Fire or Fire?

Which Fire Will We Choose?

Last Sunday was Pentecost, the day we remember the way the Holy Spirit who “descended like a dove” on Jesus at his baptism, swept into the lives of his followers “like the howling of a fierce wind [and] flames of fire.” (Acts 2:2-3)

Reading the Pentecost story while Minneapolis and other cities around the nation were in flames, reminded me of words from the poet, T. S. Eliot. You may want to read them slowly and let the images come alive in your imagination.

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror
Of which the tongues declare
The one dischage from sin and error. 
The only hope, or else despair
Lies in the choice of pyre or pyre- 
To be redeemed from fire by fire. 

Who then devised the torment? Love. 
Love is the unfamiliar Name
Behind the hands that wove 
The intolerable shirt of flame
Which human power cannot remove.
We only live, only suspire 
Consumed by either fire or fire.

Which pyre will we choose?

Will we burn with the fires of systemic racism, economic injustice, white supremacy, political corruption, repressed resentment, anger and old fashioned meanness? Or will we be redeemed by the unfamiliar fire of love? Not love as a feeling or emotion, but love as a choice; love in action; love that shapes our behavior?

In his letter to Corinth, Paul described love in specific actions that follow the example of Jesus.

Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7, The Message) 

Our only hope, or else despair, both as individuals and as a nation, depends on our choice of which fire will consume us. In the long run, “we only live, only suspire (an old English word meaning “breathe”), consumed by fire or fire.

Which fire will we choose?

Grace and peace,


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4 thoughts on “Fire or Fire?

  1. JH, Your words are like a cool glass of water…thanks!

  2. Thanks Jim. Your reflection reminds me of the statement by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: “Someday, after mastering winds, waves, tides and gravity, we shall harness the energy of love; and for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire.” May this be the time!

  3. Emerson Keith Ewing June 3, 2020 — 8:51 pm

    Thanks Jim … maybe the true fire will get out of the Bible the president held on Monday in the obscene photo op into his soul and bring love and peace to his inflammatory heart.

  4. Thanks for this spot-on comparison. The gift of EXTRAORDINARY MINISTRY in ORDINARY TIME is helping me choose rightly as I prepare to resume pastoral ministry shortly. Love what you’ve written & the effective use of hymns, poems, & prayers. May use this as a study with the good folks at Warren Chapel.

    Trust all continues well with you.


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