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Monday Photo Meditation: The Coldest Fire


Winter is the coldest fire.

Most people don’t associate fire with winter at all, of course, except insofar as building one warms body and home alike. But we know that cold burns; think of frostbite, and of the effects of dry ice.

In my people’s way, a fire is not merely a collection of flames; it’s also a means of prophecy, and the time in which it occurs. A fire is an age, an era, an epoch: something longer than a generation, or several of them; sometimes, longer than a collection of centuries. It is the time in which given events will occur, and how we live now will determine how we must live then.

A season is not long enough, of course, nor a year, either, in the usual way we understand such things. But with climate change upon us, and our recent way of living having determined that we will henceforth live in a world wounded and upended, the pace of such change has become almost incomprehensibly fast.

In a winter in which the temperatures have more often been near sixty than near zero, perhaps a single season is now sufficient for a fire.

We are living in prophetic times; of that there is no doubt. Indeed, by virtually any faith tradition’s lights, these are the days against we have so long been warned. In Christianity, this is the time of wars and rumors of wars, an era of pestilence and plague and waters running red with blood both literal and metaphorical. In other traditions, perhaps, the skies tell of omens and portents.

And in many of ours, there is foretelling of a great reckoning to come.

But just as fire is not all conflagration and ash, prophecy is not always destruction and death. Our dreamers, our visionaries, rarely warned of terrible turns of events without also offering a glimpse of a brighter future.

But such bright worlds are always dependent on our choosing the right road now.

Fire as illumination.

Here, our acts are now circumscribed, momentarily, by bitter cold, the kind that robs one of breath and will burn blacker than soot if skin is left exposed too long. That will change in the days to come, perhaps in only one day, if the forecast holds, but there will be more such days and nights before the season is out.

We are fortunate to have fire within — indeed, we now have two, and they alone are sufficient to warm our home whole and entire. Such fires give comfort.

But the ancestors knew well that too much comfort can be dangerous. It induces forgetfulness. It induces apathy.

In these times of tumult, we need to remember that not all have our great good fortune to be warm most moments of the winter. We need to care that winter itself is now a troubled time, too, with snow scarce and a water supply in jeopardy.

And we need to act: not merely to prevent greater harm, but to bring about a better world.

Sometimes, that means going out into the cold to remind ourselves of what it’s like. Sometimes, it means seeking the fire of illumination to fan the fire of prophecy, all the better to ensure a future fire that, instead of dark days, will be the golden age our children deserve.

For now, it means calling upon the spirits of the coldest fire for guidance, and allowing their words to fuel our hearts . . . and our actions, too.

~ Aji









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