Discovering Fire | Roger Wolsey

Discovering Fire

The following is an excerpt from Discovering Fire by Roger Wolsey. It’s a featured Speakeasy selection, and there are still limited review copies available for qualified reviewers. Roger is available for speaking, retreat facilitation, and spiritual direction — check out his offerings here.

Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for a second time in the history of the world, we will have discovered fire. ~ Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

..relegated to the cold, unlike you, i have no toasty core, no fire in my belly to make me blow cat, blow nothing but moonrock nothing but moondust, nothin’ much at all. a mute mineral satellite with no light of its own, an orbiting desolate Alcatraz,
a white washed tomb in the sky.

Religion in the West is in crisis. People are fleeing in droves. The fastest growing spiritual populations are those who identify as “spiritual but not religious,” or as “nones” – as in “none of the above.” Temples, mosques, and churches are increasingly populated primarily with gray-haired people. For the first time in U.S. history, less than 50% of the population are members of congregations, synagogues, or mosques and it’s likely that Christians will comprise less than half of the U.S. population sooner than the Church wants to admit. As a Christian pastor, I see parents and grandparents in the Church across the U.S. wondering where their adult children and grandchildren are on Sundays and if God is at work in their lives – “Should we be praying for them? Will they be saved? Are they going to Hell?” Likewise, many of the young adult off-spring are wondering if their parents and grandparents are benefiting at all from their involvement in Christianity. Indeed, many think the Church is doing more harm to their elders than not – they assume Christianity is indoctrinating them with dogmas, patriarchy, sanctimonious judgmentalism, and dysfunctional repression. Similar challenging dynamics of mutual wariness are taking place within contemporary Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, and Buddhist families.

The conservatives within the religions are concerned about those who aren’t religious, and the non-religious are increasingly skeptical about, and even overtly opposed to, organized religion. I am a bridge between these worlds. I’m a certified Spiritual Director through the Benet Hill Benedictine Abbey and I’m an ordained United Methodist pastor who has served in local churches in three states, including 14 years working in campus ministry at the University of Colorado in Boulder. The stereotypes you may have about Boulder – a bastion for free-spirited hippies, yogis, liberals, progressives, spiritual explorers, recreational drug users, new agers, neo-pagans, bohemians, and “burners” who go to Burning Man, etc. while perhaps overstated, are true enough. I’m a Christian who has been “Boulderized.” Not only have I performed in and served as the president of the Boulder International Fringe Festival, and spent time at the Sivananda Ashram in Nassau, Bahamas doing a deep dive in yoga, I’ve shed my previous wariness about things that aren’t overtly Christian and have come to appreciate and embrace how many non-religious people are connecting to God/Spirit/Source/the Divine and growing and finding wholeness through practices that are more “spiritual not religious.” I’m referring to practices such as yoga, yoga nidra, meditation, kirtans, astrology, full moon and equinox ceremonies, numerology, shamanism, breath work, psychedelic plant medicines, tarot cards, dream-work, shadow-work, authentic relating, earthing, and ecstatic dance. I can help religious people reduce their apprehension about “new” things that frighten them. I’ve steeped deeply enough in these various “non-Christian” practices, have experienced their respective assistance in my life, have prayed about it, and genuinely sense God working in and through them.

I am also an ambassador of the religious realms to help non-religious people reduce their allergy to all things religious. While I’m an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and even serve on the leadership staff of the Mountain Sky Conference within that denomination, I’m admittedly a bit of an outlier. I’ve been an ardent advocate for progressive Christianity. I wrote a substantial and popular primer to progressive Christianity, Kissing Fish; have blogged for Huffington Post, Elephant Journal, Patheos, and Progressing Spirit; have been a guest speaker on numerous Christian podcasts; and I have spoken at several major conferences and festivals.

One doesn’t enter the fray without expecting some backlash, and in 2018 I had “the honor” of having six of my clergy “colleagues” (though oddly all from Texas) file heresy charges against me. I survived that unwelcome experience relatively unscathed, the charges ultimately being dismissed, but I too have wounds and battle scars from organized religion. I critique my religion from within and am not what many would consider to be a “conventional pastor.” I’m at the mid-point in my career and I’ve come to see how many religious people, particularly Christians, are growing and healing – through religious practices that many people (including many Christians) aren’t aware of. Or, if they are aware of these practices, they don’t have significant experience with them, for example, Centering prayer, Lectio Divina, fasting, labyrinth walking, the Enneagram, and prayer journaling. And, many who do have some experience with them haven’t gone deep enough with them to experience significant transformation in their lives – often more “sampled as a taste test” instead of as woven into their lives as integral spiritual practices.

