pile are charred remains, dead. The best of them are only ash, fully consumed and gone. They fulfilled their purpose; they burned until nothing was left. No remains, nothing held back from the fire.
Fan your fire in us, Wind of God.
Kindle us to flame and wholly consume us--
our past, our ambitions, our self-centeredness--
no boundary to the expression of Your life in us,
nothing held back from Divine Fire.