On failing to light a fire

I am not a gardener.  I have a garden, into which I periodically take some large cutting implements, with a view to finding the end, somewhere being the undergrowth.   This often results in large pile of branches in my garden, stacked with a plan in mind to ignite them in joyous combustion.

The other day I arrived home shortly before dusk, and Oliver and I decided to see what we could do in a hurry under the general heading of “setting fire to the garden”.

Since we only had a few minutes until darkness descended, we decided to do things the quick way.  We screwed up several dozen pieces of junk-mail offering life-insurance, double-glazing and monkey-grooming, and mixed them with firelighter bricks.  Then, on the basis that the branches were still covered in twigs, we decided on a strategy to avoid having to cut things down further: we thrust each branch twig-end down onto the paper, on the basis that the twigs would light easily from the paper.  And then we got out the matches…

Boy what a blaze!  And, maybe it’s just me, but there’s something fundamentally right at a primal level about burning mail from second-rate financial institutions.  It’s feels a bit like you’re returning them to the hell from which they originated.  But quite aside from the whys and wherefores, the flames leaped up, and were soon licking hungrily at the twigs.

And then they died down again.  Once the paper had burned, we were left with a couple of burning firelighters, and a grand total of zero burning bits of wood.  Oh.

So we stuffed some more paper on.  Which burned, and then died out.

By this time, the rest of the family had come to play, so half of last season’s Next directory* went the same way.  Then, in a spirit of scientific discovery, Monica added a selection of rags that used to answer to the name of  “Pyjamas”, which did pretty much the same, but in a more colourful way.

…and then we were left with the original, very slightly charred, pile of wood.

Now of course, you’ve already spotted the problem.  Since I am not known for my ability to apply myself to the real world, it took me a while longer.  But I think the problem was this: while there might have been some individual twigs close to (or even in) the fire, being attached to such rigid branches meant there was actually quite a lot of space between twigs, so they couldn’t really get anything going.

Now, my assessment of my incendiary skills may be correct, or it may be awry in some way that the physicists among you will be able to put me straight on, but whatever the case, it got me musing.

I go to church every Sunday, and give as much of my complete and undivided attention to God as my three children let me.  But there’s a lot space between the “twigs” of my time with God on Sunday.  No, it’s not because I’m one of those people who thinks God is only for Sundays.  There’s just a certain inevitability about it – small children take up so much non-working time and I have to be realistic about the fact I don’t have the free time I used to which could be used for extra “God-centred” activities.

But with so much space between the twigs, it can feel hard to really get anything going.  Christians often express the desire to be “on fire” with the holy spirit; I’ve seldom – possibly never – heard anyone proclaim the wish to be “slightly charred”.

Then again, God reminds me, it’s not about the amount of “free” time I can direct towards “God” activities.  It’s about making all the activities in my hectic day-to-day life God-centred.  I need to keep creative and find ways of getting the twigs closer together.

© 2010 Paul Brownnutt
* For some reason, Next still send their directory to the previous residents – we can only assume they pay for it.

[Originally Published 7th February 2010]