To be clear, Boulder doesn’t have a monopoly on having a high percentage of its population engaging in non-Christian and non-conventionally religious spiritual practices. The same is true for Austin, Texas; Portland, Oregon; Olympia, Washington; Ithaca, New York; Asheville, North Carolina; and Iowa City, Iowa. And it’s not just these “liberal, hippie cities” where more and more young adults are leaving organized religion and adopting alternative “spiritual but not religious” practices. It’s happening all over the U.S. and these practices are becoming the new normal. Indeed, a growing number of church-going Christians are also engaging in these practices. They, however, tend not to talk about this for fear of being judged, shamed, or rejected. Odds are that many of the teen and young adult children of American pastors are engaging in several of these practices – especially once they move away from home. In part, the purpose of this book is to help such Christians who have one foot out the church door realize that they can be faithful followers of Jesus and also connect to the Divine in these other ways, as well as to help their conservative friends and family members begin to fathom that just maybe God is also at work in those “newer/alternative” disciplines. The book also helps non-Christian/non-religious people see that there are certain practices within the Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – that really work. They have techniques that many people employ to meaningfully connect to the Divine, to transform, and to spiritually grow. We can all reduce our wariness of one another, and we can increase our mutual appreciation of each other and the Great Spirit and Divine Mystery that imbues and transcends us all. I testify that each of these practices, religious and otherwise, are effective means to help people connect to the Divine, transform, heal, and develop as embodied souls in the world.

The past twenty months have involved significant turmoil in my life. In chronological order: In 2018, I experienced a mid-life crisis, and a relationship with a person who I thought was “the love of my life” ended abruptly. Seven clergypersons of my own denomination filed charges accusing me of “disseminating teachings contrary to established Christian teaching.” In 2019, I became an empty-nester with my son off to college. In June of that same year, I left a job I truly enjoyed.14 years as director/pastor of a non-profit organization/campus ministry in Colorado is long enough – they needed new blood, and I needed “what’s next.” In July of 2019 I left throngs of friends and colleagues and moved to Iowa, living primarily on savings, in order to start writing this book – a conscious choice – though it felt like sawing off a limb. That September my mother was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal cancer – with an estimated 20 months to live with treatment. She faced it with dogged grit and responded fairly well to the chemo and radiation. And then that October, Facebook inexplicably disabled my personal account with 5,000 friends along with shutting down several other pages I created and ran including the Centering Prayer, Nature Church Global, and Roger Wolsey Author pages. It seems their algorithmic sensors mistakenly assumed that something I posted was “engaging in hate speech” when in fact I was encouraging people to get beyond our hate and move toward radical love. So far, no human at that corporation has laid eyes on that post or been in contact with me about it. Sigh. Any one of those things is a challenge involving feelings of loss, anger, and grief – but combined – that’s a recipe for profound misery, a perfect storm for a dark night of the soul. That I haven’t fallen into severe depression, which I’d been treated for in the past, and function as well as I do, is a testament to the effectiveness and power of these varied spiritual practices. They helped transmute and transform suffering into blessing – including the blessed awareness that I and the Universe/God co-created circumstances that lent themselves to favorable conditions for spiritual awakening and personal growth.

In this book I will describe a range of spiritual practices, how they have each made a difference in my life, and how they might foster growth and transformation for others as well. It is written to help fellow humans, religious and non-religious, do our work in knowing ourselves, loving ourselves, loving others, and living lives fanned by the mystic fires of love – through practices over which no religion or spiritual path has a monopoly.
Please take a moment to revisit the quotes at the top of this Introduction. If we’re being honest, we’ll admit that we don’t always feel “fire in our bellies.” We’ll admit that we don’t engage others and ourselves with “the energies of love” – or that we at least don’t engage them as well as we know we could. We’ll admit we haven’t “discovered fire.” We know this in our bones. Our awareness of this distance between what could be – and what currently is – causes suffering. We don’t like suffering. Suffering is the last thing we want. Indeed, we generally avoid it like the plague. As Carl Jung put it, “People will do anything, no matter how absurd, in order to avoid facing their own soul. One does not become enlightened by imagining figures of light, but by making the darkness conscious.” And, as St. John of the Cross wrote, “God has to work in the soul in secret and in darkness because if we fully knew what was happening, and what Mystery, transformation, God and Grace will eventually ask of us, we would either try to take charge or stop the whole process.” Comfort is something that we moderns prefer and often hold as the highest value. Yet too much comfort is numbing and addictive – it prevents growth.

