Sitting by my own fire this morning, fueled by wood left behind by weekend campers, i feel both grateful and a sense of a loss.
Our gift of squash roasts over coals. The coals are mostly half burnt scavenged logs. Still, they burn.The squash roasts.
Friends gave us what they grew, shared with us the fullness of their harvest, and yet i feel a want of something.
I’m nagged by a sense of lack. It persists, this niggling feeling.
Do i have enough wood? Is the fire hot enough? Did i do right? If i failed, we won’t eat. If i failed, all of the effort and this gift of squash is a waste and for nothing.
It troubled me.
So I prayed this morning for peace.
Prayer does not come easily to me. I’ve felt too far from grace and too full of my own self to practice it. I confess that I lacked the humility that true prayers require.
But i have witnessed others praying earnestly and they do it well.
At Pow Wow this weekend, i was invited to pray at the Sacred Fire.
My guide was a young man no older than my son, who instructed me on how to approach the fire, how to pray there.
He asked me, “what do you know of sacred fires?” Instead of telling him what i knew, giving him the credit of my doctorate, the story of decades of staring into the eye of Ahuramazda, instead of seeking safety from my fear of approaching his faith, instead of armouring myself with credentials, i said no. I know nothing.
Prayer, as i understand it, rises from an insufficiency in myself.
I watched the boy approach the fire from the south of it, take the handfull of tobacco and cedar, place it on his heart and truthfully offer a prayer in the fire in a language i do not understand.
I followed him, mimicking as a child would, fumbling for the right step, the proper gesture, the words.
I did not offer the prayer for peace. Peace has been the prayer i wanted to offer. In the moment of truth, i didn’t know what to ask. I couldn’t remember the prayer.
My tobacco fell off from the fire. My cedar sat defiantly across the top of a log, refusing to burn.
I sat next to my guide on the bench, waiting to ask “did i do it right? was that okay? am i waiting for an answer here?”
The fire was hot. It had burned hot for two days. The boy explained that if the fire were to go out, the ceremony of the Pow Wow had to end. The heat of the fire was its heart. Putting your hand on your heart and then into the heat is a testament to your faith.
The smoke burned my eyes, they ran with tears.
Today at my fire i confess a lack of faith. I confess that i have too often thought myself clever, enough to trick the universe. I thought of myself as knowing, but i know nothing.
I cannot know what purpose there is in this work, i can only do it. I cannot read answers in this fire, i can only look into it.To put my hand into the fire of this work is a sacred commitment, and to do it right is to do it truthfully.
The rain comes, the fire dies. The squash are roasted long since. Time for soup.
I have tea, and honey and a sufficiency of everything.