Fires can be either useful or destructive. In the photo above, the fire is useful, cooking a shore supper. In today’s first reading Nebuchadnezzar, in a furious rage, commands three men to worship his gods and the golden statue that had been made or to be tossed into the furnace of a blazing fire. This does not seem so useful immediately but upon closer inspection, it becomes of great value. The men chose God, saying they did not need to present a defense to the King in this matter. They were prepared to die rather than forsake their faith. They told Nebuchadnezzar that they would not serve his gods nor worship the statue of gold which enraged Nebuchadnezzar even more. He turned up the furnace seven times hotter than normal.
God, however, had different plans. An angel of the Lord appeared and drove the fiery flame out of the furnace, protecting the men so that they experienced no distress. The King becomes aware of this fourth being joining the three men and is astonished. How could he not be? There is no earthly explanation for what took place. Nebuchadnezzar ends up praising the God of the three men he sought to destroy.
If you have ever been in a sweat lodge, you know how hot it can get. The stones–the grandfathers–are brought in and slowly the heat is released. The one time I went into a sweat, I did not feel that heat. The temperature was comfortable for me. My friend who was right beside me had a different experience. I somehow felt like I was not in the fiery heat of the grandfathers, without comprehending why. I only felt the loving warmth without being overpowered by it. Perhaps that was all that the three men experienced too?
The furnace of a blazing fire can overcome us. I know this. Like gold tested in fire, our lives can become too much to handle. Once again, I sense the protection of Mary’s mantle and Jesus’ cloak. I feel a fire roaring just beyond me and I know that I will need to enter that furnace at some point. For now, God is being merciful. I liked that not a hair on the heads of these men were singed and that not even the smell of the fire lingered on them. God definitely has this.
I had lunch with a friend today who also has cancer. We sat at one point talking about our health, the treatment, our understanding of certain things, and doctor-assisted suicide. We both agree on the later issue not being an option for us. She has actually given it much more thought than I have. At one point, I excused myself to go to the bathroom. When I came back she was engaged in conversation with the man who was sitting at the next table. They were discussing our previous conversation to a certain extent.
The three of us, like those three men in the first reading, fell into step as we walked around what might have been a difficult conversation. I mean, really, who discusses cancer, death, suicide, and the such with a total stranger in a restaurant? We could have bemoaned the fact that it was going to snow again or some superficial subject, but my friend had noticed the man saying his rosary and blessed him by mentioning it. By the time, I got back to the table, they were fully enveloped in flames. There was no returning. I entered that furnace with them.
Something beautiful unfolded as we spoke. I suspect all of us were blessed. I know having my thoughts about doctor-assisted suicide heard by a stranger and accepted heartened me. I talk about this first-world problem where living is seen as a luxury that can be thrown away before it is fully used well. My travels throughout the world have taught me that not everyone gets to live well into their nineties. I am already older than many people in developing countries. I have never felt entitled to a long life. Perhaps it is because my sister died when she was only 26…or maybe it is the influence of the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises that allow me to say that a long life is not necessarily a better life. However, I am not the one who gets to decide the number of days here, nor am I the one who knows when my purpose is over. I will leave that decision to my Creator, not to a doctor. As with those three men, I will not worship a golden calf of entitlement. I will not only not serve other gods, I will not play God.
That man helped me to be a little braver about my thoughts. I know that not everyone will agree with me, and I certainly cannot conceive what my final days will look like. I am already praying for strength for that part of the adventure. I have much to learn about redemptive suffering and I know that the thought of having loved ones watch me suffer causes me much grief. However, shortening my life collapses the blessings that can occur for all of us. I have walked down this accompaniment road several times in my life. I have been a poster child for grief. Based on this, I know that there are mysteries to be revealed and healings to happen right until the last breath is expelled…and beyond. I want to walk into the fire singing hymns and praising God. May I not waiver from being faithful.
What other gods distract you from God?
Is there a blazing fire that seems to be destructive that God can use for good?
I have no God but You, Creator. You send everything I need for the path upon which you set my feet. Let me walk it with confidence and trust, knowing that You walk into the blazing fire with me. Amen.