One sage soul wisely says, “The degree to which a person can grow is directly proportional to the amount of truth he can accept about himself without running away.
An authentic life – a truly spiritual, fully human life – involves, and indeed requires, discomfort, mess, and suffering. Authentic, spiritual living is messy, occasionally painful, and chaotic. God Spirit/The Divine/The Sacred is in our chaos. Our wholeness – healing, salvation, well-being (including the capacity to be okay with not being okay) – is found in admitting, embracing, and delving into our chaos, and that requires some measure of suffering. The way to full, whole-hearted living necessitates openness to messiness and patient suffering – oftentimes extended periods of each.
I know. Hearing this might feel unwelcome – we prefer things to be Marie Kondo minimalist – easy, tidy, simple, comfortable, “joyful”, and quick. Yet every shining star and celestial orb – including this beautiful world – was created out of explosive chaos. A beloved man from Nazareth – who taught and modeled “the via dolorsoa – the way of sorrow/suffering” – was born in truly messy and chaotic circumstances – perceived by some as a bastard born in a barn. Birth doulas tell me the chaos of that birth, with straw on the ground, with a trough of water handy, with loud animals nearby, is in many ways ideal for birthing a child (straw absorbs blood, animal sounds mask the yells of pain, etc.). Chaos is part of real life – a necessary part. Entropy happens. And yet, when it falls apart, that’s when the healing starts. Transformative, authentic living simply can’t happen without our being willing to metaphorically step into fires, stay in them, sit in ashes, and get gross and grubby. As it’s been put, “If you find yourself going through hell, keep going.” The way out is through.

In many ways, our wholeness comes to us as a gift – yet it’s not imposed on us. It’s a gift that we have our part to play in accepting, receiving, opening, using, and nurturing. We co-create our salvation. Unwrapping the many layers of this gift, opening the many boxes within the boxes, leaves us surrounded in a sea of crumpled wrapping paper, boxes, and packing peanut debris. Our respective wholeness-es are tailored to each of us individually. We are not responsible for the traumas that happened to us; we’re responsible for our healing. We’re called to work that out. As Rainer Maria Rilke poetically put it, it may feel as if we “push through solid rock.” And as the apostle Paul instructed, “let us work out our own salvation (wholeness/healing) with fear and trembling.” Experiencing this healing wholeness requires recognizing this responsibility and seeing who we really are. We’re not broken, damaged goods. Who we really are — is love.

“Yeah right,” you say. “If you only knew the real me you wouldn’t say such a thing.” If I knew your wounds; traumas; addictions; dysfunctional patterns; and your tendencies to: be petty; be passive-aggressive; show-off; yearn for attention; hide-out not feeling worthy of attention; self-sabotage; and hurt people you care about – I surely wouldn’t say “who you really are is love.” Yep. I get it. I used to think and feel that way about myself – in all honesty, I sometimes still do. I experienced some wounding in life that I’ll share about and I’ll also share about my increasing experience of transformation and healing.

Shift happened. I dropped the illusion. I loosened my grip on my masks. I got real. Fifty-one years after I was baptized as an infant, 35 years after I was confirmed as a Christian, twenty-five years after I was ordained as a pastor, and after many years of marked discontent – through practices of facing myself and the sources of my chronic addiction to dis-ease and misery—I actually began to feel whole. I began to know that I am love.

Exposing myself to a variety of healing and personal growth modalities was essential for helping me recognize my various degrees of brokenness and dysfunction and to then bring about this newfound awareness that my true self is ultimately whole. Informed by holistic, contemporary healers, here’s a snap-shot of me (we’ll unpack the jargon later): As a Myers-Briggs ENFP; Enneagram 7; astrological Leo with Virgo rising; Numerology Life Path 9; Artisan-Scholar Higher Alignment Soul Type; Human Design Profile – Projector type with ⅗ Martyr/Heretic subtype; who has a fair bit of the Avoidant/Island and Anxious/Wave attachment styles, I’ve had notable aversion to the conflicted, challenging, frustrating, non-feel-good aspects of life. If things felt too negative, awkward, or uncomfortable – I’d bail. I had a pattern of cutting and running and moving onto whatever might be next. Like Tigger, if I found myself in situations that required a lot of Eeyore energy (capacity for inner-turmoil, suffering, sadness, depression), I’d hop on my springy tail and bounce the heck ‘outta there. I didn’t have much bandwidth to be with, let alone be meaningfully present to, discomfort, depression, grief, sadness, or unexpected drama – my own or others. This especially showed up in my love-life. If things felt less than idyllic, too challenged or complicated – “not my circus, not my monkeys” – too much like real human life, I’d become Mr. Ghost and move on. I’m not proud of this and am aware of the wake of dismay and pain this caused in the lives of certain people.

