As I write this, it seems that the world is on fire. Smoke from wildfires blankets the area, turning the sun into a pale orange ball, and filling the air with the acrid odor of burning forests. Donald Trump’s unexpected victory in the election last week has been a fire that has left many feeling that their hopes and dreams for our nation have gone up in smoke.
Fire is a powerful force that creates, transforms, purifies, and destroys. Fire drives our technology, provides warmth and light, and holds a spiritually significant meaning for many of us. Our flaming chalice originated as a beacon of welcome and refuge. In Christian tradition, the Holy Spirit is often depicted a tongues of flame, representing the creative and transformative power of God. In many neo-Pagan traditions, fire is one of the four classical elements, representing passion, emotion, fervor, change, and even fertility. Hebrew scripture describes one who will purify the sons of Levi like a refiner’s fire. Fire also represents death and rebirth, as in the phoenix, rising anew from its own immolation.
According to tradition . . . only one Phoenix at a time could live in our world. Its true home was Paradise, a land of unimaginable beauty lying beyond the distant horizon towards the rising sun. Nothing dies in Paradise, and here was the crux of the bird’s dilemma. After a thousand years had passed, the Phoenix had become oppressed by the burden of its age; the time had come for it to die. To do so, the Phoenix had to wing its way into the mortal world, flying westwards across the jungles of Burma, and the torrid plains of India until it reached the scented spice groves of Arabia. Here it collected a bunch of aromatic herbs before setting course for the coast of Phoenicia in Syria. In the topmost branches of a palm tree, the Phoenix constructed a nest out of the herbs and awaited the coming of the new dawn which would herald its death.
As the sun soared above the horizon the Phoenix faced east, opened its bill and sang such a bewitching song that even the sun god himself paused for a moment in his chariot. After listening to the sweet tones, he whipped his horses into motion and a spark from their hooves descended onto the Phoenix’s nest and caused it to blaze. Thus the Phoenix’s thousand-year life ended in conflagration. But in the ashes of the funeral pyre a tiny worm stirred. Within three days the creature grew into a brand-new Phoenix, which then spread its wings and flew east to the gates of Paradise in the company of a retinue of birds. (http://www.labyrinthina.com/legend-of-the-phoenix.html)
Though we see all around us all too brutal reminders of the destructive power of fire, we know that the wildfires that are burning right now will burn out, and new life will slowly emerge from the scorched earth. Likewise, those of us who are tasting ashes in the wake of a particularly brutal political season, will rise, like the phoenix, with renewed vigor and passion, stronger and more powerful in our resolve. The fire of a new and fervent passion for justice will drive us forward.
As a reminder of fire’s creative and transformative power, I leave you with this video of Unitarian Universalist minister and composer Jason Shelton’s hymn The Fire of Commitment and this video of the Finale from Stravinksy’s The Firebird.