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Searching for the Sacred Fire

My favorite duty at our annual June church retreat, high in the Colorado mountains, is waking up early to start the fire in the grand meeting space fireplace. Sipping coffee and waiting for the fire to warm the lodge, I would meditate on the day’s schedule of devotions, studies and prayers which lead to sharing, testimonies, tears and healing.

Participants at the retreat would slowly be drawn to the warm hearth. The warm and dancing flames radiate out the raw power of fire reflected inside of us, which was recognized by our ancients’ ones. 

The ritual or sacred fire is a community tradition among indigenous people to sanctify and consecrate a person, place, or thing. The purpose is to bring healing. We are told by our elders to be solemn when there a Sacred Gathering for a special purpose or service, usually religious in nature. For example, when gathering firewood and tending the sacred fire, one should partake in persistent prayers to thank the Creator for the gifts of the tree.

Before you think that the sacred fire is a pagan celebration...

Before you think that the sacred fire is a pagan celebration, let’s consider what place a wood fire holds among Christian Native Americans. 

The bible points to sacred fire in several ways.  In Leviticus, scripture mentions several times that the fire in the temple altar was to burn continuously. God wanted a perpetual fire there, and He must have had a reason for it just as we are also told to pray continuously in Ephesians. 

A sacred fire is really a big, big candle like one used in a church worship service. Christian faith and indigenous teaching are filled with symbolism, all of which is helpful to teach us and to help us comprehend our faith in a way that goes beyond the cerebral level.  Sacred Fire and candles are of symbols of  divinity. The symbolism of the flame and light represent that Christ is the true light of the world. 

The symbolism of the flame and light represent that Christ is the true light of the world. 

A fire is a symbolic way to bring the light of the Divine into our consciousness, it signifies a call to the senses, an invitation to be fully present in sharing our testimonies, foster resilience and in continuing the healing process.  Where God is present healing can take place.  

Fire has deepened my connection to Creator God in many ways.  During my Navajo granddaughter Kinaaldá’s, coming of age ceremony, one of my duties was to keep the fire burning; never was it to be extinguished for four days. It’s was arduous with little sleep especially on long nights. The last night we baked a large corn-cake in the earth from twilight to morning.

Fire has deepened my connection to Creator God in many ways.

Healing with sacred fire came in a different way in 2016 at the Standing Rock Protest. My wife and I were around the Sacred Fire gathering, we burned a copy of the ‘Christian’ Doctrine of Discovery with 500 interfaith clergy and laity who joined us in a Christian ceremony to support the Water Protectors.

When the Christian Reformed Church and other  churches and religious organizations repudiated the Doctrine of Discovery in a study report more healing was generated.  The report labeled the doctrine as heresy and lamented the pain it has caused. Just as the hardest steel is forged in the hottest fires, so too, this study report was forged and strengthened through our own struggles and triumphs.

Native Americans are drawn to the sacred fire because of the power of ceremony, sharing, testimonies, tears, sacred teaching on honesty and healing, all in a safe place. Some haven’t cried for years. Once they come to the sacred fire, they are released, and that’s part of finding healing. 

Perhaps we need to be asking what is and isn’t consecrated to God.

If western Christianity is to reach and be blessed by Indigenous peoples perhaps we need to be asking what is and isn’t consecrated to God.  Before labeling the sacred fire as Syncretism, Polytheism, Animism or Paganism, maybe we need to ask the Indigenous believers how understanding creation and ceremony can bring us closer to God.  

At our church retreat, participants gathered around the fire with reverence, each with their own values and experiences. I noticed how the wood smoke and aroma contrasts the bitter past of indigenous people. God used fire to bring us together and to bless us.  I watched how the glowing embers and smoke blew upward and I prayed that the pains and hope of our people would be lifted and gathered up in the fire and offered to God toward reconciliation.

Photo by Patrick Hendry on Unsplash


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