As Thais Sky writes, “Aversion to negativity is not a holy personality trait that makes you spiritually superior, it’s a defense mechanism that is pushing you away from your own humanity, and from witnessing the humanity in others.” Spiritual writer Adyashanti says, “The idea that spiritual people will be immune from suffering is a delusion.” Russian mystic George Gurdjieff taught that, “Sincerity is the key to self-knowledge and to be sincere with oneself brings great suffering.” Roman philosopher Lucius Seneca observed, “The gem cannot be polished without friction, nor [a human] perfected without trials.” The Sufi mystic Rumi poetically asked, “If you are irritated by every rub, how will your mirror be polished?” Helen Keller, a blind person who could see deeply, said, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired, and success achieved.” Contemporary mystic Echart Tolle observes, “For most people, their spiritual teacher is their suffering, because eventually their suffering brings about awakening” and “The fire of suffering becomes the light of consciousness.” Stephi Wagner contends “Pain travels through families until someone is ready to feel it. By going through the agony of healing you no longer pass the poison chalice onto the generations that follow. It is incredibly important and sacred work.” A spiritual teacher known as Mooji offers the invitation to “Step into the fire of self-discovery.. this fire will not burn you, it will only burn what you are not.” And the late, great Fr. Thomas Merton wrote,

Indeed, the truth that many people never understand, until it is too late, is that the more you try to avoid suffering, the more you suffer, because smaller and more insignificant things begin to torture you, in proportion to your fear of being hurt. The one who does most to avoid suffering is, in the end, the one who suffers the most: and his suffering comes to him from things so little and so trivial that one can say that it is no longer objective at all. It is his own existence, his own being, that is at once the subject and the source of his pain, and his very existence and consciousness is his greatest torture.

This said, we need to avoid turning suffering into an idol. There is such a thing as too much suffering, and clinging to it as part of our identities. Rabbi Goldie Milgram warns, [Lament is] “to remember where it hurts, how it got that way, to tell the journey, to honor the pain, not become the story.” And as Eckhart Tolle observes:
Most human beings would rather be in pain than take a leap into the unknown and risk losing the familiar, but unhappy self. Observe the peculiar pleasure you derive from being unhappy – the resistance will cease when you make this conscious.

My life experience, and my explorations with various spiritual practices, confirm and ratify all of these deft insights and observations. I lived in the front range of Colorado for twenty-two years and there are some things that part of the country has that most parts do not – storms predictably coming from the west to the east, and bison – American buffalo. There’s an anecdotal teaching about buffalo and storms that I haven’t verified fully, but my limited observations do seem to bear out at least part of it. Apparently, when cows are out grazing in pastures and a storm approaches, they notice it and start herding away from the storm, and keep moving away from it, until the storm over takes them, and they keep moving in the same direction the storm is going – exposing them to the full wrath and fury of the storm getting fully soaked and drenched. Bison, on the other-hand, behave differently. Instead of trying to move away from the storm, they turn together and face it, then when the storm arrives, they stampede directly into the storm, thus significantly reducing the amount of time they spend being rained on and drenched.

It would seem the spiritual teaching is the invitation for us to face our fears and problems and move into them with intention – instead of seeking to avoid them, or postpone dealing with them. On a larger level, the nations – and states within the U.S. – that sought to deal with the coronavirus pandemic as quickly and robustly as possible, are the ones that reduced their exposure to the full brunt of the virus by flattening its impact. The nations and states that sought to avoid or postpone dealing with it received the full weight and brunt of it.

