Embers of the Heart

Many times throughout our lives, it seems as if the turbulent winds of strife blow out the burning zeal of our hearts for Christ and leave it smoldering ever so slightly. It certainly has not gone out but dimmed incredibly, and we are left with a spiritual dryness that seems difficult to overcome. There are many circumstances in which this may happen: the death of a loved one, a change in family dynamics, a sick family member, or even some slight that we have felt from a loved one. We await another spark that will bring the fire of the Holy Spirit back, but it seems to be an eternity before our zeal returns.

I recently heard a reflection on how Jesus leaves the flock in order to find the one lost sheep, and it stands to reason that the shepherd leaves his own fire to burn down into smoldering coals. The thought struck me that, while Jesus is away searching for the one lost sheep, we are left in the “wasteland” but this should bring us solace. Certainly it seems that being left in a “wasteland” is no solace whatsoever, but this spiritual dryness is God’s loving embrace to the degree that we are considered part of His flock. He loves us and trusts us to keep the embers of the heart burning to the degree that we are able so that His grace will once again bring it to a roaring fire.

An appropriate analogy is the illustration of a pipe, not the kind that would transport water or some other fluid, but the smoking variety that was once used by many men (and even women) as a tool of contemplation and succor for the soul. There are many steps and nuances to lighting a pipe, although it should seem straightforward. There is the false light, which is a toasting of the tobacco, followed by a tamping to bring down any unruly strands. This signifies the initial fire of the Holy Spirit singeing our unruly natures, followed by a light “tamping” from God to drive home the point of humility (especially when it comes to the sacrament of Confession). Once the false light has been completed, which may take several attempts, the true light comes. This symbolizes our initial excitement and zeal for God, which may recede for a time.  But as the ashes of our life accumulate, the initial light begins to smolder. It is up to the smoker of the pipe to tend to that smoldering, just as the fires of our soul should be tended while in our own spiritual dryness.

There are occasional tampings (a crushing of the ash so as to allow more oxygen to the ember) which many times can be the repentance or rethinking of our life through acts of humility. The reward for the pipe smoker is a lovely floating cloud of incense that elevates the mind, but this is only achieved through some effort on the part of the smoker. When it comes to the reward for our souls, this pipe smoker’s treat far pales in comparison to the treasures of heaven if he keeps his soul burning for Christ. In the end, God’s grace is never lacking (however much the analogy is), and it should be noted that we strive to keep the embers alight in our hearts. Prayer certainly helps foster the constant fire, as well as devotionals, Mass, and the sacraments, all of which tend to that soft glow no matter how low it may seem. Be of good cheer, even though the Shepherd may seem far off in the distance. He is closer than you think, and the spiritual wasteland you believe you are wandering is, in actuality, God treating you as one of His own.

I implore you to look within your heart and determine through prayer whether you are currently on fire for Christ or merely smoldering. There should be no guilt felt if you are in the latter stage, because it comes to us all at some point. What matters most now is how you respond to the smoldering and spiritual dryness. Patience is the key, since we should always be awaiting our Shepherd both in a personal and eschatological sense. Find the tools in your life that elevate your mind to Christ. It certainly may not be smoking a pipe, but the vehicle is not important, only our seeking Christ. You never know when your smoldering will quickly become a great immolation of the heart. When it happens, praise God with all of your soul in thanksgiving for having returned to your heart. While He never truly abandoned you, the perceived absence will make the flames that much warmer for you and those around you.

image: Zvonimir Atletic / Shutterstock.com

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Ben Ewing is a husband and father of two girls. He works as a Technical Director for a local iron castings company during the day and as Prince Charming from Cinderella or Kristoff from Frozen in the evenings. When he is not wearing feather boas and glittery crowns or getting his hands dirty in a foundry, he can be found roasting his own coffee blends or creating new recipes for home-brewed beer. Though he is a Coloradoan, he currently lives in northern Indiana with his wife, Jeannie Ewing, daughters, and dog (who is also female).

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