The Fire of the Word:
Meeting God on Holy Ground
Reviewed by Alison Hodgson
Ever since an arsonist burned my house down a year and a half ago I have been thinking on the metaphors of fire. When I saw The Fire of the Word I jumped at the chance to review it. Despite enjoying the book, I found writing this review difficult, as I was afraid of inserting too much of myself. But how do you write from a distance about a book that encourages you, “…to approach the Bible as an opportunity for encounter, as the medium of the divine kiss, as a way into a presence”?
I’ll say this, when I began The Fire of the Word I was worn out, filled with sorrow and God’s presence seemed far away.
The book’s subtitle is “Meeting God on Holy Ground” and the author, Chris Webb, did just that. Webb spent much of his early twenties exploring spirituality, which led to the practice of Zen Buddhism. He was waiting for a spiritual master to teach him the way to enlightenment when a friend gave him a book of koans. In Zen you don’t seek a teacher, “you simply practice your meditation and, when you are ready, your master will find you.”
A koan is a Buddhist riddle, meant to expand the reader’s thinking. Traditional koans are often inaccessible for Westerners. The book his friend gave was a collection of the sayings of Jesus.
Webb began to immerse himself in the words of Christ and “…the inevitable happened. I had been waiting for my master, and my Master found me – he just wasn’t the master I expected. I heard the call of Christ through the words of the Gospels, and my world was turned upside down.”
The Fire of the Word is about learning or, more probably, re-learning to read the Bible. This might put off some who have read it, repeatedly, but it shouldn’t. At the end of every chapter is a list of daily readings to cover a week. Webb’s hope is that “Scripture might become for us holy ground on which we can meet God, be drawn into his presence” and right off addresses why we hold back:
“We tell one another that God loves us, but our hearts tell us that God tolerates us. Our lives demonstrate this reality. Our relationship with God is driven around a never-ending cycle of remorse: our failings and faults lead to guilt; guilt to alienation, the shattering of our friendship with God; alienation and sorrow and abject confession; confession to glorious restoration, often with extravagant promises to ourselves that now we will break the cycle, that this must never happen again; but in the end with seeming inevitability, we prove unable to fulfill those heartfelt sacred vows and we plunge back into the morass of our faults and failings once more.”
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