Image: Preparing to feed the fire in Deline
The epic standoff in today’s first reading, between Elijah and King Ahab was over the place of God in the lives of the people. The King did not necessarily doubt that Elijah’s God existed but simply had Him placed as one among the Gods that he could call upon and not even a supreme God at that. Elijah, on the other hand spoke as a prophet for the one true God. The God who had brought his chosen people out of the land of slavery and gave them a land of their own, provided that they worship him and follow the commandments of the covenant. For Elijah there were no other Gods and his confidence in this was on full display as he faced the King.
For the people of Israel, the confusion was real. Follow the way of the King, who had the power of life and death or follow the words of the prophet who spoke of the God who safeguarded their ancestors but who, lately, seemed to be missing in action.
Sometimes I wonder what it must have been like to be a bystander at these momentous biblical events. Did it all happen exactly as it is written or have the authors taken poetic liberty to make it more dramatic than it was. Regardless, something of major importance took place that day as God’s fire rained upon Elijah’s sacrifice and it made a huge impression upon the people, not to mention the King who would seek Elijah’s life for this act of defiance.
Would it not be nice if God made himself so evident to us that no one would ever doubt that He existed? As it is, I sometimes feel the biblical journey, and maybe our own faith lives, make it seem we are on a teeter-totter with God. He shows his face to us and our faith in kindled and our hearts are raised up to him. Then slowly ordinary life takes over and we sink back down to the ground until that time some event takes place in which we once again feel God’s presence and we are lifted back up. It would be so helpful if the fire that God rained down could be kept burning and we did not have to face our doubt.
One of the important prayer rituals that I have learned about since coming north and being a priest and bishop among the Dene is something that is called the feeding of the fire. I am not sure that it has any direct link to the biblical story that we read today but it is an excellent example of how we can get off our teeter-totter of faith and be on more solid ground with God.
The feeding of the fire is simple and profound. A wood fire is lit and blessed while the drummers play their drum songs. Then, one by one, members of the community come forward to place items of food, tobacco, and other things of the earth along with their prayers into the fire to be consumed. I have seen the ritual done formally at large gatherings, but I have also heard that individuals use it in their prayer life whenever they need to offer a special prayer or to ask for healing for themselves or their families. It is a way of calling upon God, asking Him to come down and show his face and to renew our faith in him.
The feeding of the fire requires active participation and trust that God is listening to our prayer. Like Elijah who confidently calls upon God before the King we cannot just sit passively and wait for God to show Himself, we must call upon him and do so with confidence.
However you pray, do so with the assurance that God hears you. Do not throw your prayers into the wind in desperation but place your cares before God as if placing them on an altar or place them in the hands of our mother, Mary and ask her to intercede on your behalf. Call upon God in your need and He will hear you and will, surely, show you his face.