Tending the Fire Within

It was ten days ago, and I had just finished several Zoom meetings in my home office. As I walked into the kitchen, I heard a loud crashing sound from the direction of the office. To my astonishment, the top shelf of one of the eight-foot, built-in bookshelves chose that moment to collapse.

Grateful that I had not been sitting at my desk, I gathered up the books into a few piles and gave thanks that I was not hurt. I guess I should have known. It’s probably not a good idea to place heavy hard-cover books as well as my United Methodist History, Polity, and Doctrine papers on the top shelf of any bookcase.

Discerning this as a sign from God, I began looking through the books and pamphlets that had fallen, some of which I had not touched in many years. Here’s what I found.

  • These Things are Ours, a book of poems and illustrations by Michigan artist and author Gwen Frostic. My 7th grade English teacher, Mrs. Richie, gave me this book at the time of my high school graduation. I, on the other hand, gave her fits because I just couldn’t seem to understand the nuances of English grammar.
    • “the woods stood shimmering … a delicate fantasy …
      the wind was still,
      the air was warm
      a great phenomenon of life took place
      the day the leaves came out”
    • “somehow a tree exemplifies a great unconquerable spirit”
  • A copy of my ordination service. I was ordained as a pastor in the General Conference Mennonite Church in 1982. Five years later, I transferred my ordination credentials to The United Methodist Church after taking online courses in United Methodist history, theology, and polity. In the service, I included a hymn, Bow Down Your Ear, Almighty Lord, written in 1978 by one of my Yale Divinity School professors, Jeffrey Rowthorn.

Bow down your ear, almighty Lord, And hear your Church’s suppliant cry
For all who preach your saving Word, And serve you in their ministry.


  • The Arsenal of Democracy; FDR, Detroit, and an Epic Quest to Arm America at War, by A.J. Baime
    I bought this book three years ago, but it sadly remained cloistered until the big bang. It has now moved from the top shelf to the top of my reading list.
  • An Analysis of the Greek New Testament, 1974

I freely admit that I have not opened this book for a while.

  • Quiet; The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, by Susan Cain

I am a classic introvert, most happy not to be the center of anyone’s attention and certainly not the life of the party. I’ve lived for years with the assumption that I am a social failure if I am not charming, which makes ministry a bit more challenging. Yet I can only be who I am, claiming my introverted nature and learning when it is important to pretend to be extroverted.

  • The Rule of St. Benedict in English 1980
    Chapter 22, The Sleeping Arrangements of the Monks

“The monks are to sleep in separate beds. They receive bedding as provided by the abbot, suitable to monastic life. If possible, all are to sleep in one place, but should the size of the community preclude this, they will sleep in groups of 10 or 20 under the watchful eye of seniors. A lamp must be kept burning in the room until morning.

“They sleep clothed and girded with belts or cords; but they should remove their knives, lest they accidentally cut themselves in their sleep. Thus, the monks will always be ready to arise without delay when the signal is given; each will hasten to arrive at the work of God before the others, yet with all dignity and decorum. The younger brothers should not have their beds next to each other but interspersed among those of the seniors. On arising for the Work of God, they will quietly encourage each other, for the sleepy like to make excuses.”[i] (I don’t think I would make a good monk.)

In mercy, Father, now give heed, And pour your quick’ning Spirit’s breath
On those whom you have called to feed, Your flock redeemed by Jesus’ death.

  • The Wild Muir; Twenty-two of John Muir’s Greatest Adventures

I love adventure and relish these stories from John Muir (1838-1914), also known as the father of our national parks.

  • The Way of the Heart; Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry, by Henri J.M. Nouwen, published in 1981.

