*If you want to indulge more than just one sense, I suggest listening to New Beginnings by Brian Tyler. Words can only say so much, but words + an image + music can say more.
It was a little over two years ago that I stood feeding my journal pages into the biggest bonfire I have ever attended. There, on the edge of my grandparent’s big pond in the Tennessee mountains, I burned every good and bad memory I had ever written, every dream and desire I had hoped, happy things and sad things, and every piece of art I had ever immortalized on those pages. I had two giant plastic bins of journals—some half-started, some full to the brim, some leather, others new—but all fuel for the fire. At the time, those journals were “me” in color and words and paper. The Bonfire Day was the day I watched my form start disappearing into ash, hoping for a resurrection into something grander than could have ever filled those pages.
It was just me and Andrew and a Great Holy Presence. I watched him build this fire for hours, sweating from the heat and exertion of moving giant limbs and branches, focused and passionate, and it was then I knew what it looked like for Christ to work in the field of my heart. I saw at that moment a love that turned seven years into a day because of “his great love for her.” All around us was a Glory more tangible than I’ve ever felt in a church, a Peace that jogged right past my understanding. Confirmation after confirmation came throughout that evening, proving that He was among us. Not everyone may understand its purpose, but it was to date one of the greatest, most sacred moments of my life.
I haven’t journaled since that day. I have written of course. But they’ve been sword-words trapped in the stone of a MacBook (no pictures and magic) rather than alive in my hands like something grown organically. But that day of fire was important. It was the initiation into a death and a burial of a former life. In fact, it was the first domino of many deaths and burials forevermore. Away went the form of religion I was living that had no power. Away went the form of self I was living that had no constancy. Away went the cycles that led me in circles. Away went the striving after a “calling” that was never the real thing anyway. Away went the personal ambitions. Away went the polish. Away went the days of war and winter. With each page caught up in flame, a memorial was sent up in smoke and incense to Yahweh. Don’t get me wrong, it was not a tragic funeral by any means, but a glorious one. It was one that was accompanied by music and dancing feet, knowing that when the stone is finally rolled away, all that will be found is an empty tomb.
“Fires don’t just remove rubble from the land, but once they are cleared, they leave nutrients in the soil for the next growth that comes,” Andrew told me as I shared this process with him. It would seem that the Church I’d known was forever teaching a drowning of self, but I was yet to see someone who came back up out of the water more alive than they went down. After all, it isn’t the crucifixion of Christ that makes the Gospel such good news, but the Resurrection. To leave it at His death is to make the whole crux of Christianity about deliverance from your sins. Sin isn’t the point. Death isn’t the point. The point was the Resurrection which invited us back to where it all started: “Emmanual,” Christ with us; walking in the Garden and then walking on the earth, now walking around in me. Now the “with us” is so much greater than a Person with feet. Now we have a King enthroned within us in nearness and intimacy. The point is to be at one with Him—our lives sewn together, braided into one another, until His seams and ours become indistinguishable from one another. The Resurrection was like a phoenix from the ashes: you think they are dead and gone, but really it was just necessary for a glorious rebirth. It put nutrients in your soil to make the garden grow all the more vibrant.
Forest fires turn into lush, fragrant Gardens when you walk the way of the Wilderness, staying in the process until you see it bloom before you. Here in the innermost courts of my heart is a place laden with spices, a river that flows, a wildflower throne, passages through ancient gates, and vineyards for holy wine. It isn’t just a good life, but it is the life more abundant. He became Resurrection that we may also Resurrect—into Beings of such great brilliance that the earth is reminded of its first days of Eden.
I tell you this story not to promote the sacrifice. In fact, that word has become anemic to me in this paradigm. It was no sacrifice. Rather, every burnt word was a thousand scattered seeds to create the Wonderland I now get to call my everyday. I share this story so that you may be encouraged to open wide your arms to death, whether it be a mighty memorial stone death or a tiny daily death, neither is more significant than the other. The point isn’t the dying, it is the resurrecting. Because it is in the resurrection that we are made one again with Him. It is from there that we get to ascend to Heavenly Places to a throne by His side and reign forevermore as His Shulamite bride. This resurrected self is a thousand times more wonderful than the one you put to death. It is to live from a place of Accomplished, Won, Beloved, and Victorious. It is to be in the likeness of God. For isn’t that why we die to begin with? That with each death we may become more like the Kings and Queens, Sons and Daughters, that look exactly like their Father?
In conclusion, I pulled out a new journal a few weeks ago. I painted on its pages, adding art and words and pictures. The funny thing is, I never felt a great loss when I burned those journals, only great hope. It wasn’t even a hope that I would journal again one day and it would be better, bigger, or prettier. No, I simply hoped for more of Him. That fire was a gift to Him, just as His death was a gift to me, to you, and to all the world. It just so happened that one day on this Bewilderness journey, I saw some color come from the catacombs. It felt like an unlocking. It felt like finding an empty tomb and a risen King. There, in the soil of our Wonderland Garden, creativity budded its head from the earth, beckoning me to come create, to play. After all, does He not create? Does He not play? I simply smile down at the blooming creativity and say, “You are somewhat familiar, but not in the way I knew. It is as if you are more ancient than the old me I once knew, as if you are so old you are new. It is like you are so of the past that you have looped around to be of my future.“ The bloom nods its petaled head and replies, “As are you.” Then I gave in to the scent of that blooming creativity as I journaled in Resurrection Spirit. And the tales of fires and death just became a part of the Great Story: the gospel of becoming Who I have beheld.
“For there is hope for a tree when it is cut down, that it will sprout again, And its shoots will not fail. Through its roots grow old in the ground, and its stump dies in the dry soil, at the scent of water it will flourish and put forth sprigs like a plant.” Job 14:7-9
Lord, thank you for Your death that permitted us to come near. Thank you that through Your sacrifice we are able to resurrect into new life with You. Thank you for ascending into the Heavenlies so that the greater Comforter may come, He who dwells within us and permits us to live a life more abundant. God, I thank You for the privilege we have in getting to put to death our old nature, old forms, old mindsets, and old ways—both good and bad—so that we may gain the superior life of step-by-step and moment-by-moment in Your Presence. Allow us to experience the reality of your wounds so that we may also experience the reality of your Resurrection. We say yes to Heaven on earth, and the earth becoming like Heaven. Make us like phoenix from the ashes. Make us like You, Yahweh. For You are the One most Lovely. In Your Name, Amen.