Making peace with your fire within

Fr. Ron Rolheiser, omi


January 14, 2002

There's been an interesting phenomenon in literature these past few years. Looking at non-fiction books, we see a number of popular best-sellers that draw their titles and substance from mythology and astrology: Women who run with Wolves, Iron John, A Blue Fire, The Wildman's Journey, Women are from Venus, Men from Mars.

All of these books make a common assertion, namely, inside us there is, at a place we can't always access, a wild fire, a divine madness, a chamber filled with gods and goddesses. Moreover that fire, that piece of the soul that can never be domesticated, is the best part of us. We want to be taken over and possessed by it because, therein lies our real energy and creativity.

If our lives are mundane, dour, duty-driven, compulsive and depressed it is because we are out of touch with that part of us. Wonder and enchantment lie in re-establishing our connection with that fire.

That insight may be derived from mythology and other such studies, but it jives perfectly with Christian theology. Our Scriptures begin with the affirmation that what's deepest in us, what defines us, is the imago dei, the image and likeness of God. To be in the "image and likeness" of God, however, does not mean that we have stamped, somewhere in our souls, a beautiful icon.

God, Scripture tells us, is fire, wild, holy, undomesticated. To be in the image and likeness of God is to have this wildness in us. It's this God-fire, that these secular best-sellers are, each it its own way, referring to and they are so popular because essentially what they say is true. Moreover, they're right too, though not novel, in affirming that this is the best part of us. From a Christian perspective we can affirm most of what is put forth in these books.

Where then does Christian theology differ from them? On one critical point: What Christianity (and every other great religion in the world) affirms, and what is generally lacking in these secular books, is the all-important insight that, while this fire is good and godly, we must never try to cope with it without connecting it to the other world. There can be no strictly secular, this-world-only handling of this energy. Anyone who tries to handle this energy without referring it to a world beyond our own will find that, far from being a source of wonder and enchantment, this fire will be a source for destruction, restlessness and depression. Why?

Precisely because this innate wildness over-charges us for life in this world. Divine fire trying to satiate itself solely within a finite situation explains why things don't happen smoothly in our lives. Whenever the godly energies in us are not somehow related to God, one of the following invariably results: destructive grandiosity, numbing depression, frustrating restlessness, helpless addiction or heartless ideology. What's the connection?

This energy is so overpowering that it leaves us few options: If we identify with it, thinking it is from ourselves rather than from God, we become less-than-wonderful ourselves, puff-up in grandiosity, believe that we are God and begin to act as if we were God.

People like Hitler and David Koresh took the imago dei within them very seriously, precisely without referring it to another world. Most of us don't want to go that route, so we do the opposite. Either we don't connect ourselves to that energy, and grow numb and dead, or we do connect to it but do not link it to the other world. Then, rather than puff-up when we find ourselves all fired up with no place to go, lacking adequate self-expression, we douse the fire and live in the resulting depression.

Pathological restlessness and addictions work in the same way. Blue-fire within, not connected to God and the other world, will either leave us constantly dissatisfied with everything we can attain or it will tempt us to try to drink up the whole world.

Our one other option is to link this godliness to a cause, as did Marxism and as do many ideologies. Whenever we do this, without real reference to the other world, these ideologies exact human sacrifice and eat us up.

There's a divine fire in each of us. If we link ourselves to it properly and connect it to the other world, it becomes godly energy, the source of all that's wonderful in life. However, if we run with the wolves, sit under Venus or Mars, and enter into our wildness without reference to God and a world beyond, that fire will destroy us.

Nobody can look at God and live! That's not just a biblical statement, but a practical formula for survival.