Each of us needs to have a fiery system reset in our lives so that our phoenixes might rise. This fiery transformative reset comes through increased capacity to embrace negativity – and to suffer mindfully. Yet it’s all too easy for us to by-pass the genuine and real reset. The real reset isn’t ending that relationship, leaving that job, fleeing the room in the midst of conflict, or moving away to a new place. That’s just putting the same you into different surroundings – likely similar ones. The real reset is going into the fires, doing the work, and noticing the parts of yourself that are being triggered – sincerely feeling into them, listening to what they have to say and what gift they have to offer – while not overly identifying with those parts – and remembering that the real you isn’t those parts. The real you is the you who’s truly fine and well despite the current circumstances which remind you (or rather, the neuro-muscle memory and pathways of your body) of previous events in your life.

If you’re being abused or in danger that’s another issue, yet most of the time it’s our egos and personas/personalities that are feeling threatened. It’s okay for them to be threatened. It’s okay for them to feel the real risk that their days are numbered; that you will soon not let them drive the bus; that you will more and more operate from, and as, your real self; more and more drop in and breathe into whatever you’re facing; more and more act from your heart and less from your head, and habit. “Reset” indeed.

More of my story. After a lifetime of intermittently receiving love and intermittently loving others – and also feeling love withheld and being neglected, and at times, abandoned – and likewise, and consequently, withholding love, neglecting, and abandoning others, I engaged in some practices that caused a dramatic change in my life. I found myself becoming willing to step into the fires. Basically, I reached a “fuck it” point – a realization that there really wasn’t any other choice. The status quo was unacceptable. This transformation involved seeing my demons, facing them, befriending them, owning them; experiencing and owning my divinity; and humbly seeing how much of my life I’ve lived not being a vessel that lets love in or out very well. I’m an ordained pastor with a four year Masters of Divinity degree, have been pastor to several churches, and have served an adjunct instructor at Graceland University and the Iliff School of Theology. I’ve written a 385 page primer to progressive Christianity, Kissing Fish: christianity for people who don’t like christianity, I’ve been a speaker at numerous conferences and festivals; and I’m a certified Spiritual Director through the Benet Hill Benedictine Abbey. I know “about” God (academically and ecclesiastically) but for much of my life and career I haven’t been able to say that I know God. I hadn’t allowed Spirit to truly be at work in my life and transform me from within. I’d been selling a car that I hadn’t driven much. Well, I’ve finally got behind the wheel and have put the rubber to the road. I’ve logged numerous test drives. This book describes those road-trips with Love.

For transparency, what I’m saying here is a work in progress. In truth, it’s as much aspirational for me as it is incarnational yet transformation is taking place. Shift is happening. I’m becoming someone who I love and trust far more than I used to, and as a result, who others can love and trust even more. As I experience loving myself more, I experience others being able to love me more easily. I’m becoming more love-able. I’m also becoming trustworthy – and less afraid to tell the truth – even if it makes me feel uncomfortable or even if I think it might make you feel uncomfortable. Indeed, I’m becoming willing to feel uncomfortable – and yes, sigh, even to suffer. Perhaps like the Velveteen Rabbit, I’m “becoming real.” I’m becoming (remembering and realizing that I’m) loving, lovable – love.

Spiritually-minded people of all kinds tend to have a special place in their hearts for Jesus – a holy man from Nazareth who taught “Love your neighbors as yourself” “Do unto others as you’d want them to do unto you” and “Love your enemies.” It doesn’t take attempting these things for long to realize that in order to love others, let alone enemies, as we love ourselves – or as we’d like others to love us – we first do well to know and love ourselves. Knowing ourselves involves knowing our gifts, talents, passions, tendencies, patterns, clinginess, triggers, reactive defenses, short-comings, growing edges, blind-spots, shadows, and dysfunctions. Coming to know many of those things about ourselves involves suffering. Self-awareness isn’t for the timid. Alas, large portions of our society are timid about gaining true self-knowledge, and wary about loving themselves fully. In fact, many of us go out of our way to avoid this very thing through distractions, entertainment, thrill seeking, self-medicating, comfort eating, sex, drugs, gossip, workaholism, generalized busy-ness, and so on. But at a certain point, the path of self-avoidance – and limited loving – hits a dead-end where we’re forced to either spiral toward certain doom – settling for an unfulfilled life of discontent and possible ongoing harm to ourselves and others – or risk changing and entering into the scary unknown of ourselves. Daring to risk loving ourselves. But it’s only through knowing ourselves well that we can love ourselves well. And it’s through loving ourselves well that we can love others well. Worded differently, we love others to the extent that we love ourselves.

