He will give a crown of beauty for ashes, a joyous blessing instead of mourning, festive praise instead of despair.–Isaiah 61:3
Trust your heart if the seas catch fire; live by love though the stars walk backward.—E. E. Cummings
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, man will have discovered fire.—Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
When I met my friend, Monica, in Nashville many years ago, she invited me to her hometown, Vigo, Spain. She visited me last fall in Morocco, and I met Alessandro and her in Tarifa in March, but I saved my visit to their city for this week. I wanted to be here on June 23 for La Noche de San Juan (St. John’s Eve). This year it finally happened. As we picnicked in the sand before bonfires blazing, flames dancing to the tide’s tempo, I joined a celebration observed throughout Spain and in much of Europe and Latin America– a night to remember and release what we need to forget.
St. John’s Eve and Day June 24 commemorates the birth of John the Baptist, born six months before Jesus that first Christmas. John said he baptized Christ with water but his cousin would baptize believers with fire and the Holy Spirit. The event of water and fire coincides with Summer Solstice, the longest day of the year, which begins my favorite season—summer—a time of freedom. In Italy celebration for Saint John, patron saint of Genoa, Florence and Turin, lasts from July 21-24. Likewise, last Saturday when Monica and I met in Porto, Portugal, the city was starting what some say is the world’s biggest celebration with live music echoing through the hills surrounding the Douro River.
Staring into the flames and glowing embers that warmed us, I thought of fire as a symbol of passion and a means of purification. I thought of the healing powers of the sea’s salt and was warmed by old friendships and the night’s invitation to new beginnings. By tradition some jump over bonfires for good luck or swim in the ocean after midnight for cleansing, renewal, and energy. Students burn school notebooks to celebrate the end of the school year. Participants of all ages write on a slip of paper what they want to purge from their lives—something holding them back or pulling them down– and throw it on the fire. I watched as the flames turned the napkin I’d written on into black, curling crepe paper, then devoured it completely. I thought of God’s promise in Isaiah 61:3 to make beauty from ashes. He has, and He will.