Fanning the flame … by Fr. John Horan

“… I am reminding you now to fan into a flame the gift that God gave you …”

Lent recurs each year to remind us that our life, at all levels, is one of continuous growth. We never arrive at completion. The season asks us to become more and more aware of the great giftedness and potential which is within each one of us, and also to become more aware of the obstacles that block us from achieving such potential.

It is also a season for deepening our awareness of the life Jesus lived among us and what it means for us and our world. He came among us as the most loving, creative and passionate of men. He risked all. He was met with rejection, and ultimately, violence and death, but not before his love and his passion had left an indelible mark in the world. He invites us to follow in his footsteps. In Paul’s words he invites us “to fan into flame” the gift that God has given us.


There is a longing in all of us which may peep out, from time to time, if it is not snowed under by the weariness of life or the knocks, hurts and scars of our personal histories. It is a longing to be more passionate and creative about life, to transcend that dull sameness we often feel in everyday life.

Richard Bach, in his insightful little allegory Jonathan Livingston Seagull, wrote beautifully about it some years ago. Jonathan was the gull who listened to the inner voice of the longing. To achieve it he had to break away from the accepted ‘wisdoms’ and ‘cultural beliefs’ of the flock. Fundamental beliefs held about them all they could ever do was to fight for scraps in the wash of boats and ships. By and large the gulls had a degree of safety and happiness within these beliefs and presuppositions about themselves.

Jonathan found, to his cost, that when he challenged such beliefs, often held as absolute truths, he was met with anger, violence and banishment. He wanted to show them that life could be different, and that they could all live with passion, risk and excitement. They could launch into the unknown and live by a different set of values and motivations. The flock wasn’t ready. It probably never is; culture keeps us enslaved to its values and belief systems. Jonathan paid the price for his freedom. The parallels are obvious.


We are all, to some degree, hide¬bound by childhood 'voices and tapes' lodged in our minds and memories. These told us what others thought of us and what our culture said we were. These voices from our past may, in fact, be very limiting. They may have been negative, instilling in us codes of behaviour or ways of acting dominated by fear, safety and lack of adventure. Or the memories of being shamed, aban¬doned or betrayed can lead us to ways of behaving that are timid, reckless or destructive.


It is vital to remember that we are not what these voices told us we are. We are what we could be. 'I am what I could be' is a marvellous invitation; It is open-ended, inviting me to dream, to look inside and touch the potential which I may feel is being strangled or lying dormant within me.
We are all, as children of God, gift¬ed in our own way. More than that, we have been,'through our Baptism, gifted with the presence of the Spirit with us. That's why St Paul writes to his younger disciple Timothy and says: " ... I am reminding you now, to fan into a flame the gift that God gave you ... God's Spirit was not a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, and love and self control" (2 Tim 1:6-7). Somehow, the invitation to fan the flame of the gift, to fan the flame of my Christian calling, is to re-connect in some way with what is essential in me, in us. What is it that fires me today? What gives me life? What energises me? What enthuses me? What am I really passionate about?
Yet we, at some deep level of our being, perceive fire and passion as a double-edged sword. We try to hold together, as the poet David Whyte says, flour love for creative fire, its warmth and its intensity, and at the same time our fear of being burned". As an image, fire seems to be at the heart of human life. It was one of the most important elements in the development of human society. We know its power to delight us and to terrify us. It can nourish or it can kill. It's flickering flames attract and beguile us on winter's nights when we give fire the place of honour at the very centre of our homes and hearths. Fire invites us to creative, passionate living.


In responding to life or life's events there is always a choice. We can refuse to fan the flame of fire and chose the way of ice. In the world of poetry and mythology fire and ice are opposites. They are also, metaphors for how we live our lives Living with fire, creatively and wit] passion can be risky. We can fail an( be rejected as Jesus was. So we may choose the path of ice. The path of security and accommodation - not ( great epitaph for our tombstones The American poet Robert Frost was well aware of the dilemma and he expressed it in his understated poem, Fire and Ice:

Some say the world will end in fire
Some say in ice.
From what I've tasted of desire
I hold with those who favor fire.
But if it had to perish twice,
I think I know enough of hate
To say that for destruction ice Is also great
And would suffice.

Fire is about the road of love and sacrifice. The road of ice - is ulti¬mately about security and fearful mediocrity. Even though we may not consciously chose the road of ice, we, to use Whyte's words, "never step fully into the darkness, but neither do we step towards the flame of our most central belonging and become the fire itself".
We may even be disobeying the Gospel demand not to hide our light under a bush. We are created in the image of God, we were born for fire. To deny it, is to somehow thwart the very reason for our exis¬tence. It is indeed to stymie our own development and growth in the spirit.