Friday, July 20, 2007


I was recently talking to folks again about how I used to be slightly concerned that when I set myself to "holding someone in the light" I more often saw them amidst flames than a friendly sort of gro-light. It wasn't hostile, but it wasn't exactly, well, gentle, either.

I've come much more to peace with it recently (and occasionally have visions more like gro-lights) - that God/Truth is not always warm and fuzzy, and powerful, transformative experiences aren't easy.

And fire is coming up a lot lately, in terms of being "on fire" - the passion of early quakers that so many of us feel lacking in our own experience. I find that I tend to think I miss it too, but then I wonder how terrifying it would be to feel that.

I've just taken a job that I like, and that's really cool in a number of ways, but in others it's not totally in keeping with my ethics, in some ways it's diametrically opposed (as I have a renewed interest in/call to step outside "the man"'s society entirely - to be like the birds and the lilies of the field (maybe)

I also just re-read an old post of Zach's discussing some of this, in which one comment was that you can't recapture (?) the fire of early quakers unless it's based in God and guided by Jesus.

I feel like I've harped on this already, but that's just so not true, or at least not apparent, to me. I have little mystical experience (well, rather, little mystical experience -my experience is in ways frequent and quiet - no "burning bushes") but everything I've experienced of the world implies to me that it doesn't depend on calling on Jesus. that that works very well for some, because Jesus makes sense to them, or the story works for them in some way....

But the big mystical "IT" is there anyway, and probably not terribly interested in the words, or even the concepts, that we use as we bumble around. If it's Jesus, I guess I assume he can get through to me (being God and all) even if I don't know his name, if it's something else, perhaps it can get through even if someone can only interpret it as Jesus.

Anyway, I'm craving (and fearing!) that fire too. Not sure how to help way open for it, of if it's simply not there right now (which I rather doubt).


anj said...

A few months ago, during a committee weekend for Powell House (NYYM retreat center) as we sat in silent worship, I saw flames dancing around the room. As if they were waiting to come into us; and I asked Jesus "What keeps us from taking in the flame?" Right after that question, the man beside me started choking, and needed to leave the room. Somehow it seemed that was an answer to my question. I have been holding in the Light every since the desire to become a fire-eater, to take in that flame, to not choke on it. To let it arouse me, and to illuminate me, and to burn the chafe off - to purify as flame does. Your post speaks to that in me. And yes, for me that source of flame would be Jesus - is it possible that a rose by any other name would be as sweet? I know that Whom I know as Jesus flows thru those who do not call His name in that way.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Wow, thanks for this!

I think what you say here is exactly it. Whom you know as Jesus flows through everything (I would guess) - and I know it as something else, something unnamed (at least I tend to assume that) and yet I totally recognize it in some who name is "Jesus"

I love the image of being a fire-eater. Perhaps that's what I'm talking about here, how to take it in, become it. Terrifying and magical

kwix said...


What wonderful sharing, and dialogue, and inspiration from you, pam, and anj too.

At my meeting, people talk about holding others "in the Light" (mainly to avoid saying the word "prayer") without, I think, always really thinking about all the implications of that Light. God is by definition beyond any of our words, beyond our understanding. To ask for His/Her/Its presence is always to run a risk that you will feel as much Flame as Light. That is certainly what happened to the Early Quakers, who trembled and wept at what they felt this Light exposed to them about themselves.

Thank you for reminding us of this Power.


James Riemermann said...

Pam, I don't suppose it will come as any surprise that I will be the contrary voice here, as I so often am.

If I found myself mentally roasting my friends when I was trying to "hold them in the light" the first explanation to come to mind would be that I've got some anger or bitterness underneath that I'm not totally aware of. Not necessarily against the particular people I'm roasting, but in general. When I'm troubled the images that come unbidden to my mind tend to be troubled. That's the way I am, and I think it's a pretty common phenomenon.

I do have some understanding of the religious image and notion of being "on fire with spirit" and also the old Quaker understanding of "the light" as that which shows us everything that is wrong in us.

I really don't need that kind of light, because I've got plain old Jewish guilt. Not a day goes by in my life where I don't see and feel and sometimes shudder in the presence of all the ways I don't measure up to what I know I should be. This is not something that comes over me in a religious vision; it is where I live. Sometimes it helps me to rise above it, but often it doesn't.

And I'm not really opposed to either guilt or this finger-pointing sort of light, though I think it gets out of hand sometimes. I think people (myself included) are often too easy on themselves, and too quick to pick out the failings in others.

But when I intentionally hold a troubled Friend in the light, I don't think there's much to be said for imagining them in a fire to burn away the dross. I might find myself thinking such thoughts, but I don't think that's a particularly helpful sort of prayer. I am aiming for the warm, comforting, embracing sort of light, and also aiming to be like that light. Not often succeeding, but aiming.

