let's go down,
come on down,
don't you want to go down,
down in the river to pray..."
I love this scene from "O Brother Where Art Thou," and especially Alison Krauss' Down in the River to Pray." But it was last week's Bible study on baptism, that led me to some new spiritual imagery. It came as a memory. One I hadn't thought of for a long time. We'd taken a trip to an historic village where participants re-enacted the lives of 18th century tradesmen, farmers, and families. A bustling community with thatched cottages and kitchen gardens.
I was most fascinated, at the time, by the blacksmith. Strong and silent, he forged lumps of molten metal into horseshoes, hinges for doors, farm implements, and tools. It all seemed like magic to me. Watching him submerge his quarry, first into the fire...in order to soften, bend and shape it, then into a large vessel of cold water...to harden it so that he could test it's shape, and further hone it's sharpness, was like a dance of heat and steam.
So, when our Bible lesson last week, referred back and forth to baptism by fire, then baptism by water...it was this blacksmith imagery that set me thinking about the spiritual essence of these elements as they relate to "sacrament," which Webster defines as "an outward and spiritual sign, of an inward and spiritual grace."
Mary Baker Eddy, in particular, references water and fire over-and-over again in her writings, but I loved thinking them in the context of "smithing," particularly with statements like:
"The furnace separates the gold from the dross that the precious metal may be graven with the image of God.”
"Millions of unprejudiced minds -- simple seekers for Truth, weary wanderers, athirst in the desert -- are waiting and watching for rest and drink. Give them a cup of cold water in Christ's name, and never fear the consequences."
I know it may seem like a bit of a stretch, but to me, this is what Jesus' life is a model of...being softened in the fire of God's love...for bending and shaping, molding and exalting, and then being "set" by the cool waters of spiritual refreshment....the silence that comes in the quietness of prayer. Again, Mary Baker Eddy gives such a lovely sense of this spiritual refreshment when she states:
"Jesus prayed, he withdrew from the material senses to refresh his heart with brighter, with spiritual views."
Perhaps his tempering, with the cold water of spiritual stillness, came from within...from deep draughts of prayer. The cup of cold water that set the shape of his heart.
I was thinking about this heating and cooling as I considered the way a goldsmith works. He heats up lump, and the impurities, or dross, fall away from the ingot of gold. But this heating, this baptism of fire, also softens the gold so that it can be graven with the image he wishes to set, as his seal, his signet in the gold. Once the image is right, he submerges the same piece in the cold water to set that image in place.
Isn't this what Jesus' life...and ours, if we truly follow him...is all about. Surrendering to those experiences that forge a new compassion in us. A compassion that is not just soft enough to envelope the world's hurts, but graven with the power of the Word, and set with a holy purpose. We don't have to look beyond the gospels to find an example of this kind of self-surrender.
Jesus lived it from Bethlehem to Calvary. Back and forth he goes from the furnace to the cup. Exalted as a babe, rebuked at twelve, anointed at Jordan, tempted in the wilderness, revered by thousands, betrayed by loved ones...crucified, resurrected...back and forth...fires that soften his heart with compassion and understanding, waters that refresh him with the "bright and imperishable views" of his calling. And always, baptized with the deep draughts of Principle-based spiritual law.
I think it's like that for us, too. I know it has been for me. It is out of those furnace experiences...which at the time seem more like self-imposed "trials by fire"...that I've seen the dross of "judging others" fall away, had my view of the situation soften with compassion, and watched my willingness to extend that cup of cold water - in Christ's name - refreshed with a holy sense of purpose and affection.
Fire and water, fire and water, fire and water....
Isn't this, in fact, the last image we have of him...a fire on the beach, next to the sea, with his disciples.
I often have to ask myself, "Do I think a life of lavender-scented bathwater; gentle, soft-fingered tracings; and fires that I only have to come close enough to warm my hands by, but not so close that I am in danger of self-immolation, is better for some reason than the furnace and the cup?" Is that what I really want?
No....I want his purifying fire. I want to feel my hard-heartedness melt into "the form of the forth." I want to feel the point of a diamond, and the pen of an angel, engraving the Truth on my consciousness. And, I want to be set in place...and in purpose...by the law of Love. I want to be forged and tempered by His hand.
There's more that Love is unfolding to my heart about His "smithing" in my life -- but for now...
Thursday, January 12, 2012
"forged by fire, tempered by water..."