By Brittani Bair
Leviticus 6:13 The fire must be kept burning on the altar continuously; it must not go out.
There is something primal and gratifying about creating fire, particularly campfires in the fall. As the leaves ignite into orange and red, the autumn season brings all nature into glorious flame and the cool air dares us to collect some dry wood and strike up a conversation with the elements.
Fire speaks a language. I have not yet decoded enough of the syntax to speak back to it in its native tongue, but I hear in the crackling a message that challenges me to be more fully alive. The best response I have been able to muster is to gather a group of young people to sit around it in a circle and sing about the Kingdom of God and to poke at it with marshmallows. Then after we have sung and eaten, we pour a bucket of water from the nearby lake over the flames and bid farewell. I usually insist on witnessing the extinguishing of the flames on our youth retreats. But this year the group was not done enjoying the campfire when I was needed back in my cabin to tend to my infant. I left three of our more responsible college students to tend to the fire and I returned an hour later. I found a group still gathered, cozy around the fire, telling stories. I had come to make sure the flames were out, but I found myself unable to call an end to the gathering. I told the chaperones to make sure to have campers back inside by 9:30, and I ventured back into the darkness toward my baby. As I made my way away from the circle, I questioned myself as to why I was so compelled to let the fire continue burning. I sensed as I left that cozy circle that I was leaving the presence of a presence beyond myself, as if there were more people gathered around that fire than I could see with my eyes, that at the edge of the light there were gatherings taking place that I dare not cut short between old friends, hallowed saints, and ghosts of youth groups past. I felt like I'd be sending them all to bed early and couldn't bring myself to shut down the reunion. So the fire burned on into the night, adding a layer of memories to the memories that seemed to have been ignited by those flames, year after year, ghost upon hallowed ghost, speaking on into the fire.
God of life, as the Advent candles burn, ignite our hearts with hope, peace, joy, and love. Kindle within us an altar fire that never goes out. Amen.