One of the things I like most about our country bungalow is the fireplace. What I like least is that it doesn’t work. We moved into this house eight years ago, and I remember how I could hardly wait for the warmth and ambiance of a crackling fire in the den, easing morning chill and creating snuggle space for my wife and I. The morning after move-in I was sipping my first cup of morning coffee when misplaced light caught my eye. If I stood just right I could detect shafts of daylight finding their way between tired bricks from the outside. Enthusiasm over anticipated moments near a warming hearth quickly cooled as we learned that the fireplace was structurally questionable. The decision was made to cap the chimney and seal the fireplace opening with a sheet of heavy plastic purchased from Home Depot for the purpose, a conclusion and corresponding action guided by both safety and economy. The bottom line is that this saved us money, but money in the bank does not create warm memories. Still longing for the mood and tone of a fire’s warming glow if not from embers themselves, I stumbled upon a fake fire in an antique store. The logs are authentic, but behind them is a light bulb and an electric spinning wheel that yields the illusion of flames from in front. The wood is real, but the flames are not; it gives the impression of fire.
I plugged in my “fire” last week and sat on the couch nearby and watched the electric display, trying to imagine crackling cedar and aroma of a memory I would never know. And then a thought came to me, more challenge than it was a question. Am I like fake fire? Do I craft a clever ruse, but when examined closely expose electrical cord and spinning wheel? Does the substance of me radiate authentic glow for others to warm themselves by, or do they walk away cold and empty wondering what real fire feels like? Saint Paul draws a similar conclusion when he says that without love he is nothing more than an impressive show with a disappointing punchline. It will cost me something, perhaps a great deal, but the time may be right to remove the plastic, dismantle the chimney cap, chink the bricks, repair the flue, and allow the fireplace to yield what it was created for — heat from real flames. And surely the moment is right for refusing to hide behind subterfuge and masquerade. As Charles Wesley wrote: “O Thou who camest from above, the pure celestial fire to impart, kindle a flame of sacred love upon the mean altar of my heart.”