Fanning the Fragile Flame


A spark is an incomparably fragile thing. The wick is real, tangible, bound. But a spark glimmers so quickly that even though you’re sure you saw it, you can’t describe what it looked like apart from simply calling it a spark. It’s the perfect image of what inspiration is like, a flawlessly matched metaphor. Inspiration comes and lights on the surface of your heart, just brushing up against it, strongly enough to be felt, but gently enough to always evade capture. Just as the slightest chill or breath will quench the spark, the purity of inspiration cannot abide bitterness or worrying distraction.

The experience of inspiration, which I know when I’ve felt, but struggle to verbalise and so often and so quickly lose, helps me understand the leading of the Holy Spirit. God himself is a consuming flame, yet his Spirit leads in whispers and visits us as a dove. The sight and sound of him is unmistakable, but when I try to condense the sparks into communicable, intelligible language, they slip through my fingers. I can’t contain him, words prove too porous. But more than this, that familiar glimmer is crowded out easily with competing voices. As soon as the mind stops to consider any fear or worry or anger, the Dove takes flight. His holiness cannot abide my faithlessness for long.

But graciously, he doesn’t give up. The spark returns, if briefly, and continues to give glimpses of something pure and untaintable. The question is, how can I turn the sparks into a flame? The Bible talks about “rekindling the flame of the gift of God”, meaning both his Spirit and what the Spirit gives, in 2 Timothy 1:6. What can be done to welcome the Dove’s gift, to guard the spark, to protect the still, small voice that speaks so gently inside? It’s not as easy as looking for the spark, because my heart is turned by the times he finds me rather than the other way around. I can’t conjure it or manufacture it, the fire comes from him. So what can I do to feed and fuel the spark once it comes?

Just as any artist knows that inspiration is a gift for which they can take no credit, the Spirit is God’s gift-giving gift to his children. For the artist, the only way to bring the gifted spark into flame is to immediately put it to work. It must hurriedly be applied to paper if it is to have any chance of survival. It’s the same as any gift, which inevitably withers and fades when not put to use. But how could one put the gift of the Spirit to use? Not by manipulating the Dove to our bidding, but by letting him do his work and applying his gift with discipline and trust. Just as the artist continues to ply away at his work based on that initial inspiration, even long after the warmth of the spark seems to have abated, so I have to exercise trust in the spark of the Holy Spirit and practice trusting him during the times when his voice is drowned out.

The gift is something I have and it is also someone I have. It is therefore both practical and relational. My trust in the person is shown by actions I take which depend on his word being trustworthy. If my inspiration, the stroke of the Dove’s presence, is so easily interrupted, then what areas of my life need to be actively rekindled into a flame of trusting faith? Where, when and how am I relying on him? If actions which demonstrate trust breed intimacy, then perhaps this is the way to invite and retain the spark and fan it, be it ever so slightly, into a slow-burning fire which lights the immediate path and warms the heart for the journey.