Since therefore Christ suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves with the same thought, for whoever has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, so as to live for the rest of the time in the flesh no longer by human passions but by the will of God…Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal which comes upon you to prove you, as though something strange were happening to you. But rejoice in so far as you share Christ’s sufferings, that you may also rejoice and be glad when his glory is revealed.
–1 Peter 4:1-2, 12-13 (RSV)
One of my favorite places in Columbus (where I live) is the local conservatory, especially in winter. It can be five degrees outside, and snowing, but inside I can visit a Pacific Island and see koi fish swimming in a pond and rich, tropical plants blooming. It’s summer in the midst of winter, which is most welcome here in the Midwest.
But there’s another draw for the eye. The conservatory houses a large collection of glassblower Dale Chihuly’s works. He manipulates that most delicate thing—glass—into fantastic, extravagant creations. His works are set amidst the plants, both kinds of beauty playing off each other.
To make his beautiful glass sculptures, heat is involved. A lot of it. The raw materials used to make the glass are thrust into a furnace that’s heated to around 2400 degrees Fahrenheit. That’s a lot of heat. But out of it comes the glass that forms the base for the glorious creations.
When I was reading about glassblowing, I was interested to discover that the second furnace is called the “glory hole.” It’s used to reheat the glass in between steps, to keep it pliable. And I think we all have our own furnaces, our own “glory holes.” St. Peter talks about the “fiery ordeal”. Other places in the Bible talk about gold being tested in fire.
We’re just like that glass, or that gold. We go into the fire, first as raw materials, but come out something beautiful; all impurities are burned away in the intense heat.
Is it fun? No. It’s probably not fun for the glass or the gold, either, or the piece of coal that is only transformed into a diamond under extraordinary pressure. But unlike the coal or the glass or the gold, we have a choice. We can say no to God and try to back away from the heat. We can try to avoid the fire. But then, we avoid all the beauty, too.
In my own life, there have been a lot of fires. I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis (CF), a genetic disease that affects the lungs and digestive system, when I was 11. I received a double lung transplant when I was 23, as the result of the havoc CF had wreaked on my body. Before transplant, I weighed 83 pounds, and brushing my teeth was an adventure in stamina. But all those years in between, all the hospital admits and drug regiments and pain and uncertainty have made me what I am today. They have shaped me. And God is still shaping me, still plunging me into the fire of His love. He loves us too much to leave us as unrefined materials. He wants to bring out the beauty that is inherent in each of us.
It’s not easy. It takes a lot of trust and faith, and some days I do not have nearly enough of those. Some days my “yes” to God is yanked out of me, or given grudgingly. Some days I am barely hanging on to Him. But I’m hanging on, and that’s what counts.
The Book of Daniel recounts the story of three young men who were thrown into a fiery furnace (Dn 3), because they would not worship the golden idol erected by the king—they would only worship God. Within the fiery furnace, the men constantly sang God’s praises. The king and his councilors were amazed that God had preserved these young men from death, and, in turn, released them and declared that their God, and not the golden idol, was the one God the people should worship.
If we trust—no matter how thin that trust may be some days—God will bring us out of the furnace. But we can’t avoid the fire, because that is where our glory is revealed. So let’s, in the words of St. Augustine, “sing, [and] keep going.”
* A repost from the archives.