Monday, July 18, 2011

Land of Fire and Ice

I recently returned from 8 days in Iceland. It's a place I've wanted to visit since I was 12 years old. My desire to see this unique place was inspired by Jules Verne's novel, Journey to the Center of the Earth. I saw the volcano across the bay from Reykjavik where Verne's characters began their decent into the earth's center.

Iceland is truly a place of fire and ice. There are 22 active volcanoes on this large island. In the past year, two eruptions have disrupted air travel in Europe because of volcanic ash. There are numerous glaciers as well, some of which are covering volcanoes. This means an eruption usually causes flooding and icebergs crashing into bridges and homes.

I was part of a group doing a 4-day trek through an area described as "Yellowstone on steroids." We hiked on ash-covered snow for the first two days and were treated to steam vents created by boiling water. The landscape reminded me of the prehistoric land in "The Land that Time Forgot." The photo above shows what I mean.

Fire and ice can also serve as metaphors for the spiritual life. At Pentecost, fire is a symbol for the indwelling of God's spirit. At times, we need the fiery energy that the spiritual life can supply, giving us the motivation and purpose to give ourselves to a cause greater than self.

While ice can symbolize the absence of God, it can also be a metaphor for non-reactivity and detachment. Buddhism has often been called a religion of "a cool head and a warm heart." This combination of fire and ice can be powerful. At times, we need detachment from those things that cause anxiety and stress; at other times, we need engagement in an important venture. In short, we need both fire and ice in our spiritual life.

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