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  • Writer's pictureCory McGowan

Keeping Your Sacred Fire

It is a wonderful time of year to appreciate fire.

Both in the literal sense of having the warmth of a fire to provide light and warmth in places where we are in the season of dark and cold, and also in the figurative sense of having transitioned from one calendar year to the next, and the internal fire that can ignite for making changes in our lives.

For many, this time of year may be familiar in the way it seems to go every year, in that your fire for change burns bright and hot for the first days or weeks of the year, but then ‘mysteriously’ fizzles out, leaving soot and ash and more of the same. If you want that to change this year, read on for a perspective that I hope will be helpful, starting with a personal story.

We moved into a new home last year, and while investing in a wood stove wasn’t practical in some ways, it was non-negotiable for me. I also insisted we choose a model with a big glass window so we could really enjoy looking at the fire. As we started using it this fall, we learned quickly that the glass gets cloudy with soot surprisingly easily and regularly. Initially, I blamed external factors: Why didn’t the vendor who sold it to us know that? What is faulty about how the company made it? Then, after doing some research and learning that there are a lot of factors at play that may cause it (too many to bore you with here), I moved from blame to resignation: Oh well, I guess I just have to deal with cleaning the damn glass every day, and someday I’ll probably regret that I even got a wood stove with a window in the first place. Not exactly a joyful place to be while lighting the first fires of the season.

Then recently, in the morning - my quiet time before the family gets up, I was sitting and writing while looking at the fire after I had gone through the routine of cleaning the glass and lighting the stove. And it occurred to me (due in no small part to currently being absorbed in Braiding Sweetgrass) what an incredible privilege it is to keep a fire in our home. The months of gathering, processing, and stacking wood came back to me. All of the opportunities I could have taken to appreciate the gifts that were required for there to even be flames in front of me at that moment. What had been a luxurious heat source in our home (and a potential to feel like a hassle) became a sacred fire, and I became a firekeeper.

We can all be firekeepers in our lives. I use this word with sensitivity to indigenous cultures and do not intend any cultural appropriation. Quite the contrary, there has never been a time like now when we must consider the wisdom of those who have lived for millenia in close reciprocity with the earth if we are going to surmount the challenges around us. And no matter how removed or different we may feel from those cultural identities, we all have that wisdom within us, for we are of the earth, of course.

What does this have to do with starting the year with a fire in our bellies to make changes and create something we want in our lives?

First, when the clarity of your intention starts to get clouded and sooty, where do you notice yourself going to blame or resignation? What would be a more empowered way to respond?

Next, what can become possible if you consider your privileged and even sacred role in keeping this internal fire alight? What is the deeper purpose for wanting to bring about the change?

Finally, what happens when you choose to recognize the gifts that were required for you to have what is right in front of you? How can stepping into greater reciprocity with the earth support you in overcoming the challenges to make the changes you want to?

As Robin Wall Kimmerer puts so beautifully:

Fires do not make themselves. The earth provides the materials and the laws of thermodynamics. Humans must provide the work and the knowledge, and the wisdom to use the power of fire for good. The spark itself is a mystery, but we know that before a fire can be lit, we have to gather the tinder, the thoughts, and the practices that will nurture the flame.

Keep nurturing that flame, firekeeper.

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