“If you look into the eyes of the young, you see flame.
If you look into the eyes of the old, you see light.”
This quote was shared with me during a recent spiritual direction session with Sister Lois Eckes. I paused to hold the silence, to listen deeply to the words, to reflect. As I enter my 70th year this spring, I spend a lot of time reflecting. It is the season of reflection according to John O’Donohue in Anam Cara, “a time of harvesting the fruits of your experiences.”
I grew up lighting candles in church, a single flame ignited my prayer intentions.
I also grew up around family campfires traveling in the Quetico-Superior region. I remember beloved campfires with friends on summer beaches, and then, as an adult, cooking on a wood cookstove for fifteen years as I raised a family in northern Wisconsin.
Cooking on a cookstove teaches one the art of building a fire. You start with something full of quick energy: birchbark, pine needles. Then you begin to layer in small and quickly flammable twigs or pieces of wood like pine, cedar, or aspen. As the fire burns, you want the fire to burn bright but be sustained, using bigger pieces of wood like birch and maple. And then, to keep the fire burning long or overnight, you put on denser and bigger pieces of oak.
As I pondered the quote, I thought of the ages of a person’s life, from child to youth to adult to elder: the quick flames of childhood, the bright flame of youth, the sustained flames of middle age, and then the low and supporting flames of elderhood. Each stage of a fire has a purpose, each tended with different woods, with the denser and older logs sustained overnight and providing the spark for a new fire the next day.
These stages of life are not linear. They form a circle in many spiritual traditions from the Celtic Wheel, to Hildegard’s Circle of Fours, to the Ojibwe Medicine Wheel. The flames in each stage form a foundation to the next stage. And in the eldering part of the circle, the coals of fire support the new life coming into the world.
Rev. Marina Lachecki graduated from the College of St. Scholastica in 1974. She is a published author in the field of creation spirituality. She served as Campus Minister at Northland College, Ashland, WI and Pastor to Madeline Island for over twenty years.