Monday Memo: A Charcoal Fire

Terry Walton


A Charcoal Fire

I was thinking...

There are moments in life in which the vocabulary we are given do not accurately express such moments.  Having just returned from 10 days in the Holy Land with recently ordained clergy and others, I must say this is, once again, one of those moments.  I am poorly gifted to communicate the way God uses the five senses to express the Gospel.  While in person in Bethlehem, Galilee, and Jerusalem all senses were busy.  There are four Gospels in the New Testament, but I must say there is a Fifth Gospel, and it is found in the experience of journeying to the land of Jesus.  The land, the people, fellow pilgrims, the sacred spaces…all have brought to life for me the Holy Scripture.

I’m so grateful that Bishop Sue envisions the importance of this spiritual pilgrimage early in our ordained clergy’s ministry.  It makes a difference in their study, their preaching, their leadership and quite frankly, their faith journey that undergirds it all.  I was greatly impressed by each ordinand as they shared meditations along the journey.  From the Fields of the Shepherds to the Empty tomb, they lifted their hearts and minds to us and inspired us to walk close with the Jesus who walked those very places so long ago.

So many places and so many moments that I find my heart filled with gratitude for the gift of our Lord to the world.  Each time I’ve traveled with pilgrims to the land of Jesus, I have discovered something new and fresh while bonding with the people of whom I share the journey.  One such discovery this time came from our guide, Rula Shubeita.  She is a Greek Orthodox Christian with a sweet spirit and a knowledge of the land of the Bible.  While we were visiting the place where the resurrected Jesus appeared to Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, James, John and two unnamed disciples (John 21) around a charcoal fire, Rula mentioned something I had missed before.  Yes, I had noticed that Peter had denied Christ three times and now the resurrected Jesus asked Peter if he loved him three times…some say as a way for Peter to find his forgiveness and redemption.  But I missed that both events, the denial, and the affirmation of Peter’s love for Jesus occurred around a charcoal fire.  I knew both events had occurred around a fire…but I had not thought about the importance of the fire…that sense of smell and warmth and all that a fire can bring and the way such associations can trigger memory.  It struck me that God through Christ will go through creative extremes to help Peter and us understand that yes, we are human, and all of us deny Jesus in small and big ways all too often.  But we are his beloved, and he will go after us even when we run away, ignore and/or turn our back on him.

It was the English poet, Francis Thompson, that first referred to God as “The Hound of Heaven”.  This God of love will pursue us even when we think we are beyond pursuing.  Have you ever felt your sin, your life, your questioning of the Holy put your beyond pursuing?  Doubts and questions about God’s workings in our world can lead us to places of thoughtful embarrassment as it dawns upon us that God knows our every thought…even those that surely must make God ashamed of us.  Well, I have good news for you and me…there is a charcoal fire burning to remind us that God never gives up on you and never gives up on me.  God actually believes in us when we have trouble believing in God.  How amazing is that! 

Gather around the charcoal fire my friends.  Feel its warmth.  Smell it aroma.  May it take us back to the truth of God’s love for us.  As we hear the question God asks of us, “Do you love me?  Feed my lambs!”  He’ll ask it until we hear ourselves hear him plainly say “You are loved!”

Always Thinking…

The Rev. Dr. Terry E. Walton
Executive Assistant to the Bishop

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