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Kneeling at the Hearth

First thing every morning throughout five or six months of the year, I build and light a fire in my fireplace. Sometimes I'm lucky enough to stay in bed past my husband so that he can warm the house before I crawl out from underneath my cozy flannel sheets and down comforter, but most mornings my duty is the fire.

When the routine starts in November, I do it begrudgingly. I dislike getting up and fumbling in the dark for my fleece sweatshirt and thermal socks only to walk out into the arctic living room and kneel on the frigid tile in front of the fireplace. This winter I got clever and talked my husband into bringing wood in for the morning before he goes to bed each night. At least now I don’t have to go out in sub-zero temperatures in my pajamas anymore. That seemed really insane.

Over the course of this winter something started to shift. The burden has become routine and I do it without thinking. I have the number of sheets of newspaper perfectly decided as well as the exact right amount of kindling figured. I automatically check the inside and outside temperatures so I know just how long I need to tend the fire. The colder the temperature the longer I sit with it, adding wood as the fire indicates to me it is ready to go to the next level of feeding.

A few months ago I noticed something peculiar on my knees. For those of you that live in the mountains, or at least in snowy places, you’ll know how rare it is that you actually look at your legs for more than a passing glance during the winter. I don’t know why it seems a little embarrassing to mention this, but it’s true none-the-less. Anyways, I noticed callouses on my knees. This has never happened to me in the sum of my life. What changed?

It took me the whole of a day before I made the connection. My morning time on my knees before the fire was leaving a mark on my skin. It was hard to believe that ten or fifteen minutes made the difference. I recalled the meaning of kneeling and the associations with humility and subservience.

For most of my life I’ve shunned prayer and shied away from kneeling, not liking the self-deprecation of putting myself below some man in the sky like they teach in church. With the prompting of a few great teachers and mystical teachings, my stance has changed. I’ve come to embrace the power of prayer in the last few years. I was awkward at it at first, really not finding much to say because petition and gratitude prayers were the only prayers I knew as well as the only prayers I knew I didn’t want to say. I instead read other prayers in books; sometimes memorizing them and sometimes watching them pass before my eyes in a flash of understanding.

Then my repetition or reading turned to spontaneous prayer in the middle of meditation. I kept the prayers short not wanting to spoil them with reasoning and doubt. They were sweet little kernels I cradled in my contemplation. My time for silence comes right after the fire is launched and burning on its own. When I can leave it to its own devises.

I used to resent making the fire because it had to be done. I just wanted to get to my journal and my reading, my silent time of the day, but without the warmth of the fire I was imprisoned in layers of blankets I swaddled myself in to stay warm. The fire was a distraction for me, more time for my monkey mind to start sorting through worries of the day.

Finding those callouses on my knees changed my mindset. At first, the callouses were badges of honor that showed my dedication to prayer and I was inwardly proud, but then, they became a reminder that there is no task too small and I found more humility. As many monks have taught, meditate and then chop wood. Living the mystical in the midst of the mundane takes seeing every moment, especially those caught in chore, as an opportunity to be with the Divine.

I began my time kneeling at the hearth each day in silence watching the flames I was fostering. I wanted to fill the space with prayer or meaning, but I instead allowed the simplicity of the job to be as it was. I zoned out. My mind wandered. The intuitive art of fire building and watching came in. I soon found I was interrupting my fire time to get up and go sit with my beloved journal.

And now, as Imbolc is upon us, I have discovered the perfect prayer for my fire time, and the wisdom of those callouses on my knees is finally borne out in my practice. This is a traditional Celtic prayer from the lovely book Prayers for Healing: 365 Blessings, Poems, & Meditations from Around the World edited by Maggie Oman. I read it every morning as the flames begin to overtake the wood. Pieces of it and memories of the flames come back to me throughout my days. I hope someday with this practice that the entire prayer will reside in my heart.

This morning, as I kindle the fire upon my hearth, I pray that the flame of the God's love may burn in my heart, and the hearts of all I meet today.

I pray that no envy and malice, no hatred or fear, may smother the flame.

I pray that indifference and apathy, contempt and pride, may not pour like cold water on the fire.

Instead, may the spark of the God's love light the love in my heart, that it may burn brightly through the day.

And may I warm those that are lonely, whose hearts are cold and lifeless, so that all may know the comfort of the God's love.

Note: The printed prayer speaks of "God's" love, but you may change the wording to fit your beliefs. Goddess, Spirit, Beloved, any honorific for the One that moves through all things can be used.

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Stacey Couch, creative mystic and Certified Shamanic Practitioner, is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life's big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing.


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