It’s all about the fire and water metaphors. They’re everywhere. Set our hearts aflame. Wash us clean. Modern life though, with its central heating and plumbing, separates us from these elements, or at least minimizes our interaction with them.
As a Peace Corps Volunteer in rural Kazakhstan, I gained new appreciation of the fire and water metaphors as windows into the nature of God. Old Man Winter stalks the central Asian steppe with deadly accuracy and killing cold. What relief it was to come inside after trudging through the snow, crying from the pain of the wind, and shake off layers upon layers next to a small box stove, or pitchka. I remember the slow warming of my fingers and toes, pulling up a stool and leaning in to let the heat slowly thaw my frozen body. The bright flames would whirl around inside the stove, their movement pushing the temperature higher, higher, until the fire was right for a big bucket of black, shiny coal. I remember the first time my neighbor showed me how to dump the bucket. I was afraid she’d smothered my fire completely. “Don’t worry,” she said, “you’ll hear it popping soon.”
The steppe is dry, an arid plain stretching out to the horizon in all directions. In summer, with no shade in burning sun, I’d trudge to the well, the kolonga, and pump my arms hard and fast until the water spurted into my waiting bucket. The dust clung to my feet, my hair, my clothes. What joy it was to get our weekly trip to the monsha, or bath, a neighbor’s hut outfitted with big barrels of clean water. It made me new. I’d walk home with a spring in my step, my heart confident and clear.
It’s been almost three years since I finished my service and came home. I like a hot shower and my apartment’s thermostat, but I miss the primal connection I had to fire and water. They’re full of transforming power, full of mystery, full of potential and portent.
At our WCD retreat last weekend, I got them back. I reveled in sitting by the open flames of the campfire on Friday night, the colors wildly, flagrantly vivid in the dark. Logs became blackened, became shrunken, became glowing coals, became fine, powdered ash, still warm in the morning. I gloried in my home on the dock for 3 hours on Saturday afternoon, the wide, wending Allegheny gliding by, smooth and sure. Breezes became ripples, became waves, became noise and wet slapping against the dock as I pondered my own spiritual travels.
Thaw my hard, frozen heart. Wash it clean and make it new. Transform me for the journey ahead.
- Katie Fitzpatrick