The Stirring of the Coals

For the Catholic, marriage is the starting of a fire.

Two people come together, and over the course of months or years, they unite what they have into a common place. First, they share the small stuff, paper-jokes and twig-stories and the dried leaves of compliments that collect and build off of each other. And then they add to the pile branches and limbs of secrets and sins and dreams that grew from the roots and soil into which they were planted. And finally, after the kindling has been placed and the fuel has been balanced around it, they are ready. And they wait.

The two tell everyone they know that the time is coming for the fire. Families and friends gather, waiting for the time when the sunset of the couple’s single-life finishes dripping below the horizon and the moment is right for the flame.

And when everyone has gathered, the Spark comes.

After two years of marriage, perhaps the flame my wife and I share is more controlled than on our wedding day, lower, licking less of the dark around it. But the coals: the coals burn orange with heat, blue flames rolling in and out of each other like a bath of fire. And those who know fire, who have built their own and stoked it each day, know that it is the coals that matter, the coals that are the true source of the heat. But they also know that the coals must be stirred to keep the heat from dying.

Last night, I danced around a new-born flame, and the coals of my love were stirred.

I watched as two friends joined their lives together, entering into a covenant with God and each other. I was witness to a transcendent event, to something that made present the timeless and invisible.

That’s what a fire does, isn’t it? Once it is started, it makes that invisible air around it tangible. The air that is both the source and substance of the flame becomes bright, stunning for its colors and movements and heat. It consumes that which was gathered together, changing it from a collection of individual logs to a palpable, singular flame. That is what the love of my two friends did as well.

I watched as God’s love, that invisible spiritual air that keeps us in existence, whose movements we feel and marvel at, was made visible. Anyone who was there felt their love, felt the love of Jesus Christ brushing past them like a warm summer breeze. Anyone who watched as the bride in virgin-white walked to her husband, smiling in quiet captivation at the one whom he had chosen, saw that divine oxygen combust into a cavalcade of colors before them. Anyone who heard them speak those vows, who heard the emotional quiver of the bride’s voice and the calm surety of the groom’s, was witness to something as fascinating and mysterious and powerful as any wildfire. I’ll admit that I struggle to feel God’s love at times. Sometimes I find it hard to maintain faith in moments of temptation. Often I forget or ignore the true realities of God’s presence around me. But there was no mistaking it in that sacrament. Something happened in that church that cannot really be explained or ignored, something whose heat and allure was undeniable. That something is the invisible reality of the self-giving Trinitarian love made present in two people.

And as I watched, I was reminded that I too participated in that miracle. I too stood before those that I love and was a part of an eternal moment, a cosmic event, a seismic action of unity. And I hope that on that day, the flame that my wife and I began with the Spark of the Spirit was as bright and bouncing as theirs was. But besides just witnessing the beautiful start to a new flame, I felt mine renewed. As I watched the joy of the spouses dancing in celebration, I pulled my wife close. As I watched the husband carry his bride out of the door, smiling as the cheers of his family and friends rushed after him, I was aware once more (how silly I am to forget) that an incarnation of God’s beauty and love has been given to me as well in the person of my bride. So as their fire was born, my coals were stirred.

We live in a time of confusion, but there was no confusing what happened at that Church and what was celebrated afterwards. There was no pretending that what happened didn’t have all the magic of the stories we learned as children, no way one could ignore the change in the very atmosphere around them as their flames crackled and popped. All those things that they collected together, the parts of their personhoods that they shared in pieces before, were unified in a joyous conflagration. How beautiful it was.

Praise be to the God of Love and His Son, the Eternal Bridegroom. What a gift to have friends who live with Him. What a gift to be a part of the Bride of Christ, the Catholic Church. For all the joy I felt that night, for all the happiness my wife has given me, I know that more is waiting. The Eternal Flame dances in the dark, and the darkness will not overcome it.

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