This need to know who we really are is a calling we each have – and it’s one that we share in common. Humans are social creatures who do best by learning and growing together. We receive emotional wounding and trauma in relationship and, paradoxically, it’s often in relationship that we heal and thrive. “Together” can involve full participation in organized religion, and it can also mean sharing life with spiritual writers across time and through the virtual ethers – though there’s much to be said about feeling deepened Presence in the physical presence of others.

There is help for us to become more self-aware and self-loving. There are a host of elders, shamans, witches, mystics, rabbis, imams, pastors, priests, gurus, coaches, and guides. Some have been giants who’ve introduced or refined massively beneficial practices, and upon whose shoulders we stand on as we each do our work to know, heal, and love. I’m inspired by the ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle who wrote, “Knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom,” and these words of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin, a Jesuit priest and scientist born in 1881:

We must try to penetrate our most secret self, and examine our being from all sides… And so, for the first time in my life perhaps (although I am supposed to meditate every day!), I took the lamp and, leaving the zone of everyday occupations and relationships where everything seems clear, I went down into my inmost self, to the deep abyss whence I feel dimly that my power of action emanates. But as I moved further and further away from the conventional certainties by which social life is superficially illuminated, I became aware that I was losing contact with myself. At each step of the descent a new person was disclosed within me of whose name I was no longer sure, and who no longer obeyed me. And when I had to stop my exploration because the path faded from beneath my steps, I found a bottomless abyss at my feet, and out of it came — arising I know not from where — the current which I dare to call my life. …and, if someone saved me, it was hearing the voice of the Gospel speaking to me from the depth of the night: ego sum, noli timere – ”It is I, be not afraid!”

Again, this book is offered to help us do our work in learning how to know ourselves, love ourselves, love others, and live our lives bellowed by the mystic fires of love.

In a nutshell the message of the book is as follows:

Know yourself. Love yourself. Love others.

Realize there is no other & experience our shared “Youniverse.”

Unpacking and exploring the contents of that nutshell is the aim of this book. I’ll be sharing about mystical and contemplative practices from across the globe that have helped millions of humans to learn who they are, and to bloom into the loving fullness of who they are. I have experience with each of the practices I’ll be describing – though I don’t pretend to be an expert or master of any of these deep oceans.

I’ll be referring to the Divine in various ways. When I’m speaking from and about Abrahamic/Judeo-Christian perspectives, I’ll frequently use the word “God” – yet I won’t be intending the baggage that often gets tacked on – theologies that posit “a bearded man in the sky who requires sacrificial spilt blood to be satisfied, and judges and damns some to hell, etc.” As a progressive Christian I reject that off-putting, archaic, patriarchal, toxic theology. One can, however, subscribe to such views and find much value in the conversation within this book. When I’m referring to practices from other lineages and traditions, I’ll use other terms such as Spirit, Source, Mystery, the Universe, the Holy, the Sacred, the Divine, Divinity, Higher Power, the Transcendent, Immanence, Love, etc. If certain words cause you to contract, replace them with ones that are a better fit for you. I invite you now to take a moment to set this book down, close your eyes, take a deep breath in…. and out….,
and set an intention to be open to exploring the various “fires” offered through this book to help you work out your own salvation and bellow the fire in your belly of your love, of you, us, Love.

This state of feeling love, of being loved, of being love – won’t just happen by accident. It’s a fruit of engaging in spiritual practice and being open to the palpable transformations that can occur if we allow ourselves time in the forge. To be sure, that state of “being love, in love” is a bit like the weather, felt more on some days than others. But a gradual change in our respective climates can occur through engaging in spiritual practice. Fr. Richard Rohr has keenly observed, “Humans tend to live themselves into new ways of thinking more than think themselves into new ways of living.” Experimenting with spiritual practices is a key way we live into new ways of thinking and being. There isn’t one “right” spiritual practice. Spiritual practices choose us as much as we choose them, and there are different spiritual practices that call to us at different parts of our lives. In keeping with the fire motif – there are different kinds of fire lays (teepee, lean-to, pit, log-cabin, etc.), and different kinds of tinder, kindling, and fuel. It’s better to engage in a given fire/practice for only 10 minutes a day than to have it become something that we think we need or have to do as they then become things that we’ll resent and guilt ourselves about if we don’t do them for at least 45 minutes to an hour every day. So, on the one hand, it’s important to do a practice with intention and depth, and on the other, it’s important to not become burdened by it or make an idol out of it. Practices are just things that help us along and point the way, they aren’t what it’s all about. And yet, on another level, engaging in the messy fire dance that is involved here is exactly what it’s all about. Let us proceed onward with the mess! As we do, let’s take to heart Walt Whitman’s advice to, “re-examine all you have been told in school or church or in any book, and dismiss whatever insults your own soul.

