Winter mornings in Maine are dark and bitter cold, hard as ice on the body and soul. I arise before dawn, eager for a steaming mug of hot tea. That must wait. My first task is to start the wood stove. I open the door and check for embers. On this eight below morning, all looks black — not a spark to be seen. Even the stove is cold to the touch. I have no hope that the kitchen would be warm anytime soon. With a sigh I gather twigs from a paper bag. I hold a small iron shovel and shuffle coals around, doubtful that I will stir up any sparks. Surprise! I look closely and see a faint glow. Encouraged, I stack twigs, kindling, and newspaper, strike a match and a flame lights the darkness.
Now this may seem like too much work for most people. Indeed, it is a chore, but it is all worthwhile. I will tell you why. A wood stove delivers more than heat. It delivers the crackle of kindling and the sweet smell of burning oak. It delivers a cozy spot to read a book. Mysteriously, the flames have a mesmerizing effect, encouraging me to reflect deeper, beyond just staying warm. As I carefully add sticks onto a small bed of coals, I think of people I love who have left the Church. Deeply immersed in secular society, they lack awareness that life has a transcendent quality. St. Paul reminds us,
What is seen is transitory, but what is unseen is eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:18b)
Sometimes I lose hope for these loved ones that the light of faith is dead. I pray for them, strive to be a charitable person, and every now and then spark a gentle conversation about the existence of God. Often, it feels like a dead end. Still, I don’t give up. Recently, I read Night’s Bright Darkness: A Modern Conversion Story by Sally Read. Her story gave me hope. After the death of her father, Sally felt disoriented. All meaning in life was lost, by all appearances her heart seemed dead to change but one night, the unexpected happened. Alone in the world, Sally remembered words from a book, words that had a strange effect on her. It read, “God is merely shorthand for where we come from, where we are going, and what it’s all about.” Suddenly, Sally thought there was a possibility that God existed. One word started a chain of events that led to her conversion to the Catholic faith — all in just one year.
I take that first glorious sip of hot tea on a cold day and feel a glimmer of hope. A small ember can start a fire in my wood stove, just as heartfelt prayers, charity, and sweet reminders of our eternal destiny can start a soul back on the path to Christ and His Church.