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Sunday, July 01, 2018
Comforting Warmth or Fiery Heat by Eleanor Shepherd
Women who came from a variety of cultural backgrounds and languages met together and talked about heat and warmth. If the mother tongue was English and the speaker was a unilingual French person, a neighbour would translate and vice versa. The setting was a workshop about my book More Questions than Answers, Sharing Faith by Listening. Opening questions, suggested by a friend focused on heat and warmth.
The first question asked how your home was heated when you were growing up. Some of us were old enough to remember the days when the coal truck came and delivered a cellar-full of coal that was shovelled into the furnace every evening to keep the house warm during the night. Others had no idea how their home was heated when they were growing up. They did however recall large metal, coiled radiators often located under windows, that emanated heat. There were some who grew up in countries where there was more concern about keeping cool than enough heat. Their goal was to reduce the amount of heat in the home.
The second question was who or what was the centre of warmth in the home. The answer to this was often a mother or grandmother. I felt so sad when one of the women admitted that she had no centre of warmth when she was growing up. She had been orphaned and those who were raising her were fulfilling a duty that included no sense of warmth. Places of warmth mentioned were closely tied to emotional warmth. One of them was the kitchen where the mother’s presence drew others to be with her. The other was the dining-room table where the family gathered and sharing their lives.
During this workshop, one of the options at a women’s retreat, included women who slowly opened up and shared methods and places of warmth, and were quite ready with responses to my next question. When did God become more to you that an idea or concept? The women vied with one another to share their stories of coming to know who God was for them. Admittedly, most of the women attending this retreat were already people of faith, but I was still amazed to hear how they had come to faith and how passionate they were about their faith and how they welcomed the stories of each other.
A few days later, I reflected on all this when I encountered a contrasting experience. Instead of warmth, I felt heat – the heat of anger. I realized that just as physical warmth and heat can have quite different results for us, so can emotional warmth and heat.
We need warmth, both physical and emotional to maintain our equilibrium. Although heat may be comforting, danger arises when it gets out of control. Physical heat will burn our bodies if it rises above a certain level and will destroy our flesh. Emotional heat can also damage us when it burns in anger or uncontrolled passions.
Ironically, when I was growing up, in the church there often seemed to be an emphasis on what we called a “turn or burn” approach to evangelism. Christian evangelism often consisted in warning people that they were sinners. If they did not repent, they would end up burning in the eternal fires of hell. The trouble with this approach is that it short-circuits the truths of Scripture that teach us of a God who is love and does not desire to destroy. Preoccupation with Hell fire blinds people to the God of love.
Over time we in the church seem to have swung to another extreme. We appear cold and exclusive, not welcoming anyone who is unable to subscribe to the clearly defined tenets of our faith. The fire has gone away and so has the warmth.
Opening the Bible and looking carefully at the life of Jesus Christ, we find Someone who exemplifies warmth to those who most seem to need it. Even when He speaks out with the fire of truth to those who reject the warmth he offers, the fire is under the control of divine love. That love is the key to creating warmth and avoiding fiery heat and He offers it unconditionally to us.
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