Drawing out an analogy

by Kathleen van Schaijik

Ralph Sharafinski’s issue 4 article on baptism in the Holy Spirit included an illuminating analogy taken from the early Church:

The early fathers used another analogy to speak about this release of the Spirit.  They compared it to a green log that is thrown on a fire. It will not ignite immediately because it is wet.  As it lies on the fire it dries out and eventually bursts into flame.  The bursting into flame is Baptism in the Holy Spirit.  It comes to the point of being consumed by the fire, and then generates light and heat.

I find this a helpful way of grasping the phenomenon that so many cradle Catholics (and others) have experienced: though we may have been members of the Church all along, at a certain moment in our lives we experience a sudden dramatic spiritual awakening—an awaking so piercing and powerful that we feel as if we had hardly been Christians up until that moment.

If it’s not irreverent, I’d like to draw this analogy out a little, to throw light on a different phenomenon.  It is easy for “charismatics,” who are joyfully and gratefully amazed by their own experience of conversion, to misapprehend and judge falsely the religious experience of others.  We have a tendency to say, in effect, “I perceive you are not in flames, as I am.  Therefore, you are still wet and green, like I was; you need to come closer to the fire.”  We forget that logs in very energy-efficient wood stoves can be reduced to embers without ever “bursting into flame.”  There may be occasional flickers of fire and light, but nothing stunning.  And these logs, though they give off less light, produce much more heat.

Let us rejoice continually in the myriad workings of Grace, and reverently refrain from projecting our own experience onto others.

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