Godtalk: Energised by Sacred Fire


A Crackling Fire

‘God makes his sun shine on the evil and the good and sends rain on the just and the unjust alike. ‘ Matt 5.45    We are all energised by the same sacred source. The same energy that fuels the dedicated selflessness of the saint fires the irresponsible acting-out of the prodigal son in Luke’s gospel.  Both are fuelled by the same sacred energy, though for very different purposes.

It's easy to misinterpret this.   For example, one of the criticisms made of religion and the churches is that they too frequently use God to justify every kind of war and violence. We see terrible violence being fuelled by faith and religion, as is the case with extreme Islam today. But Christianity is hardly exempt. In the crusades and the inquisition we have our own history of violence in God's name.   There is more violence than we have the courage to admit still being done today by Christians who draw both their motivation and their energy from their faith.  We can protest that, in these cases, the energy is misguided, perverted, or usurped for self-interest, but the point remains the same. It's still sacred energy, even if it is being perverted.

Some suggest that we would move more easily towards love and peace if religion were eliminated.   There's a dangerous naiveté here, but some truth in saying that the sacred energy found in religion often works against peace and love in this world..  What these critics do not see however, is that misguided religious energy does not witness against God' existence.  The very awfulness of its power, its capacity to totally take over someone's life, point precisely to its sacredness.

Sick religion is so powerful precisely because it's real, not a fantasy.  That's also why religious cults are dangerous. People often die in cults because the divine fire that its misguided leaders channel is as real as the electricity that burns up a body when someone sticks a knife into high voltage electrical outlet.

Religious cults feed upon life's sacred fire; but tragically they do so without the proper precautions and filters that the great spiritual traditions have taught are necessary in accessing the divine. Scripture warns us to approach the divine with care: "No one can see God and live!"

What we see in misguided religion is true too in our personal lives. This is sometimes hard to see (and often difficult for religious people to admit) but what's wild and wicked in the world is also fuelled by life's sacred fire.  Our too-restless energies for creativity, achievement, enjoyment, and to know and be known within human community, are often used irresponsibly, excessively, manipulate-ively, and destructively.  Those with sufficient nerve and insufficient conscience, often simply take what they want from life, without regard for morality or consequence:  our world is often driven by wild, creative, and erotic forces that can look like the very antithesis of sacred energy.

But, again, the seeming wildness of this energy is not an indication that our sexual and creative energies are at odds with what is holy and sacred within us. The opposite is true: Their power and seeming irresistibility lie precisely in their godliness and sacredness. Their fire is so powerful because it is God's energy inside of us.

Scripture tells us that we carry within us the image and likeness of God, that this is really our deepest identity and the source of our deepest energies. But we should not picture God's image within us as some beautiful icon stamped inside our souls. God is fire, holy energy, infinite creativity, infinite freedom, wildness beyond our imaginations, and an energy that is boundless and fuels everything that is, everything that lives, that breathes, that searches for meaning, that loves.

Sacred fire fuels all of life and infuses everyone, saint and sinner alike. And God has given us the freedom to use it as we choose, wisely or wickedly. We feed on sacred fire and we become a saint or a hedonist, a peacemaker or a warmonger.

Peter Knott SJ