It’s clear from scripture that God is fire. Moses stood before a burning bush, as well as followed that same pillar of fire guiding him in the desert. Tongues of fire appeared over the heads of the apostles at Pentecost. The Bible describes God as a consuming fire. Which reminds me of a little bon fire I lit the other day…
When I threw the match onto the accelerant-doused pile of brush, it erupted into a mushroom of fire. While I was darting away, a gust of wind picked up the flames, and an ember landed on my bald head. From inside the house, Ginnette watched her wide-eyed-running-husband, flailing at his scalp, and just shook her head.
God ‘s fire will do more than leave a blister. He’s dangerous that way, but also redemptive, transformative. Contemplative prayer leads to transformation, because we meet the God of fire through the person of His Son. When we do, we are refined by the flame of God’s judgment.
When I used the word judgement just then, you may have winced. Though it’s true we no longer fear God’s judgment, will daily face God, by putting ourselves under his words. Contemplation is different from other forms of prayer because it so intensely connects our heart with God’s Word. If the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, then we will face the scalpel, perhaps not gladly, but gratefully. Note that Hebrews chapter 4, which begins with the great promise of rest, ends by saying, “And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give an account.” This is the figure of the Judge. If we sincerely place ourselves under His words, the fire will transform us. As Hans Urs von Balthasar says in his book, Prayer, while speaking of us; “Of his own free will, he will plunge into the flame, that the fire may not only illumine him, but also consume and enflame him.”
I have often asked myself, what do I hope happens when I spend time in contemplative prayer? Should I become a different person, at least eventually? God has given us the ability to think deeply upon the words of God, to ponder its implications, to ask Him for favor in a fervent hope filled pursuit. This God wants us to change, ever change into the likeness of His Son. This God’s judgement in scripture is the only means by which that can happen. Real contemplative prayer draws near to the fire, which will not just singe us, but consume us to recreate us over and over again.
When our love for what we see and understand from God’s Words surpasses our love for the secret sins we store inside, we will want to turn away from them, and toward the flame. That’s how contemplative prayer has it’s own built in motivation to endure. We will learn how God’s breathtaking and sometimes terrifying words of judgement lead to liberty, the freedom to live outside of ourselves. Out of this process of refinement will come the gold of pure love, our most precious commodity. Give, without condition, this currency of heaven, and you will never want.