Not a Comfortable God

The Fountain and the Furnace

The Fountain & the Furnace

A God who is mystery, who is unpredictable, who disturbs the status quo, who conceals in the process of revealing, who demands not only that we choose whether or not to be in relationship but also to take responsibility for that relationship; a God who offers salvation as infinite, unpredetermined possibility — such a God is not a comfortable God. Such a God offers security in the form of risk and faith, and self-fulfillment in self-forgetfulness.

— Maggie Ross, The Fountain & the Furnace

Maggie Ross’s The Fountain & the Furnace: The Way of Tears and Fire is out of print, but it’s well worth tracking down a used copy. When I spoke at the Charlotte Spirituality Center in North Carolina last weekend, a woman mentioned that she often cries during her silent prayer time — and it was clear from the way she framed the question that she found this to be a bother, and was practically embarrassed even to be bringing it up. I assured  her that tears are not a “bother” but are in fact a gift, that great contemplatives and mystics from Symeon the New Theologian to Margery Kempe to Maggie Ross in our time, have all honored as a sign of progress and growth in the spiritual life. You can fake a mystical experience, and you can even fake crocodile tears — but real tears require an authentic response, and therefore are pure gift. Ross explores the gift of tears regularly in her work, but The Fountain & the Furnace may be her most sustained exploration of the topic. As always, her writing is incisive, thought-provoking, uncompromising, and steeped in a recognition that God is Mystery who evades and undermines all our many attempts to tame and domesticate the spiritual life. You want security? Prepare to take a risk. God is God, and you’re not. As Mr. Beaver points out about Aslan, “He’s not like a tame lion.”

In Memoriam: Kenneth Leech
Mysticism and the Divine Feminine: An Interview with Mirabai Starr
Pentecost and Ecstasy
Sanctity and Struggle, or, Why Saints Have Chaotic Inner Lives (Hint: It's Because We All Do)
About Carl McColman

Author of Befriending Silence, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism, Answering the Contemplative Call, and other books. Retreat leader. Speaker. Professed Lay Cistercian.

  • Mark

    I think Maggie Ross would agree with Flannery O’Connor who once said: “What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross.”

  • Gigi

    I was lent a copy of The Fountain and The Furnace a while ago and was loathe to return it to the owner! It’s a great read: Maggie Ross has a very infectious but subtle intensity. And thank you for the Aslan reference: always welcome! God bless, Gigi