Friday, November 20, 2009

decoration

What is a decoration? The dictionary lists it as "an addition that renders something more attractive or ornate." It is something you can do without, but it sure is prettier with it there. We have made a whole industry out of the art and science of decorating in our culture. These decorations are not necessary, but really nice. They make life more pleasant and beautiful.

I was typing a post for an online forum on Wednesday about some writings by Richard Rolle. The topic was the fire of love, and Rolle relates the first time that he felt this physical warmth and heat in his heart; he was taken aback and delighted at this sense of being internally on fire. It brought him unexpected comfort, fed his soul, spread an interior sweetness in him, and left a hunger for more in its wake. [1]

The last line of my post read: God is a consuming fire, not a decorative candle. And as soon as I wrote it, I was convicted that I myself often use God as a decoration in my life. I splash God on at the beginning of the day and walk around feeling better about myself. I add a dash of God to my meals and they appear brighter and shinier and more wholesome, like some religious MSG. I intersperse my sentences with God-talk and drop a few religious phrases in my conversations and the world just seems to be a better place because of my timely droppings. I tie a God-ribbon around my job and my studies and the package looks very well put-together, neat and tidy. I place a jaunty God-hat on my head when I go to any church function and everyone knows I belong to the spiritual club. I pin a God-flower onto my friends and this assures me that my interactions with them are all about love and peace and not harming anyone. I crawl into bed with my God teddy bear at night and feel comforted and secure.

How much of my religious practice is merely decoration added to a strongly self-directed life? How much is a surface addition - seasonal, temporary, and mostly for effect? Decoration does not change anything at the core. It is a coat of paint, a throw pillow for a punch of colour, a dollop of whipped cream to sweeten up a bland and dry chocolate cake. I have merely added God to who I am comfortable being, hoping to shiny things up a bit. But am I interested in deep transformation? Do I want the master chef to mess with my list of ingredients to what I hold to be a tried and true family recipe? Am I willing to have him rip the agenda page out of my diary?

God is not a decoration to perch on top of an already basically good life: He is life. He is a consuming fire, not a decorative candle. Does my life smell like some artificial room freshener or is the odour of singed pride and living sacrifice in the air? God is not here to make my life prettier. God is creating something much more solid and terrifying and beautiful and multi-dimensional than anything I could imagine. And it starts by surrendering myself to the fire of his love. Let me take down my trite decorations and take a good look at what I have as a foundation.

This is a photo of a decorative candle in my living room. It is from South Africa (the candle, not the living room).

[1] Richard Rolle in Devotional Classics, edited by Richard J. Foster and James Bryan Smith.

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