Yesterday's sermon took up the matter of pride. It was a needed and powerful encouragement to not think more highly of ourselves than we should, to not puff ourselves up by comparison with others, but acknowledge truthfully our strengths and our limitations. And while it is true that we can harbor an inflated view of ourselves, I don't think that we can set our desires too high. Writing to the Colossians, Paul says that he is laboring with all the energy of God to teach and admonish all of the Gentiles concerning a truth which has been hidden and is now revealed. This astonishing mystery is that Christ is in each of the believers, the hope of glory. (Col 1:24-27)

What does it mean that because of Christ's presence in us, we have the hope of glory? A saying from the desert fathers has always intrigued me. In this story, Abba Lot goes to see Abba Joseph and says to him, 'Abba as far as I can I say my little office, I fast a little, I pray and meditate, I live in peace, and, as far as I can, I purify my thoughts. What else can I do?' At this, Abba Joseph stands up and stretches his hands towards heaven. His fingers become like ten lamps of fire and he says to Abba Lot, 'If you will, you can become all flame.'

"If you will," says Abba Joseph. Do we want to become all flame? Or, to put it another way, Do we want the Holy Spirit to so invade our lives that we are filled with the energy and love, "the glory," of God, And if so, how can we handle this fire without being consumed, how can we be as resilient as the burning bush that caught the attention of Moses out in the desert?

These are questions that guide my journey of faith. I am under no delusions. To be filled with the fire of God means that I need to stay open to the purifying this fire brings, which can be a painful process. It also means that I'm taking seriously the body that this Spirit desires to fill. In the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus tells his disciples that "the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak." Becoming healthy and strong makes sense if I don't want to be overwhelmed by the power of God surging through me.

Like Paul, I'm struggling to grasp hold of the gift that God has given each of us - the ability to become truly sons and daughters of God. It's pretty audacious, I know. Perhaps it sounds prideful to even admit, but I don't think so. No, the desire to be all flame is fueled by the desire to become one with the love of God. This yearning takes the Father, the Son and the Spirit seriously as they gracious pursue humanity to make us one with themselves.

I want to be all love, to channel the power of God's love, to cauterize, heal, strengthen, encourage, enjoy, empower. I want to share in God's glory because I think that's what God wants. If He desires all of us to become flame, should I want less?
In last week's post "Present to the Presence", I talked about being open to the myriad ways that God comes to companion us. Today's poem by Mary Pratt (reprinted in "At the Still Point:A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time)" is an invocation of the Holy Spirit. The title "Not Like a Dove" gives us a hint that the author imagines the Holy Spirit in some unusual ways. Choosing a new metaphor wakes us up, a bit like brisk air in these autumn mornings. The Spirit as chameleon? gecko? komodo?

Each image deserves some pondering. I'll pause on a few, starting with the Chameleon, well-known for blending into varied environments. Does God, who never changes in essence, change in form, depending on our situation? And why would the change be neessary? I'm reminded of these verses in Psalm 18:

With the kind You show Yourself kind;
         With the blameless You show Yourself blameless; 
With the pure You show Yourself pure,
         And with the crooked You show Yourself astute.

And there's this line: "Come like Komodo parting the ways/with your stinking breath. Come/clear the carrion from this isle." Last autumn I penned a short poem of thanks to the vulture, who though not as "awe-inspiring" as the hawk, provides the necessary the task of clearing the countryside from death and disease. Like a surgeon who does not flinch at the blood and stench, but willingly comes into surgery to remove a cancerous growth, so God does not turn aside from his own cleansing work in our minds and souls.

Spirit as Dragon takes the lizard metaphor and gives it wings, a far cry from the gentle dove, the author chooses not to invoke. But the work of Spirit is not always gentle.  John Donne begins one of his sonnets with this plea: "Batter my heart, three person'd God" and ends by stating " Take me to you, imprison me, for I/ Except you'enthrall me, never shall be free/ Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me."

The poem ends with the phrase "burn away all that will burn." With fiery and fearsome breath, the dragon comes, evoking those Hebrew scriptures which liken God to a refining fire. Knowing that there is gold in the ore, the Spirit is not satisfied until the dross is consumed and we are revealed as precious and brought into the community of the Godhead. 

This is the purpose of God, to embrace us, and then to purify  us and make us whole. And so the Spirit will come in whatever means necessary, under cover of night, hidden and unsuspected, fierce and rattling. And when we know the purpose, trust the desire, we embrace the coming of Spirit in whatever way God chooses to enter our lives. 

Not Like a Dove
Mary F. C. Pratt

Come Holy Spirit, come
like a red eft creeping out
from under wet leaves
crossing the traveled highway
at night after rain.
Come like the brown anole comes north
unexpected in bananas or limes;
like a gecko hunting roaches on a walll.
Come like Chameleon;
like Iquana still as deep green death
flittering a cloven tonge.
Come like Komodo parting the ways
with your stinking breath. Come
clear the carrion from the isle.
Come Holy Spirit
come like the Dragon remembered of old
rattling and clanking on golden wings.
Seize our treasures for your glittering hoard.
Burn away all that will burn.

(An eft is a young newt. The photo above is of the red-spotted newt.)