Setting the World on Fire

Setting the World on Fire May 25, 2023

Setting the World on Fire

Setting the World on Fire

This is a week of setting the world on fire.

Fire is one of my favorite metaphors for spiritual life. It purifies, melting and burning away what does not belong. Fire shines light into darkness. It warms us. Fire is powerful, beyond our ability to control it. It helps us feel safer and more secure. Fire grows stronger as we feed it fuel.

This week we live surrounded by fire.

Some of us try to set the world on fire. Others of us work hard to put fires out, to keep the world from bursting into flames. Fire is powerful. We recognize its power is what makes it dangerous.

Many of us would like to harness the power of fire to help, and avoid the power it has to get beyond our control. We want to sit in its warmth and its light, to use it to cook, but not get burned. Fire can make our lives better, but we also fear its power.

Like earth and wind and water, fire is one of those elemental, essential parts of our lives. We might be able to forget its power for long periods of time. Then we are reminded of its importance when we see it face to face and look it in the eye.

We have gathered around fire to talk and listen, sharing our stories, longer than we can remember.

Fire turns matter into energy.

There is also the fire which burns within each of us. Our passion is sparked and ignites into a consuming blaze. While we might forget the reasons, we will always remember what sets our hearts on fire.

Fire and Spiritual Life

I have my own personal fascination with fire. Given half a chance, and a good rocking chair, I could sit watching it for hours.

Watching a fire in a fireplace, reflecting, is one of the great pleasures of life. I even look forward to watching the burning yule log on television each year.

Watching fire can be a contemplative practice for me. The flames can be an excellent tool for setting aside distractions and other thoughts. It is almost as if the fire in the fireplace reflects the fire within our hearts.

I appreciate watching fire even more than I enjoy poking at it and feeding wood into it.

There is something particularly comforting and rewarding about watching fire. The ongoing process of converting matter into energy continues at its own pace. From preparing to igniting, feeding and maintaining to cleaning up afterward.

The fire draws us toward it, demanding our unfocused attention. We can rest and relax, and stop being stressed about things which do not matter. Fire gives us warmth and light and something attractive to watch.

Spiritual life shares a lot in common with fire. We prepare ourselves, and spiritual life is sparked by something beyond us. Spiritual life in the world around us sparks spiritual life within us. We feed it and poke at it, and spiritual life gives us warmth and light.

Spiritual life draws us in to sit, rocking and reflecting.

It can feel like spiritual life is melting and burning away what we do not need or want in our lives. Spiritual life converts matter into energy, thinking into reflection, and then reflection into actions.

The work of spiritual life is setting the world on fire.

Bringing Fire to the Earth

The challenge for us is when fire refuses to stay where it is inviting, in the fireplace.

It is easy for us to forget and experience fire as a domesticated pet. We lull ourselves into a false sense of superiority and forget fire is beyond our control.

Setting the world on fire has many potential benefits as well as many potential risks.

We see the fires all around us and remember our fears. The fires may reach us, may make it impossible for us to escape. We watch as fire destroys plants and property, burning whatever it finds in its path.

Fire, turning matter into energy, changes everything.

Spiritual life works the same way.

We need to appreciate spiritual life is beyond our ability to control it. It is easy for us to think everything will be OK if we can just keep spiritual life under control. We perceive spiritual life as dangerous outside the safe places we have constructed for it.

It is important for us to remember spiritual life is not our domesticated pet.

Like the fire which can burn buildings and trees all around us, spiritual life leaves nothing untouched. There is nothing beyond its reach, no person it cannot change.

We are not able to compel spiritual life to do what we would like to see it do.

Fire All Around Us and Within Us

The brushfires which burn around the world are dangerous. They cause millions of dollars of damage and disruption. Some people lose their homes. Some people die. We spend a significant amount of time and money and effort trying to control them.

The fires are a natural part of life in California. There were brushfires here before people lived here. Setting the world on fire can help create opportunities for new life to begin.

The fire of spiritual life also helps us explore living in new ways. We may be afraid and we may lose things we believe are valuable. It may feel like we are giving up everything we hold dear. We often struggle as we try to bring the fire of spiritual life under our control.

Spiritual life sparks the fire in our hearts. It burns in our lives converting matter into energy, changing us from the inside out.

We are drawn to sit watching and rocking as spiritual life does its work within us. Sometimes we are afraid and want to exert our control over it.

The fire of spiritual life burns within us.

How are we setting the world on fire this week?

Where is the fire of spiritual life burning within us today?

[Image by matthewvenn]

Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s email address is

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