My hope is that as you read this book, you’ll experience your soul feeling insulted by fewer things. There may be practices described here that will never be your cup of tea, yet there is an invitation for us to expand our appreciation of the vast and many ways that Spirit meaningfully touches and transforms real human lives. Through increased awareness and familiarity we can reduce our aversions and allergies to what seems “new, strange, and different” and harness the energies of love.

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less. ~ Marie Curie

Praise for Discovering Fire

Discovering Fire is full of warmth, crackle, and gentle luminosity. If you feel you’ve been shut out in the dark, around this campfire you’ll find welcome, sanity, and serenity. All of Roger Wolsey’s fires may not be right for you, and he doesn’t prescribe them: he just shares—with humility and honesty—what experiences and practices have brought him light and warmth on his spiritual journey.”
Brian D. McLaren, author of Do I Stay Christian?

“So many of us feel like we’ve outgrown, been betrayed by, or just plain been run over by conventional Christianity. Roger Wolsey’s been there, too. But he hasn’t let the setbacks of the journey snuff out the ember of what we Methodists call our ‘strange warmth.’ Discovering Fire is like having access to the cathartic diary of a spiritual survivalist who, in making his way through struggles both familiar and offbeat, sheds light on practices both pedestrian and pioneering. Don’t be shy! Let Roger help you stack that kindling in new ways. All you’ve got to lose is cold feet.”
Rev. David Felten, coauthor, Living the Questions: the Wisdom of Progressive Christianity

“Roger Wolsey’s Discovering Fire is the long-awaited follow-up to his groundbreaking book, Kissing Fish. Fans of his will love this new book, as it does a beautiful job of presenting a type of Christianity more relatable to and relevant for those who can’t find value in the version of the faith promulgated by more ‘mainstream’ teachers and preachers.”
Matthew Distefano, author of The Wisdom of Hobbits, and columnist for Patheos

“In Kissing Fish, spiritual director and pastor Roger Wolsey gave readers conceptual frameworks for reconsidering Christianity in a way that’s intellectually coherent, morally generative, and compassionately grounded. Over a decade later in Discovering Fire, he deepens this conversation by showing us how to practice a wide-awake faith that’s centered in the Way of Jesus while embodying a spiritual hospitality that includes fuel offered by neighboring traditions—and rediscovering hidden sparks within our own. Take up this book if you’re wanting to rekindle your spirit to a roaring flame but be aware: the fire-starters Roger describes might rub you strangely at first as they’re heating up. He leaves nothing he’s found helpful out, from contemplative prayer to circling, fasting, to plant medicine, tarot reading and ecstatic dance. Discovering Fire is an unflinchingly honest dive into generating genuine heat and light, for progressive Christians and the spiritually homeless alike. Highly recommended.”
Mike Morrell, co-organizer, Wild Goose Festival; collaborative author with Fr. Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation

About the Author

Roger WolseyRoger Wayne Wolsey is a free spirit who thinks and feels a lot about God and Jesus. He’s a progressive Christian who identifies with people who consider themselves “spiritual, but not religious.” A trumpeter, Roger grew up during the “Minneapolis Sound” era of the 1980s and ‘90s. These experiences contribute to a musical approach to his theology. Roger studied philosophy and political science, graduated magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa, from Macalester College in St. Paul, MN, and earned a Master of Divinity degree at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. Roger is an ordained pastor in the United Methodist Church. He has taught classes as an adjunct instructor at Graceland University in Lamoni, IA, and at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, CO. He has served as a pastor for churches in Minnesota, Iowa and Colorado. Roger was president of the board of directors of the Boulder International Fringe Festival. He currently serves on the Board of Directors of Progressive Christianity.Org. Roger blogs for Patheos (as The Holy Kiss), Sojourners, Elephant Journal, and Huffington Post. Roger is a speaker for numerous festivals and conferences. Roger is available for speaking, retreat facilitation, and spiritual direction — check out his offerings here.

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