The Harvest Flames: a lesson in listening from the fireside

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It is difficult for me to recall small details of stories– especially history– so sometimes I wish I’d engaged in more oral storytelling as a child.

There is something different about a story pouring through someone’s lips, right out of their brain, out of their heart.

There’s something about experiencing a story through hand gestures, facial expressions, and intonation, the way my Native American ancestors might have done it, and the way so many cultures across the world still do.

In John 21, there’s a story about Jesus and his closest friends.

The disciples are having trouble fishing, so when this stranger (Jesus) tells them to cast the net again, they end up with a load of fish.

And when they understand that the stranger is Jesus, Peter can’t even wait for the boat ride to shore- he jumps straight into the water!

And what do they find there on the beach?

Jesus with His arms outstretched, holy orbs of light shooting from his fingertips?

Jesus, kneeling down, praying with His eyes turned to heaven?

No.

He’s sitting back, resting by a fire, ready to eat.

“Come have breakfast,” He says.

And they gather round, and what did they do next?

I believe they told stories.

They reclined in the sand, sat on a wet log, their hands stretched toward the fire’s warmth in the early morning sun.

And they remembered the lifetime they’d packed into just a few years, and their hands were gesturing and their mouths were moving. Their voices were bringing laughter into the air, tears of joy, moments of shared mourning, community built up around that sacred place.

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It’s fall here now.

Right around this time, I feel this tightening into my home, to the fireside, to the blankets and the beds and the candles and the hot drinks.

It seems that the bears and the squirrels aren’t the only ones who prepare for winter.

We nestle ourselves inside with the coffee or tea or cocoa, with pumpkin baked goodies always on hand.

We draw ourselves to the fireside, and we meet each other’s stories, and we watch fire dance that has always danced, that same kind of flame that danced beneath cooking fish by the sea, that overhead every story Jesus told.

It’s that same flame that gave light to my Potawatomi and Cherokee ancestors, that told them to keep speaking, to keep listening, to hold onto what they knew so that centuries after them could also know.

Maybe this fall and this winter, during this holiday break that’s coming in a few short weeks, we can all develop new listening skills.

Let’s remember back, way way back, to earlier times and the stories that narrated them.

Let’s tell each other what it’s like to be us, what it’s like to live in this skin and believe the way we choose to believe.

Let’s jump out of our boats and swim to shore as fast as we can, gather at the fire like there’s no tomorrow, and call those moments sacred and good.

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