Playing With Fire (Or, Learning to Listen)

“The language of souls is their desire.” – Gregory the Great


Like every good thing, it can be twisted. Exhibit A may be the wandering Israelites and their golden calf, but exhibits B through Z are not hard to find. No need even to name them.

Well aware of exhibits A through Z, desire begins to look dangerous. It begins to look like fire. Afraid of being burned, we push it aside, we cover it up, we warn our children about playing with fire, and we forget. We forget how much we need that life-giving warmth.




I can remember the day my Sunday New York Times magazine flipped open to a photograph of an old, rambling farmhouse. I sat in my Florida ranch home with its persistently green vegetation, and the desire I felt for that other house nearly knocked me out of my seat.

In the picture I could see trees turning orange, pumpkins on the porch, and a tower room that looked perfect for a writing desk. I imagined children (a bigger crowd than my own three) running across the lawn, while someone (couldn’t be me) watched from the windows. I pictured a henhouse and vegetable garden off to the side, and a woman writing stories in the tower room (of course, she wasn’t me; the only thing I’d ever written was a dissertation and that was an experience I was not eager to repeat).

In that image, I could see an entire life. It looked beautiful, but it could never be mine. I didn’t even consider it. That would have been like considering a trip to the moon.

I was a mother of three (there would be no more), I had recently applied for a tenure-track professorship at a small Florida liberal-arts school, and I was, however reluctantly, mapping out a future among the palm trees.

But those northern maples were blazing in my magazine, and I could feel their heat through the page.




Here is a long story made very short: God was speaking to me, and the medium of communication was desire.

It is a dangerous thing to listen to that voice. One day you are living reasonably, making reasonable plans, and fulfilling every obligation and expectation, and the next? You are on your knees warming your hands over a magazine picture until … you are consumed.

You have played with fire, and your life will never be the same.


the rainbow window


Praise be to God.


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