Lately each time I enter the gates of Harvard Yard from the concrete and brick of the Square, I am greeted with the opening word from Pascal’s Mémorial. The demanding red foliage of this one large tree declares, “Fire.”
Mémorial is Pascal’s cryptic account of the two-hour mystical vision he experienced one night at age 31. “Fire” begins the montage of parsed phrases, utterings of fear, wonder, reverence, and conviction. Pascal had the text sown into the lining of his clothes, which is where the account was discovered upon his death. Perhaps he brought it with him because he could not escape it. I have often found that if you listen closely, you can hear his heart racing between the words on the page.
Sometimes when I am sitting in the library here at school, I look out the large windows at the burning trees, and I think of Annie Dillard. In one of her essays she describes a moth flirting with the flame of a candle, irresistibly circling its blazing wick. The moth moves closer and closer, until it is too close; the fire consumes it. The moth is burning, but it has become the wick of the flame it so desires. Then my gaze returns to the book over which I hover. Fire.
It isn’t strange to me that God spoke to Moses through a burning bush. Aren’t we all met with moments of fire? “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up,” concluded Moses when he saw it (Exodus 3:3). There are moments of fire that capture us so much that we cannot cease returning to them. They are people, and experiences, and visions we must circle around; we must return to them. We must sow them into our clothes. We must give ourselves to them even if they consume us. Fire.