As a child growing up in a very conservative evangelical church, we sang with gusto “It only takes a spark”. We were the sparks, and we were to spread God’s love by passing it on to everyone we met. It was a happy kind of love. The fire it started would be warm and glowing and people would, of course, gather round to experience it. Our church was good. We were right. How could this spark ever go out?

Image used with permission.

Fire is good.  

I loved the open fireplace with my grandparents, where my dad would blow gently on the embers to get the fire roaring, while we learned to play cards with my pa. But not on Sundays. Nana said cards were banned on Sundays which didn’t really make sense but it must have been in the bible somewhere – I just didn’t know where. 

Fire is confusing. 

As a teen, I remember my first personal connection to a bushfire, sitting in an irrigation paddock with sprinklers overhead while fire came from over the hills. Friends lost homes and livestock. 

Fire is bad. 

In my late teens and early 20s,  we used to make bonfires on the beach  and contemplate life over marshmallows, watching as sparks mingled with stars while silly jokes mingled with hopes and dreams. 

Fire is good. 

As I grew older,  we sang of the refiners fire. A fire that would make us pure and holy – “set apart for you Lord”. This fire was one which would bring growth and make us better than we were. 

I was “on fire for God” as I set off for the mission field. On fire for God was like a badge of holiness, and songs of fire were my spiritual soundtrack – Set my heart ablaze; Let The Flame Burn Brighter; We’ll Walk the Land, with hearts on fire; Shine Jesus Shine – blaze, spirit blaze. 

Fire is good. 

Somewhere along the way, amidst the monotony of life,  that fire grew dim, and the spark from my childhood was barely an ember. 

I was burned out by the endless church events in my life – the deacons meetings, worship leading, Sunday school teaching, home group leading. The petty squabbles and major conflicts. The hurt caused and received. 

I was burned out by life in general. Children. A home. Work. Family responsibilities. 

Fire is bad. 

A couple of years ago, I was standing in my church singing “All I once held dear”. I knew that the lyrics were supposed to be about leaving a worldly life behind but at that moment, I had a physical sensation that somewhere deep inside the spark of my faith had quite literally died. I actually felt it. The fire had gone out. 

There was no god. There was no faith. And Everything I once held dear was gone. 

Bridges had been burned. 

Fire is bad.

As I write this, the air quality in my area is registering at “hazardous to health.” My state and my country is burning. Over 6.3  million hectares of land in Australia has burned this fire season. That’s 1 1/2 times the size of Switzerland. More than 3 times the size of Wales. It’s hard to see more than a couple of kilometres down the road. The air smells so bad that even though it is a hot Summer day, I can’t hang any washing out because it will come in smelling of smoke. The wind which fans those flames is harsh and changes direction. These winds of change bring more destruction as they turn the long side of the fires into the front. People and animals try desperately to find shelter and a safe haven from the fire. This is not a warm, comforting fire. It is a horror. 

Fire is very bad. 

Where is God? Where is my faith? 

Everything so many once held dear is gone. Homes. Lives. Livelihoods. 

The Australian landscape regenerates after fire. Soon we will see new growth sprouting from the burnt trees and when the rain comes the green shoots will stand out in stark contrast to the blackened stumps. The scars of the fires will remain and the landscape will be forever changed. But there is hope for new growth. 

Scientists are suggesting that the regrowth after these fires will be slower. The effects of climate change are real and the bush has been more damaged this time. But there has to be hope. 

Fire is bad. Fire is also good?

My story with God has begun its regrowth too. In the last year I’ve left formal church entirely, spending more time reading and contemplating faith and God than ever before. Looking at the bible in a new way,  I’ve begun meeting with a very small group of like minded friends and discussing the questions of life and faith that were too hard to ask before.  I’ve engaged with Nomad Podcast and book club and thought more deeply about a range of theological issues once off limits to my mind. 

Fire is good? 

I’ve learned that unlike the black and white faith of my younger days, life, like fire, isn’t just good or bad, black or white. 

Fire is bad and good. 

And now, I’m  hoping for a new spark. A gentler, more contained spark. Gently warming a room and a meal. The charred coals of my faith burn in a new and different way and I’m learning to look for the little shoots of green amongst the blackness.

– Charmaine Clark

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  1. Angela Seewald Jan 11, 2020

    Thank you Charmaine for expressing so well what many of us cannot.

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