Dark Evenings by the Fireplace
One of the ways I most enjoy listening to sacred stillness, especially this time of year, is by watching a fireplace.
Daylight is getting shorter where I live. Darkness closes in earlier and earlier for the next couple weeks. The nights are cooler than it is all day.
It is tempting to spend our time rushing toward the holidays. We feel there are so many things we need to do, so much to check and double check. Some of us feel we are running toward the end of the year, toward the holiday, toward family and friends. We would like our expectations exceeded and everything to be exactly the way we want it.
The challenge for us is finding the time to sit on a dark evening by the fireplace. Our thoughts are bouncing round in our heads and our hearts are full of emotions. How can we listen?
We resist visiting places where we might find meaning. It seems like too much time and effort to sit breathing and listening.
The fire gradually draws us into its light and warmth.
Spending dark evenings by the fireplace is one of the first contemplative practices I followed. Long before I learned about contemplative prayer or reading or monastic life, I would sit watching a fire in the fireplace.
Fire reminds me of spiritual life. I believe fire is a good metaphor for spiritual life and reflecting on fire helps me see spiritual life in new ways.
Listening to sacred stillness on a dark evening by the fireplace gives us warmth and light physically and spiritually.
We listen and our anxieties and fears go up the chimney in the smoke.
How does a fire in the fireplace show us spiritual life?
Spiritual Life in the Fireplace
Spiritual life is a fire burning within us and in the world around us. It is energy which brightens our darkness and heats our cold loneliness. There are times when spiritual life is sparked in new ways, and times when it may be reduced to embers.
The fire of spiritual life can be a torch to light our path or leave us tasting smoke and ashes.
Spiritual life can be a fire burning in a fireplace as we sit pondering the lessons it has for us. It may be a bonfire on a hill which can be seen for miles around. Spiritual life is in the flames of candles we light to draw us into their warm glow.
Like fire, spiritual life is beyond our control. I live in a place where the possibility of fires is real, especially during dry seasons. People can take steps to reduce them, but we cannot prevent all fires from happening.
I know people who seem to want to reduce the possibility of spiritual life igniting in them. They cannot extinguish spiritual life, but they clear away anything which might encourage it. Many of them are afraid, particularly during a drought, of what spiritual life might do.
Spiritual life has a mind of its own. It can purify like fire. It can roast or consume, warm, or give us light. The spiritual life within one person can spark spiritual life in another. Spiritual life in the world around us spreads into us, reflected in what we see and hear.
We may believe we have put out spiritual life, preventing it from burning within us. Beyond our control, spiritual life can spring back to life despite our desire to extinguish it.
Some of us believe we have spiritual life safely contained in a fireplace.
Sitting by the Fireplace and Listening
It is not difficult for me to spend an entire evening by a fireplace.
I might start out reading something in a book or on my phone. There may be something in particular I would like to consider. It could be an excellent place for a quiet, intimate conversation.
As the evening continues I will stop and feed or poke at the fire.
Eventually watching the fire in the fireplace becomes the focus on my attention. It is not the same as watching a movie or a news report. The fire draws us in and we watch the flames ebb and flow.
We sit, listening to sacred stillness and watching the fire in the fireplace. The fire, for all its power and heat, calms us and helps us become still.
As we watch the fire sacred stillness wraps us in its arms. We breathe deeply and evenly and some of us close our eyes. Watching the fire seems to help us release our tight grip on our concerns and fears. We sit still, giving our consent to the presence and life of sacred stillness and spiritual life within us.
Spending an Evening by the Fireplace
It does not need to be a dark evening by the fireplace for us to sit listening to sacred stillness. Some of us prefer to spend time listening in the morning or the afternoon. I find the darkness of December evenings helps me relax my grip and allow sacred stillness to embrace me.
For me, these evenings seem intentionally designed to be spent listening to stillness by a fireplace.
Watching a fire gives me something to see without engaging my focus. Paying unfocused attention allows me to listen to stillness. A fire in a fireplace helps me stay in the present moment.
The warmth and the light from a fireplace draw me in without engaging my thoughts or feelings. I am free to allow distractions to slip past before they can hold my attention. The fire seems to purify my heart and mind.
Spending dark evenings listening to sacred stillness by a fireplace is one of my favorite contemplative practices.
When can we spend a dark evening by the fireplace listening to sacred stillness this week?
What fears or anxieties can we see rising with the smoke from a fire in the fireplace?
[Image by rexhammock]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.