I have mixed feelings aobut "on fire with spirit" thing as well. Passion is good, but only if it's also smart and compassionate and aware that it might be mistaken or misplaced. Someone asked our dear departed Twin Cities Friend Eleanor Strait if she had any philosophy for life, and she said something like "Always be kind." At every level of your life, in every way you can imagine. That sort of thing is underrated. I'll take one Eleanor Strait over a dozen Friends on fire with spirit, every time.

earthfreak (Pam) said...


I so appreciate your contrariness!

I think it might have come across slightly wrong. In fact, someone else gave me the image of "burning away impurities" or whatever - that's not how it really comes across to me.

Really not at all as a critique of how they are being. The first time I really noticed it a somewhat shy friend of mine was speaking in business meeting, and it was clearly hard, but very important. I really wanted to be doing the "gro-light" thing, but it kept being flames. I guess I eventually concluded that that had to do more with what was really going on - being with her through an internally tumultuous experience, than with how I would like it to be, all warm and fuzzy.

I often feel myself like I need the warm fuzzies, but I also often feel like I am walking into the flames, and need that sort of intensity of support.

As for when we actually do need to change, I think then we need both as well - fire to burn away the decay and nurturance to grow back healthy.

I never really even talked to Eleanor, though I felt her gentleness just being in a room with her sometimes. I love that philosophy. I would agree that kindness is infinitely more important than fire.

Liz Opp said...

I think there is always a risk when we walk the line between feeling the fire of our passion or leading and being disciplined enough to wait for the right time to bring that passion forward.

But I also believe we have to be willing to walk that line if we are ever going to exercise that spiritual muscle!

Also, Fox writes about "[coming] up through that flaming sword..." and I find a resonance to that phrase, like passing through a hellish time in order to be broken open.

Liz Opp, The Good Raised Up

forrest said...

& then there's the story in Acts about that Pentecost festival where everyone gets tongues of fire rising out of their heads (3rd eye chakra?) and goes around babbling the holiest truth they can find, while everyone who isn't clued in assumes they must all be drunk...

Sorry abt James' guilt; I'd suggest that being a basically good person, he could find a better way to make himself behave, less like trying to cure a smoking habit with an ax.

And that's where Jesus as a human being comes in. Those peculiar sayings about judging-not & condemning-not are important, though too simple for most people to understand. (If they were easy, you wouldn't have so many "Christian" churches pushing sin, guilt, and Jesus-as-a-brand-name cure for their own iatrogenic disease. And then we wouldn't have so many people giving Jesus a bad name! But we've been given such a strong psychological mindset towards blame and punishment.)

When I first read about you roasting people in the Light, it struck me as hilarious. Probably it would have unnerved me, too, if I'd experienced it myself, but it sounded so far from anything newage or sentimental!

I'm in the midst of my yearly meeting right now; as usual it isn't at all what I expected. The intensity has been overwhelming to many of us at times! It feels like powerful change, no telling what it will do next!--except that I trust it will lead us to the change we need most.

But God also made us for rest, and sleep, and coming home will also be good. (But maybe not coming home to quite the same rut!)

forrest said...

That night at PYM... we went to an "interest group" formed by John Pixley, on 'Taking Back Jesus.' (see}

In his message the next morning, John spoke of being "a man on fire." Many of us took up this metaphor in subsequent meetings for worship...

and speaking to him later I remembered the Jewish notion of "four worlds". One way to describe these worlds uses the old four elements: earth, water, air and fire.

Earth by this represents the world of physicality--water, the world of emotion. Air, the world of intellect and ideas. And fire? Spirit.

James Riemermann said...

Forrest wrote:
Sorry abt James' guilt; I'd suggest that being a basically good person, he could find a better way to make himself behave, less like trying to cure a smoking habit with an ax.

No need to be sorry. I don't like guilt, but I like it better than I would like living in a world full of "basically good" human beings without it. The only way to grow up without guilt is to grow up without ever hearing the word "No." Not a good thing.

And from my perspective, there's no better way because guilt is not a "way", it's central to the human condition.

earthfreak (Pam) said...

Ha, James

Here comes my intellectual response rather than one from my own experience:

Wouldn't it be lovely if we did just have basically good people without it? I grew up culturally (though not doctrinally, really) catholic, so I have another brand of the religious guilt.

I believe it's possible (though maybe not in this universe!) to distinguish between actions and people - that people can no that certain actions are bad (a "no") without having any sense that committing them makes them a bad person

'course, I myself rarely have this experience, but I'd like to believe it's possible


James Riemermann said...

I don't mean to say that people are just bad, or that guilt is the only thing that works. Certainly not.

But I think part of a child's innocence is caring only about its own needs, and growing up involves losing that innocence, and learning about the necessary link between between caring for others and being cared for. You can't just take, eventually you have to give, if you want to live a good life. Feeling bad about treating others badly is an indispensable part of that process of growing up, but so is affection, parents and children exchanging smiles, hugging and kissing and playing with each other.