The Holy Spirit is often depicted by the mystics as a kind of fire.  Thus Hildegard of Bingen writes: Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is a Burning Spirit. It kindles the hearts of humankind.  Like tympanum and lyre it plays them, gathering volume in the temple of the soul.

“Muse playing the lyre.” Wikimedia Commons.

Meister Eckhart says that “God glows and burns with all the divine wealth and all the divine bliss in the spark of the soul” and is never extinguished there. Hidden in this spark is something like the original outbreak of all goodness, something like a brilliant light that glows incessantly and something like a burning fire which burns incessantly.  This fire is nothing other than the Holy Spirit. 

In his poem, “The Living Flame of Love,” John of the Cross describes what he calls the “total transformation of the soul in the Beloved” wherein God and soul produce a “living flame….this flame of love is the Holy Spirit [that] bathes the soul in glory and refreshes it with the quality of divine life.” 

It follows that our work burns for “all the acts of the soul are divine” and “since love is never idle, but in continual motion, it is always emitting flames everywhere like a blazing fire.”

Thomas Aquinas says that “compassion is the fire that Jesus came to set on the earth.” 

“What is compassion? – Thich Nhat Hanh.” Zen Buddhism Europe on YouTube.

How important is that teaching?  Rabbi Heschel says that “Humanity is a reminder of God.  As God is compassionate, let humanity be compassionate.” 

Meister Eckhart declares that “we can call God love, we can call God knowledge, but the best name for God is compassion.” Compassion is our response to interdependence, to our interconnectivity, to our shared humanity, to our shared being-ness with other beings.  Compassion is our living out of what Thich Naht Hanh calls our “interbeing.” 

“Tara Talks: Remembering Compassion, with Tara Brach.” YouTube

Given that today’s science holds interdependence and interconnectivity as foundations to all bodily and ecological relationships, it would seem that Eckhart has hit on something primal and profound: Our capacity for compassion.  In the Jewish tradition compassion is the “secret” name for God.  Jesus let this secret out of the bag in Luke 6:26: “Be you compassionate as your Creator in heaven is compassionate.”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unanmaeable God, pp. 47-49.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner image: Fire. Photo by Max Kukurudziak on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Does your work “burn”?  Is humanity (sometimes) a “reminder of God” for you?

Recommended Reading

Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview. In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.
“This book is timely, important and admirably brief; it is also open ended—there are always more names to come, and none can exhaust God’s nature.” -Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of Science Set Free and The Presence of the Past

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11 thoughts on “God, the Holy Spirit, as Fire & Compassion”

  1. Avatar

    Tara’s story of the baby and the old man in rags is a true parable, a breathtaking breakthrough moment of revelation of human/divine ‘entanglement’, a moment where physics and mysticism intersect. It reminds me of the concluding line of my poem “What is a Child?”: a child is the Eternal message of the Moment. The old man’s compassionate concern for the well being of the child highlights the profound mutuality of their encounter.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Suring the Iran hostage crisis during President Carter’s presidency, why did you stand by and do nothing? Because it was happening in another country far away, with all sorts of dangerous obstacles in the way. All that for St. John of the Cross, plus; due to poor communications at the time, he may not have even known about “the Spanish slaughter of native Americans during his time.”

  2. Avatar

    Beautiful DM today on Divine Love~Compassion of God’s Spirit being symbolized by the archetypes of our four earthly elements — Fire, Earth, Water, Air. I loved the two short enclosed videos on compassion. There is a famous quote of the modern mystic, Teilhard de Chardin which I will paraphrase as saying that when humanity discovers Divine Love (Compassion), humanity will again rediscover Fire… The Holy Spirit of Divine Love~Compassion is within our Eternal Sacred Soul~True Heart and among us in All ongoing co-Creation~Incarnation~Evolution, especially within our beautiful sacred Mother Nature/Earth and within our sacred multidimensional-multiverse Cosmos….

    1. Avatar

      Thank you, Damien…I resonate to your expression…At least I no longer (having evolved into a non theist, being unable to conceive of, pray to, thank, praise, request of an interventionist deity)… I could be considered an atheist, and perhaps I am at least more Unitarian than Christian…since little of what the Anglican liturgical texts worshipers are to say, can I any longer.

  3. Avatar

    Working in the health care field for many years has definetely expanded my heart… in the unfolding of becoming and being a more compassionate person. However, I must admit, that no one really taught me the importance of another direction that compassion moves in other than outwards towards another… which is towards oneself… as self-compassion.
    Compassion fatigue… or burnout is the result of not having learnt to move with this energy that moves in both directions… towards others and self.

    Being compassionate and extending this to others, doesn’t negate offering this same compassion to self. Self-compassion is not a selfish act. Truth be told that if you don’t balance these movements of compassion, you end up burning the candle from both ends… which leads to compassion fatigue, henceforth burning out.

  4. Avatar

    Definitely Humanity is where I meet the Sacred, compassion, grace within me and among others! Some wise person has suggested that “God “ is disguised as our life…Amen

      1. Avatar

        Of course…All life is in “God”….but I no longer conceive God as other, as outside but within all that is, and really resonate with Meister Eckhart’s idea, “There, where clinging to things ends is where God begins to be.”…in other words: Sacred Mystery-Presence!

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