From the Psalms:
So I held my tongue and said nothing;
I refrained from rash words;
but my pain became unbearable.
My heart was hot within me;
while I pondered, the fire burst into flame;
I spoke out with my tongue.
(From the Daily Office Lectionary – Psalm 39:3-4 – October 23, 2012)
This is from one of today’s psalms for Evening Prayer. What got my attention and caught my imagination is the Psalmist image of unspoken thoughts being painful and bursting into flame demanding to be spoken. While it is intended to be a positive image of trying to not engage with the wicked until one can no longer refrain from doing so, until one’s righteousness is kindled against them, I could not help but be reminded of James’s words:
The tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. (James 3:5-6)
It’s a metaphor of mixed meaning, the unspoken word as a fire bursting from the tongue in burning speech. It can slay the wicked, but it can also destroy the world. The problem is that once those thoughts begin to smolder inside one’s being they can’t be controlled; they can’t be smothered out; they can’t be contained. Bob Seeger has a great song entitled The Fire Inside which includes these lines:
You’re out on the town, safe in the crowd
Ready to go for the ride
Searching the eyes, looking for clues
There’s nowhere you can hide
The fire inside
“There’s nowere you can hide the fire inside!” It’s going to get out; it’s going to known. Our goal should not be to contain the fire or keep it hidden; that’s when we lose control of it. Our goal should be to channel it and use it. Another word for the “the fire inside” is passion. Theologian Frederick Buechner has written that vocation is where our greatest passion meets the world’s greatest need: “The kind of work God usually calls you to do is work (a) that you need most to do and (b) that the world needs most to have done. The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” (Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC) Everyone has a vocation. The Psalmist’s was to speak God’s truth in the midst of the wicked. Each of us must discern our own.
What is the fire inside and where can it be used?
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Father Funston is the rector of St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Medina, Ohio.