October 2011

Fire – What Is It?


On a recent camping trip my husband and I were eagerly looking forward to a blazing campfire to take the chill out of the evening. Though we are both generally adept with campfires and we had a nice stack of firewood, it just didn’t go well for us that evening. The fire needed more small and medium bits of dry wood for the heat to catch, to spread, and finally to build an energy of its own. In sum: building a good fire requires materials, skill, time, patience and confidence.

As I re-arranged the logs and scrounged for other flammable materials, I found myself thinking about fire and its place in the world. Like other aspects of nature, it can be both constructive and destructive; entertaining as well as practical. It can be controlled within limits, and it obeys laws.

Nature creates fires through lightning, igniting combustible, organic material, and then it can spread. Likewise, in building a campfire, I must create the right conditions, have the ingredients in correct proportion, and work in proper sequence If I do it well, then eventually contagion will take over, with less-dry wood igniting from nearby pieces.

This quality of contagion is a double-edged sword. We all know we can “catch” illness from other people. Perhaps less obviously, we can also “catch” a good mood, optimism, inspiration; and we can also “catch” negative and, worse yet, destructive attitudes. This is what is indicated in phrases from the Baha’i Writings such as “religious hatred and rancor is a world-consuming fire,” “the fire of persecution” and “fire of greed and avarice.”

The Writings frequently refer to the dual nature of fire - in real as well as in metaphorical terms. I am reassured by phrases such as “fire of divine love,” “lamps of justice,” and “the fire of Unity.”

Religious writings have long used the concept of “test by fire” to indicate purification through difficult times. Indeed, fire and the conditions it symbolizes can help build character by challenging us to overcome our problems, and it can inspire us by warming our hearts and prompting action.

I suppose fire itself is neither good nor bad, though its impact may be evaluated in terms of its effects and one’s own expectations. Fire`s inherent nature is to burn, just like electricity can give light and plants have the potential for growth. The key factor is my own attitude toward whatever it is I am experiencing. Heat from fire changes a substance, reducing it to its elemental parts. The same may be said for people, who may find themselves transformed through their efforts in overcoming adversity. Fire can purify a substance, removing the dross that otherwise conceals its beauty. Again, the same can happen for people, who come through tribulations radiant in their relief to have overcome their trials.

So there I was, back at the campfire, lost in thought, finally enjoying the fire’s warmth and light. And dearly hoping for its protection against wolves and mosquitoes, too.


© Jaellayna Palmer 2011