The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America


After the fire

Ashes mark what God burns away

A little crumpled newspaper on the bottom. Small sticks of kindling, on top of them, crossing each other at angles. One larger log on the very top, placed so there is plenty of air beneath it. Upon this the flames will feed.

I strike a match and hold it to the edge of the newspaper. Flames lick the edge of the paper and creep toward the middle, very slowly. They spread and speed up — reaching the paper all the way in the back, igniting the kindling sticks around the log, inscribing perfect circles that end in fingers of flame that shoot straight up the chimney.

It will burn as long as there is wood and air. Someone who has been weeping throws her wadded-up tissues into the fireplace, and they are gone in a burst of flame. It's as if some of her grief has gone up in smoke. "I feel better," she says. She collects her purse and coat and prepares to leave. "I needed to cry."

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February issue


Embracing diversity