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Project Conversion

This last week is about reflection–about what we’ve learned during the last month. So much has happened. So many trials…have I passed?

That was my question this morning during prayers. In studying the Gathas I picked up on how personal Zarathushtra was in his prayers/conversations with the divine. His words are poetic but not contrived. He pleads, he begs, he celebrates, he questions, he’s…a man–like many of us–in search of truth.

I found this verse a few days ago which resonates with me quite deeply:

“I will sing Your praise
uniting myself to the Good Mind. Bless this work
begun in Your name, O Mazda Ahura. As long as I have
the will and the strength
so long will I preach the search for Truth.”

–The Gathas, Yasna 28: 4

I’ve chosen this verse as the official prayer for Project Conversion; to help me begin each day. And so I recited this prayer this morning in the presence of my new fire pot.

This month has been a whirlwind. Who is right? Where is the proof? With whom do I associate? I stared at the flame as it whipped about, much like the darshan ritual of the Hindus as they seek the face of the divine.

“Lord, I am here. Confusion and struggle have drawn me into the dark. This is as far as I can go on my own. I ask you to meet me here and guide me out. I cannot do this alone.”

I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and the questions stopped. This is where prayer–that is, speaking–ends and meditation (listening) begins. The noise returned but I let go, one by one, the battle sounds–the clang of metal and screams–of confusion and frustration. Consciousness gradually seeped inward. My skin numbed and my head slowly bowed. I felt heavy, as if the mass of my being gravitated toward a hotter, brighter core. I couldn’t think. I could only be.

Then, something odd happened. In that absolute silence, I felt compelled to reach toward the flame. I opened my eyes and found the flame still–an orange and blue spear-point of light and heat. I spread my palms over the flame and as in darshan, washed my face with the warmth. But once wasn’t enough. I wanted more. I didn’t want to leave this place. Peace…hot, dense, abstract peace was within and without me in a space that defied everything. Nothing else mattered. It’s as if I gleaned the wink of God himself.

And then, in my ecstasy, the fire burned my hand.

I snatched my hand back and cringed. It was as if God had smacked my hand for peeking behind the curtain; for tasting forbidden fruit. But it wasn’t long before a narrative as clear as morning birdsong unfurled in my mind. I closed my eyes and bowed my head. This is what I learned.

Just as the Zarathushtis teach, Fire is the symbol of God because it exists on our visible plane, but cannot be expressed fully in terms as matter. Fire then, straddles the worlds of matter and spirit. Since the dawn of modern man, we have used fire’s heat to warm our homes, cook our food, brighten the night, and illumine our imaginations. All these things, all of these uses, come from the light and warmth of fire–its manifestations–but not fire itself. We cannot know fire itself because it is pure expression of both spirit and matter and thus destroys anything that is too close. Only fire can know fire and is therefore joined with itself when two flames meet.

Mankind, and everything else in existence, is a combination of matter and the divine spark (fravashi). This is why we cannot fully know God–not because he doesn’t desire us to–but because he is pure expression (Fire) and therefore the matter that makes up the other half of our being is dissolved upon contact. We interpret this as pain, or being burned. Only when our souls are released from this existence can the flame that is our spirit fully interact with its divine source. The warmth and light by which we perceive and enjoy God is via his attributes are what the Zarathushtis call the Amesha Spentas. They represent such aspects as Truth, Wisdom, Devotion, Love, and Asha among others. They are the Warmth and Light we can interact with.

The lesson went deeper. On a more practical level, the flame reminded me that we as creatures of matter and fire, are called to interact with both. To constantly seek the divine (to touch the flame) and forsake our companionship with the matter of creation is contrary to our existence. We are to love our fellow creation. We are to long for one another–from atoms to humans–because we are all the sparks of God’s creative thought.

Ahura Mazda’s First Thought
blazed into myriads of sparks of light
and filled the entire heavens.”
–The Gathas, Yasna 31: 7

Frashokereti–that moment when everything is made perfect and wonderful–cannot happen until we all coalesce as one in purpose, truth, and light. We see the warmth of the divine spark in one another and are drawn to it, because man is naturally drawn to the flame. It is primal. It is us.

So as we pray, as we seek God, do not forget your life and all therein. Our world was created and ourselves placed within that we might enjoy every discovery and moment of existence.

As the narrative faded in my mind, the weight inside me grew lighter, warmer. A fiery bloom unfurled inside my chest and all the questions and conflict of the month burned away. I was thoughtless, without worry. I could finally open my eyes. No scar or redness on my hand. I looked up.

The flame in my fire pot was gone.

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