Sometimes God will imbue a secular musician’s lyrics with His Spirit. A few years ago, my six daughters and husband sensed a palpable Presence of God sweeping like waves through an adoring crowd as country-western composer Garth Brooks belted out the lyrics to the song “Standing Outside the Fire”. Twenty thousand people leapt to their feet, singing and waving their lighted cell phones which looked like sparks of hope beaming in the dark. Many in the crowd might not have understood their passionate response but I believe God used this song to entice, not only the faithful but, the unchurched as well to respond to His Love. Many adored His Presence in that arena, even though they might not know how to adore the Presence of Christ in the Eucharist, in His Tabernacle or during contemplative prayer.
Standing Outside the Fire
Although Brooks is probably not well versed in the tradition of Catholic mysticism, he understands people’s desperate need for God, the same need which drove the saints into the desert, forsaking everything for the Love of God. In the eyes of upstanding citizens throughout history, saints were and still are fools, fools for Christ. The lyrics of “Standing Outside The Fire” call attention to the difference between those the world considers successful and those who look foolish for pursuing the holy fire:
We call them cool
Those hearts that have no scars to show
The ones that never do let go
And risk the tables being turned.
We call them strong
Those who can face this world alone
Who seem to get by on their own.
We call them weak
Who are unable to resist
The slightest chance love might exist
And for that forsake it all.
There’s this love that is burning
Deep in my soul
Constantly yearning to get out of control
Wanting to fly higher and higher.
I can’t abide
Standing outside the fire.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church
Part One of the Catechism explains each phrase of the Creed we recite at Mass. Every week we announce, “I believe in the Holy Spirit,” in the transforming fire of God within me:
696 Fire symbolizes the transforming energy of the Holy Spirit’s actions … the fire of the Holy Spirit transforms what he touches. John the Baptist, who goes “before the Lord in the spirit and power of Elijah,” proclaims Christ as the one who “will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.” Jesus will say of the Spirit: “I came to cast fire upon the earth; and would that it were already kindled!” In the form of tongues “as of fire,” the Holy Spirit rests on the disciples on the morning of Pentecost and fills them with himself The spiritual tradition has retained this symbolism of fire as one of the most expressive images of the Holy Spirit’s actions. “Do not quench the Spirit.”
How many of us actually believe in the transforming fire of God within each of us? Or do we trust more in our own self-discipline, prayer, and sacrifice to transform us? The painful truth is, only this holy fire, this”transforming energy,” will purify us. The thought of actually being transformed by God can be frightening.
Stand Inside the Fire
I am a convert who understands the wealth of wisdom in the Catholic tradition, in formalized prayers and the Liturgy of the Mass but I also understand Christianity is a relationship with a living God who communicates with us directly through the Holy Spirit.
We have a choice to let go of fear and trust God to transform us into His image. The saints show us how to let go of control and allow God to do His job within our souls. The truth is it is only the fire of God can purify, refine and changes us into the Image of Jesus Christ so Love shines through us into the world.