As winter has set in, keeping the home fires burning has been a constant task. Even more-so because our lounge room fire is beyond its use-by date. The glass broke last winter so at the start of this winter I removed the door and took it to the wood-heater shop in Bendigo. The young man looked earnestly at me and said, “It’s very old. It needs a whole new door. I can contact the manufacturer and see if they have a replacement, but I don’t think they will.”

I took this to be code for “I’m not going to do anything. You need to buy a new heater.” I have heard nothing from the shop and I have not bought a new heater. I decided that glass is an “optional extra” and if I cut some steel plate to a suitable size, I could repair the door and get by for another year.

The steel “glass” does work but we don’t get the benefit of radiant heat. It is also hard to tell if the fire is burning well or needs more wood without opening the door. I’m thinking of sticking a picture of a fire on the door to give us the feeling that there is a fire burning brightly inside the firebox.

There is another issue as well. It’s meant to be a slow combustion fire but some years ago the lever for opening and closing the baffles rusted up and could not be moved. The application of brute force via a jemmy bar did not solve the problem. It  just broke the baffles off. The life lesson here is brute strength doesn’t solve problems!

That’s not the only life lesson I’ve learnt. I think about our fire a lot and it has taught me a couple of things:

  1. Big logs need small logs and sticks to burn.

Sometimes I feel lazy. I think that if I put the biggest log I can find on the fire I won’t have to get up and down all the time to tend the fire and all will be well and we will be warm. The truth is big logs look impressive and certainly will burn for a long time but a good fire needs smaller logs and sticks to keep it burning brightly. On its own the big log will only smoulder away.

Life lesson: Faith needs to be tended. Big is not always better. Communities, businesses and churches need the contributions of the seemingly weak and insignificant to function well.

  1. A coal removed from the fire will die.

A brightly burning coal removed from the fire initially seems to continue to burn brightly, but it soon loses its bright red glow and, eventually, dies out.

This Covid-19 pandemic has taught us how much we need to be around other people. Our health, physical and mental, depends on it. We are social animals.

Life lesson: Stay connected to others. They will support you and bring the best out in you.

  1. Things are not always as they seem.

Because our “slow combustion” fire doesn’t work as it should in the morning when I open the firebox I often see nothing but spent ashes. But if I get the poker and “rake over the coals” there is more often than not some red coals lurking underneath the grey ashes. With careful tending, some kindling and a few gentle breaths of air, the fire that appeared  to have died can be stirred into life again.

Life lesson: Don’t give up on people and things too early. New life can spring up when we think all is lost. Sometimes you need to get down on your knees.

Jesus was always telling stories about everyday things and drawing spiritual lessons from them. Stories of small seeds growing into big trees, carefree birds, beautiful flowers and wayward children.

I wish he had told some stories about the campfire. Perhaps he left it up to us to keep looking at the ordinary things of our daily lives with his eye and create our own stories of faith and hope to feed the fire in our belly for a meaningful life and a loving, redemptive and inclusive community.

I better go. This wood will not cut itself.

Brian Spencer