Risk Rap

Rapping About a World at Risk

To Build a Fire

bonfireOne of the best short stories I read during grammar school was Jack London’s “To Build a Fire”.  The story recounts the struggle of a Yukon prospector hiking through the wilderness in sub-zero cold.  The unnamed prospector falls through a thin layer of ice covering a spring fed pool of water.  Though he was wet only up to his knees if he failed to dry his boots and socks, hypothermia  would quickly overcome him.  Frost bitten feet in sub-zero temperatures would cripple the prospector making it impossible for him to continue his journey to the warmth and safety of a lodge just a few miles away.  If the prospector was unable to continue he would freeze to death.  His only chance was to build a fire so he could dry his socks and boots before he could resume his journey.  To build a fire was the difference between life and death.

I was reminded of this story this past weekend while participating in a Matt Talbot Retreat.  Matt Talbot is a non-denominational spiritual wellness movement for people in recovery.  It advocates the practice of The Twelve Steps of Alcoholics Anonymous as a suggested program of recovery.  Matt Talbot is a blessing for many people experiencing the grace of recovery.  AA teaches us that alcoholism is a disease and that alcoholics and addicts suffer a sickness that afflicts our mind, body and spirit.  The Matt Talbot Movement places an emphasis on the spiritual dimensions of our disease.  We attend seminars and meetings.  We enjoy fellowship with our brothers in recovery. We make new friends with others suffering from a common malady and we reconnect with other Matt Talbot brothers we have not seen since our last retreat.  The biannual retreat is a special weekend that allows us to nourish and recharge the spiritual batteries that become so dangerously low by the emotional and mental demands of modern life.  For many of us, Matt Talbot is a critical cornerstone of our recovery program.  It is a critical tool that helps us to free ourselves from the spiritual bondage of addiction.  It encourages us to draw closer to our Higher Power; thereby moving us further away from the emotional and mental shackles that threaten to enslave us.

On Saturday evening after the days sessions and nonstop witnessing and ministering to one another about our personal journey of recovery, many of the brothers assemble on the banks of the Hudson River for a traditional Saturday night bonfire.   On this moonless night the huge bonfire provided a striking contrast to the black woods that enveloped us.  Like our hopes for continued recovery, the dancing flames soared into the night air expressing a sincere yearning to touch the massive hardwood boughs that towered above us.  We closed in on the fire remaining transfixed by the unbounded flames and the fleeting shadows of ghostly apparitions that seemed to hover then flee the burning light. We were a band of wounded brothers drawn to a lamp of hope that we desperately needed  to navigate the uncertain dangers posed by the swift dark waters of addiction.

At the bonfire we are encouraged to choose a log to place in the the fire.  But before we can burn that log we must stand before our brothers and make a statement about a resentment, misgiving or fear that threatens our recovery.  As we say in AA,  holding onto a resentment will lead you back to a drink.   Naming our fears and resentments is our first step toward conquering them.   The brothers spoke of the ugly compulsions that drive our addictions; revealing painful truths about low self esteem, victimization, unbridled anger, tragic circumstance, sexual and emotional abuse, violence, poverty and ignorance and other issues that  led to unfathomable depths of guilt and shame.  As alcoholics and addicts we let these things have power over us and in so doing we feed our alcoholic and addictive behaviors.  Standing within a circle of trusted brothers, divulging secrets that have long held our soul captive and conferring bitter resentments and raging fears onto a log truly liberates the soul.  It is a critical step in the recovery process and spiritual wellness.   The giant bonfire is a life affirming tool that allows us to cast out these powerful demons, condemn them to death by fire and happily witness their power over us dissipate as they burn away into a pile of harmless ashes.

In Jack London’s story after the prospector fell through the ice he quickly moved to build a fire.  He moved under the protection of a tree, found some dry leaves and small wood chips and started a fire.  He was relieved that the fire caught and grew but a wind kicked up and blew snow off a pine tree and crushed his fire under a pile of snow.  It was a unfortunate event that would cost the prospector his life.  As the prospector began to accept his sad fate he remembered the advise of an old timer who warned him about traveling through the Yukon.  “Never travel alone”  said the old timer.  As the prospector lay freezing to death, he realized the hard truth of the old timers wisdom.

When it was my turn to cast a log into the raging bonfire I recounted a telephone call I received that morning.  A person from my home group with 40 years of blessed sobriety called to tell me about the death of a fellow alcoholic.  This fellow was in and out of the AA program for many years.  He was found dead in the bathroom of a boarding house in which he lived.  He was about 40, has a daughter in college, recently lost his mother and his job.  He went out a couple of months ago and was just coming back into the program.  He landed at the hospital, they told him his liver had high levels of enzymes and that he needed to stop drinking.  The past few weeks I was taking him around to meetings.   He was a Christian, loved to play guitar and was a gentle man who cared about his daughter and deeply loved her.

The 23rd Psalm says that God’s rod and staff comforts us.  I grabbed a stick that was worthy of Moses  to throw on the fire.  This disease needlessly claims too many souls but there is an easier softer way.  I wanted to convey to the brothers and to remind myself that God is always a near and present help during time of adversity.   We never have to go it alone.  That the fire of faith is freely available to all.  It is up to us however to draw near to the flame and to tender a burning desire of recovery for it to take hold in our lives.  Recovery is truly a matter of life and death.  I offered my thanks that God has never abandoned me to the ravages of my disease.  I remain grateful to be counted among the present here this evening still able to draw near to a fire to keep the hope of my recovery burning bright.  I blessed the soul of the fallen friend that the disease had claimed.  I also prayed that the brothers present by the fire this evening will be counted among the living at the next bonfire.  I placed my stick on the fire.  It burned a long time.

Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord has dawned upon you.
For behold, darkness covers the land;
deep gloom enshrouds the peoples.
But over you the Lord will rise,
and his glory will appear upon you.
Nations will stream to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawning

Isaiah 60:1-3

You Tube Music Video: Jose Feliciano, Light My Fire

Risk: alcoholism, recovery, spirituality, death

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October 20, 2009 - Posted by | Bible, faith, heal, life, love, psychology, religion | , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

6 Comments »

  1. JimmyMac,

    Thank you for sharing this passage.

    Much warmth my Brother,

    Paul

    Comment by Paul | October 20, 2009

  2. Thre must be some miraclous things that happen up there meanwhite here it was raining cats and dogs ..great story and great brother thank you James and i be seing u next retreat with God,s grace

    Comment by john d | October 20, 2009

  3. This is what I needed right now I recenly lost that kind of a kind friend

    Comment by Skip fraley | October 21, 2009

  4. Thankyou for your thoughts. This tradition was started 1988. The purpose is as you described with the ambers rising to the heavens. Letting God take those troubles away from you forever. Physically seeing those ghost rise giving confidence an assurance that recovery can move forward. Remember you can also send grateitude and thanks to thru the fire for the gifts you recieved from past offerings. Thankyou. It has warmed me like the flames to hear the tradition carry on. 21 years and I feel good as I get older that the flames with not be extingush. Thank You

    Comment by Mike "SpinGuy" F | October 21, 2009

  5. Thank you for posting this. I am struggling to get back to AA and have attended this retreat in the past. I needed to see this. thanks

    Comment by MT | October 21, 2009

  6. James: thanks for your note and for sharing this with me! It was a privelege to read. I like your writing style too. Rosemary

    Comment by Rosemary | January 23, 2010


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