It Only Takes a Spark
This past week I was invited by one of my nearest and dearest to what I thought was a conference and turned out to be the most exquisite spiritual retreat that I did not know I needed. I didn’t know how much I had missed God’s voice in the wind; how I had forgotten that He meets me among the pine trees, He gives me strong footholds in the dried leaves along the riverbed and under the overhanging rock formations and most of all in the gracious hospitality of those who surrounded me for five solid days.
We spent the week at an Episcopalian retreat center northwest of Birmingham at the southern edge of Bankhead National Forest and it was like coming home. It was at Camp MacDowell. A beautiful place to remember the things of God so easily forgotten in the routine chaos of everyday life. The meeting spaces where the faculty spoke, the chapel for daily Eucharist, the community dining hall, the cabins, the small group areas, all of it was quite spread out so I had ample opportunity to get my steps in each day and plenty of time to get cold all the way to my bones in between on my way from one space to another. The temperature visited the mid 40s one day, but seemed more comfortable the rest of the week in the 30s. The cold stung our cheeks, the wind stole our breath. Walking back towards the dining hall from the chapel on our last evening was particularly brutal. Once inside, a few of us made straight for the great fireplace where the embers of the afternoon’s fire were slowly dying away. One among us, Peter, put a substantial log on the fire and breathed a simple prayer for more heat: Please, Jesus. We stood watching the glowing embers in the ash under that log, waiting for it to catch.
I thought about all the fires I’ve ever sat around: those laid in fireplaces in homes and hotels, at camps like MacDowell, and in backwoods near a solitary tent. Of all the logs I’ve ever seen burn in all the fires I’ve ever sat before, I have never seen one actually catch fire until that night before the great fireplace. I saw the moment when the first orange flame kissed the bottom of that log and licked up its side, suddenly appearing as if it were the coin the magician made appear from behind your ear. It was so quick. It wasn’t there; then it was.
I was transfixed as I watched that first flame and then saw another and another follow suit, until the entire length of the log was burning, giving its heat and light to those of us standing before it. I had seen something that I couldn’t quite put words to. And it was exquisite.
Later, during my small group time, I sat across from an empty, cold fireplace in the common room of one of the cabins we were using. I imagined the fire from earlier in the evening. As we held the silence with each other, and during which I was supposed to be thinking of an answer to the last question that had been posed, I thought instead of the sermon topic for the ensuing Sunday: Andrew following Jesus, having seen and heard something… someone… exquisite….and then going to find his brother, Simon, so that he might witness this thing also.
And then, because I was in a cabin at camp, I couldn’t help but think campy thoughts: and that very campy camp song came to me: It Only Takes a Spark... to get a fire going….and soon all those around can warm up in its glowing… that’s how it is with God’s love….once you’ve experienced it…its fresh like spring, you want to sing, you want to (sing it if you know it) pass it on.
I think about the story of those two brothers - Andrew and Simon - about how Andrew met Jesus and hung out with him that first day. I think about how he went to get his brother so that Simon could also get to know Jesus. And then I think about the ways in which my own older, wiser brother - unknowingly, even unintentionally - invited me into a closer relationship with Jesus.
I think about Todd and Jana - two college juniors who gave up their Sunday nights to come to my home church and lead a bunch of us unruly and immature high school seniors - who taught me with such beautiful grace that it is absolutely okay to ask questions about this life of faith.
I think about my aunt - my dad's sister - going to town on her portable keyboard late into the night, playing Victory in Jesus, while my dad and his two cousins sang along, as I laid in bed wide awake in the next room, praying that God would never ever let me forget the sound of my family choir’s anthem.
There were so many others who, by word and deed, invited me again and again to meet Jesus: my parents, Me-Maw, Erica and Angela and Bryan and Malinda and Mollie.
Those who initially invited me deeper into faith were not pastors by vocation - those good people would come later in my life - but the ones who made the early invitations most certainly ministered to me. Why did they do that? Perhaps they saw something in me that I could not yet see in myself. Perhaps they were simply overflowing with the great good news and thought enough of me, indeed loved enough of me (and others; I was certainly not the only one) that they did not want me to miss out on this story, on this family, on this life of never ending grace and faith and mercy and love.
Maybe it really only does take a spark.
May the fire of the Holy Spirit be within your bones this day, dear ones.