When we bought our house more than three years ago, we found a burn pile waiting for us. Since then we’ve added leaves, pine needles, decaying bark, trimmed branches, rotten 2×6’s, dead window boxes and other random junk. A couple of years ago, we spent one day burning, but mostly the pile has just grown and settled under our management. Last summer the landscape turned too dry too fast for us to move beyond contemplation, so this year we jumped on it. Well, jump might be a bit of an overstatement, but we did eventually get a fire going. First, we spent two days working on one end of the pile. We pulled branches in and cleaned up near-by clutter, piling as many wet leaves and soggy needles on top as we thought the mound would allow. It was a good roaring fire for two days, but when our time ran out and we let the embers cool, we still had a humongous sprawling heap three times the size of what we had just burned; it looked largely like leaves with a few random twigs and half burned logs scattered about, and who knows what mystery material buried underneath.
A week ago, my calendar was clear and the wind was calm, so we dragged out the water hose, a couple of shovels and a torch, and lit her up. Not nearly as lively or satisfying as the first round, I can report that I burned faster than the pile did. We shoveled and stirred, working steadily to feed more of the compost into the flames, but it never really blazed. At the end of the day, we had a high smoldering pile encircled by yet more soggy sludge waiting to become fuel. Accepting that we’d done all we could, we reluctantly secured the perimeter for the night and walked away to let it fume. We went back in the morning, and with very little investigation discerned that more than anything else, our pile of smoke, ash and stuff needed to breathe. With a little stirring and rearranging, sparks snapped, orange danced and a few more leaves turned to dust. Over the course of the next several days, we visited regularly while our mound continued to simmer and stew. Left to its own devices, a few tunnels appeared as the fire clawed its way to air. And as we dug, turned over and opened up, the leaves, logs and lumber gradually sunk and settled to ash.
As I’ve watched the smoke, stirred the pot and done what I can to fan the flames, I’ve found myself pondering how desperately my heart and soul may be in need of a little air. Maybe even more than a little. I seem to have lost sight of that fiery passion that accompanied the younger me, lost my hold on what might have been and I used to hope, let the colors fade and settled down to live out my days with as little heat and drama as I can manage. Our efforts in burning prompt me to wonder what might still be within reach with a little help. What spark might be planted within that is stagnant for lack of a breeze. What God might have in mind for me at this stage of the journey. What a draft of air might stir into flame before my eyes.
The calendar says Pentecost approaches, so perhaps I should read again the story in Acts 2 about the arrival of the Holy Spirit, and for more than just worship prep. I need to be reminded of the way She intruded into the midst of world weary, battle-scarred and direction-less disciples like a mighty wind, dancing on their heads as flickers of fire, filling their lungs and souls with fresh air and setting them on course to found the Church, spread the Word and change the world. Old dreams sparked to life while bold new visions sprouted fresh growth. Sure, that was then and this is now, but every ounce of my being clings to the possibility that God isn’t finished with me yet. I guess it’s time to open the windows, dig for fuel in the dust of yesterday, and invite the Spirit to come and lead the way. Come, Holy Spirit, come!