When my family lived in the Midwest, every fall season began with leaves ablaze in reds, oranges and yellows. And every fall season ended with leaves ablaze in burning heaps on the streets. For a few weeks in late autumn, the neighborhood would be enveloped in a dense, smoky haze that would make your eyes sting and your lungs burn.
It was an old town that did things old school. There were no neighborhood covenants, no fire restrictions, no air quality standards. Just burn, baby, burn.
So burning was a popular means of lawn waste disposal on the west end. When I wanted to get rid of a tree stump in my backyard, my seasoned neighbor advised that I drill some holes in the surface, pour some accelerant in the holes, and set the stump on fire. So I did. And over a period of several days, the entire stump was consumed in a slow burn right down to the roots.
Later, when I wanted to dispose of some old, twisted ewe bushes that I uprooted from my front yard, I just threw them in a pile, and set them ablaze. In no time, those burning bushes were entirely consumed.
In one of my darker moments, I thought about the fall and all those burning leaves. I thought it might be nice if I could just rake up my past into a big pile, set it on fire, and let it burn to ashes. Out of a desire to start fresh, I dreamed a little dream about disposing of my personal history in a controlled burn until the last bit of smoky haze was carried away on the wind.
But my spiritual vision must have been clouded by smoke from another place because my dreamy thoughts amounted to a pile of rubbish.
God doesn’t incinerate our personal histories. He redeems them. He works in and through our pain, our losses, our struggles, our failures. Out of the old, ugly mess He brings forth something beautifully new. Through the work of the Spirit, we experience the rhythm of the seasons. Death leads to rebirth and renewal.
What God does consume in the fire of His his holy love is our guilt, our impurities, our imperfections.
I’ve put away my rake and my matches. There’s nothing left to burn.