When I had finally got all of our coats hung up and plopped down the diaper bag next to my husband, I raised my eyes just in time to see four-year-old Benjamin lighting a candle while flames danced in a circle around his chest. For a half second I was entranced by the image of my son on fire. “Hmm,” I thought, “I should do something about that.” And impulsively I leaped, without a plan, enveloping Benjamin between my arms and torso. Amazingly, his snowflake sweater had not been singed and Benjamin, himself, seemed somewhat confused by all the lunging and enveloping of his hyper mother. “Had my vision deceived me?” I pondered with embarrassment. But then the smell, the overwhelming odor of charcoal emanating from the very pores of Benjamin’s unscathed skin, confirmed that he had indeed been engulfed by a fire that had burned, like Moses’s bush, without consuming.
Even now, weeks later, I find myself fixated on that memory like a song lyric stuck stubbornly in the recesses of my mind. Surprisingly, it is not with horror that I replay that haunting scene but with spiritual enthrallment, drenched in revelation. I have long since abandoned my propensity to force supernaturalism through a common sense filter until only flecks of symbolism remain, to be translated and picked apart under a theological microscope. The oily tears running down a sober faced Theotokos on a weeping icon, the body and blood of my Savior poured generously into trembling lips, a divine wake-up call in my son as a living candle, all seem easier for me to grasp than the formation of a baby, let’s say, from a single cell, a planet perfectly positioned to neither freeze nor incinerate, or unlimited forgiveness.
I do not see in that reoccurring vision, Benjamin reaching over six lit wicks in order to place his candle at the very back of the stand, closest to Christ as an infant. I see the trusting faith of a child clothing itself in the flames of God’s mercy, flames that seem terrifying to those of us outside the inner tranquility of complete dependence. I see the burning of sins, insecurities, and hopelessness by means of a raging fire that miraculously leaves the soul purified and in tact. I see no worries about the future, no agonizing dwellings on the past, just a boy enraptured by that present moment, and whose entire existence (body, mind, and spirit) is offered up in a state of continual prayer. I see my own longings to be set ablaze with that all consuming Love, and at the same time my own resistance to lying on the altar and dousing myself in the unknown.
Understanding salvation as a process and a journey, makes moving forward the only real possibility. It always seems that just when I am catching my breath from a particularly rough patch in the road and feel tempted to set up camp on the plateau, I am urged forward once again into unmapped territory. Every time I panic. Every time I stall and procrastinate as long as possible until the stagnancy becomes unbearable. And then a gift, in the form of encouragement from a friend, wisdom from a Church father, a vision of my glowing son, reminds me that to lose earth is to gain heaven, that to lose my own will is to find solace in community. Because it is cold and lonely in a heart where the spark of God’s love has been snuffed out by worldly cares, where the fire that devours what would destroy us for eternity has not warmed with peace the frigidness of disappointment.
There are strict rules now for Ben. No running ahead of us, for instance, while we are hanging up coats and gathering bags in the narthex of the Sanctuary. He’s a live wire, that Benjamin, anxious for adventure and uninhibited by an awareness of his own mortality. It saddens me to think of him struggling, of getting older and bearing the weight of adult anxieties on his shoulders. He will one day be in my same position, faced with a choice to either conquer the fear with faith or to give in and be stuck for life with the gnawing dissatisfaction. My prayer, my great desire, is to always look up and find him burning without consumption, to see the flames of God’s mercy spurring him on toward heaven.
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