Find Your Flame
By Kody Crider
I saw a very interesting TED-ED talk about what fire essentially is. It really got me thinking about the long history of mysticism associated with fire, and its relationship with the church. How through deeper scientific understanding, we can better connect it to ourselves spiritually. It’s also just really cool.
So, what is fire? My initial, pre-video thought was that fire is a plasma. Early in our education we learn about the three main states of matter; solid, liquid, and gas. One glance at fire and we know it’s not solid. We know it’s not a liquid, and because gas expands much more rapidly and exists indefinitely, we know that fire isn't that either. So the logical assumption is that fire is a plasma, the fourth and dopest form of matter. I was even instructed to consider fire a plasma in High School. It’s actually a very common misconception.
Plasma is a gas that must be either electrically charged or heated at extreme temperatures. We see wood and paper catch flame at a much lower temperature, in contrast. In reality, fire doesn’t identify as any of the four known states. The crazy thing is, technically, fire isn’t matter. Fire is a combined sensory experience of a chemical reaction taking place. Much like your laundry starting to smell, the leaves changing color, or the light from a firefly; fire is a sensation that tell us that a chemical reaction is taking place.
What’s amazing about flame is all the ways it can be experienced. It can be felt, heard, smelt, and seen through the light it omits. Fire sits just outside what we consider to actually be physical. In that way, it is less of a tangible “thing,” and more of a full package sensory sensation created by fuel, heat, and oxygen. We’re able to experience it when all three components of combustion collide together in exact conditions. It’s kind of like you’re creating nothing from something, which my dad would say exactly mirrors what I’m doing with the best years of my life, but that’s beside the point.
Flame is a non-physical thing, perceived with every sensation, with the witnessing power to change the physical world. It can burn cities to the ground, take something from inedible to edible, make water safe to drink, warm the human body for survival, repel pests and exude light. It is captivating, beautiful, life-giving, and destructive.
It is so essential to human survival that it is believed to have played a key role in our evolution. Without fire, it is believed that the modern human wouldn’t have been able to travel out of Africa, exploring to the ends of the globe. We wouldn’t have been able to cook the food necessary to provide the needed calories to develop the early brain.
Fire is life giving. We see it in “Slash and burn” farming, a form of agriculture that dates clear back to ancient times and the rise of civilization. Before a field is planted, all the grass must be cut and burned down to the root, enriching the soil with the carbon and nitrogen needed for new crops to grow.
What’s really fascinating is the application of that knowledge to the way fire is described in scripture. In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is represented by fire time and again (also by birds, but that’s a conversation for another time) because of it’s spreading, consuming nature. Fire is also representative of the passion and energy given by the Holy Spirit.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, encouraged this connection in one of his most famous quotes. One night, after having a profound encounter with the compassion and grace of God, he noted that his “heart was strangely warmed.”
But what exactly is the Holy Spirit? It’s hard to pin down because, just like fire, it’s less of a tangible “thing,” and more of the presence of God working in and through us. It is the visual, auditory, and physical sensation of something that is not physical, but has an observable and physical effect on the world.
That effect is new life. We see it from the initial pages of Genesis, recounting the tale of creation. God breathed life into the world, transforming it forever. We also see it in the New Testament, when God sought to transform the human heart through Jesus Christ who was empowered by the Holy Spirit at his baptism.
When fire burns, the very chemistry of the thing changes, making a new creation. And so, we see this affect in our own lives through an encounter with the Holy Spirit. The resurrection of Jesus transformed all creation forever. Where we were once dead in our sin and separation, we find new life, purpose, and fulfillment in relationship with Jesus Christ.
When we struggle with the mysticism of our faith, we should light a candle or look to a flame. Then, may we be reminded of the all-creative God we serve. Glimpses of God’s glory and existence are everywhere in creation, if we only take the time to look.