I took Nouwen’s class, Ministry and Spirituality, my first year in seminary at Yale Divinity School. Nouwen modeled in his life and teaching the importance of care for mind, body, and spirit. He writes, “What needs to be guarded is the life of the Spirit within us. Especially we who want to witness to the presence of God’s Spirit in the world need to tend the fire within with the utmost care. It is not so strange that many ministers have become burnt-out cases, people who say many words and share many experiences, but in whom the fire of God’s Spirit has died and from whom not much more comes forth than their own boring, petty ideas and feelings.”[ii]  

  1. How does the wind of the Spirit need to be kindled in you? And how will you tend the fire within with the utmost care?
  2. How are you caring for yourself in this unprecedented time in the life of our world?
  3. Are you taking time to cultivate relationships that are important to you?
  4. Are you finding ways during COVID-19 to serve others and celebrate how God is working through you to bring hope to our world?
  5. When incredible demands threaten to take away your joy, will you take time away to rest as well as renew mind, body, and spirit?

Reading gives me life and takes me to places where I can lose myself in adventure and wonder. Most of all, reading guards my joy. May the life of the Spirit be guarded within you, may you always tend the fire within, and may you hasten to arrive at the work of God, ready and eager to serve.

Blest Spirit, in their hearts abide; And give them grace to watch and pray;
That as they seek your flock to guide, They too may keep the narrow way.

P.S. Oh, there’s one more thing. I did not notice until a week later that one of the books on the top shelf landed right in the wastepaper basket. Women & Religion in America; Volume 2; The Colonial and Revolutionary Periods; A Documentary History. The women survived the fall.

[i] The Rule of St. Benedict in English 1980, Collegeville Minnesota, The Liturgical Press, 1981, p. 49.

[ii] Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Way of the Heart; Desert Spirituality and Contemporary Ministry, New York, The Seabury Press, 1982, p. 54.

16 thoughts on “Tending the Fire Within

  1. Thank you, Bishop Laurie. Your words always minister to me, sometimes with humor. Your commentary is appreciated. God bless!

  2. My gracious! You brought a bit of laughter into my day, and I thank you so much (regarding the monks). And I am a big fan of Nouwen! He creates a thirst for knowledge, for sure!

  3. Thanks for sharing this! What a library you must have! If such treasured volumes are on the top shelf, what must be below? Reflections of the true scholar you must be.

  4. Thank you for those words. Around the same time my book shelves on one wall fell. I was standing there then I was halfway across the room. I did the same thing with the looking at books. I noticed a few that I had forgotten about. Take time to read. Our minds need it

  5. I can understand the falling shelf. It looks to me as if the shelf right below the fallen one has a slight dip or bow in it. You might want to check that out! Glad that you and the books/papers survived the fall.

  6. From your writing Laurie I clearly understand why the UM Church made you a Bishop. You are the lover of study and reflection, see and experience the humor of God, follower of nurturing the Spirit within, and serious and humbled by your relationship and service with and to God. Iowa is fortunate to have you.
    Continued Blessings upon you.
    Susan E Detwiler
    retired elder from Iowa

  7. When/if you ever have time for it, Quiet is a good and not very difficult read, though not quite as deep into the subject as I’d like, as I’m sure there isn’t much supporting research.

  8. Glad you were not hurt… close call. But you used the situation well in sharing some of the readings in the books that fell. That waste basket surely ought to be rewarded for catching “Women and Religion in America.”

  9. I enjoyed reading about your falling books. You re-learned somethings and we all did as well — and
    had a chuckle at the same time. Thank you for sharing.

  10. Thank you, Bishop Laurie. I quite enjoyed your tumbling book list! I have read “Quiet….” by Susan Cain. Every teacher, every parent – indeed anyone who considers themself to be a human being needs to read that book!

  11. God moves in mysterious ways…..so glad you’re okay. I really enjoyed your message. Kim Hilgendorf, member at 1st UMC New Hampton.

  12. Your memories about Yale made me think about staying on campus with my daughter, Carolyn, when she was going to the Law School for a masters. She lived across the street from the skating rink. She and her husband were getting a divorce, and she was having a baby. The students in her program where so nice and helpful, but it was hard. I was glad I could help. She now teaches at the University of Iowa having served as dean.

  13. Enjoyed your article. Sometimes situations like this bring back memories or stir our minds to reflect on our past. Have not read Quiet but will do so. Met you in Mount Vernon last year in a breakout session meeting. Member Delmar Methodist Church. Thanks for being our Bishop.

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