'With Fire We Test the Gold'

Fire has been on my mind a lot lately. Not because my neighbors have been burning leaves and I've been wondering when an errant spark will bring down the entire pine-encrusted neighborhood. That idea never occurred. No, I've been thinking about fire in a figurative sense. 

That is, fire as a metaphor. Over the last couple of years, as I started taking bigger and bigger risks, I realized that I've come to relish the times when I might get burned. They're not always pleasant. In fact, they can be scary and make me question what I'm doing, why I'm doing it, who it's serving, and whether I've gotten myself in over my head. 

They're a lot like the sessions when my trainer bumps up the intensity of my workouts. I suddenly find myself doing shoulder presses with a 15-pound dumbbell in each hand and struggling to push through 10 reps on the fifth circuit. Or I'm holding a low plank position and shaking like mad by the time 40 seconds has passed. In those moments, the signs of weakness show me that I'm building strength.

It's the same way with spiritual, emotional, educational, professional, financial, or other types of tests. Sometimes, I've found, it's actually best to light a fire and just see how I handle it.  

The title of this post comes from a Baha'i quote: "With fire We test the gold, and with gold We test our servants." It's a metaphor for the relationship between spiritual and material realities. In a physical sense, fire is used to test and refine the purity of gold as a precious metal. In a spiritual sense, this material life is used to test and purify the character of a human soul. In both senses, as I understand it, the goal is to emerge from the test stronger.

That perspective gives the process of facing challenges such purpose that I find it hard to get bogged down by difficult things. Acknowledging they're difficult is fine. But staying stuck in that place holds no allure. Everywhere I look, it seems I'm finding confirmation that it's time to press onward, whether in this fire analogy, in the metaphor of a gardener pruning plants to improve their growth and future yield, or in real world acceptances, rejections, and communications.

Standing in the fire is a very good place to be.

PS: Funny coincidence, but if you're looking for an actual fire-related thing this week, bookmark Chasing Smoke: A Wildfire Memoir, launching this fall. The author, Aaron Williams, has a direct, wry voice that is sure to make this a thoroughly enjoyable read. No tangents of unnecessary literary decoration. Just straight-up, solid writing about real people doing real things in the real world. Aaron's been my classmate in the University of King's College MFA program these last two years, so I'm super excited to see this hit the shelves!