Ashes, Ashes We All Fall Down


Photo: Pixabay via Creative Commons

Seven years ago I lit a matched and burned down my house. After spending more than a decade using the tools, materials, and skills given to me by those who had gone before me and had built the homes in which I’d passed so many of my early cold, dark nights, I had my own shelter. My own home into which I could invite in a stranger, serve a meal, offer a warm bed and meaningful conversation. I’d redecorated over the years, changed the paint colors and my design styles. But the foundation, the walls, the structure of the house never changed.

Eventually, however, I started to feel the chill of the spectres who’d moved in along with me. I could hear their howling late in the night when I was alone. I began to always carry with me this deep, nagging feeling that in the darkest bowels of my home the foundation was crumbling. My unwelcome guests would whisper to me of rot in the walls, decay under the floor boards. As much as I would pretend I couldn’t hear them – what rational adult believes in ghosts, after all? – their hissing voices embedded themselves in my mind.

When I would visit the others in the neighborhood, hoping desperately to feel the firm ground of their homes under my feet and be reminded that mine were made of the same sturdy stuff, I began to hear the moans and whispers of their hauntings as well. When I would ask if my friends knew where the ghosts came from, they would either assure me that there was nothing there or refer to the spectres as old friends who really meant no harm.

Eventually, I broke. The haunting guests were screaming in my ears; there was no rest inside those walls. I could hear the roof caving in above me, feel the shaking under my feet as I walked across my floor. My home was cursed. Every nail, every fixture, every hour constructing the edifice had been spent in futility. So I stepped outside, lit a match, tossed it over my shoulder, and watched it burn.

Every day since then I’ve sat in the ashes of the place I used to lay my head. I haven’t known where to go from here. I’ve been waiting for someone to show up with a new load of lumber and blueprints so I can start to rebuild. Without a home I am shivering and scared, alone and exposed. I have wanted someone to tell me what the new home should look like, how to keep it demon-proof and in general better than the home I’d built before. No one has come.

Then a few months ago, I met a man who wandered into my pile of ash. He walked slowly through the rubble, and I thought maybe he would be the one to help me rebuild. As I watched him striding over the remains of my old life, he would occasionally lean down, hands still in his pockets, and blow some of the ash away. He’d look over his shoulder at me, and without saying a word, tilt his head in a slight nod to draw my attention to the glimmer of color and light he’d unearthed. Once he had done this three or four times, I warily arose and began to investigate. There were gems shining up at me, beautifully deep in color and reflecting a light that seemed to emanate from within the stone. One by one I picked them up and put them in my pockets, thinking that maybe I could use the gems to pay for my new home.

Until he finally turned and spoke to me. He told me that there would be no new home, no house to build up around myself to keep me safe and warm. These stones were the only things of any value that had ever existed in that pile of wood and plaster. If I saw only their potential to obtain new wood and plaster, I would eventually be torching that home as well. Or I could follow him away from the neighborhood, along a road with plenty of temporary shelters but no place of permanence. If I were to take this road, the journey would be the point and I would begin by learning the value of the gems in and of themselves.

It’s terrifying, to choose to destroy everything that’s kept you protected and secure. It left me paralyzed, surrounded by the charred remains of a faith that no longer made sense. I hoped once the deconstruction dust settled I would find a way to rebuild a new system of faith that would be better and stronger. It turns out, I don’t think I believe in such a system anymore. But I do believe in jewels of great value, precious truths that are worth all their cost. Not because they procure certainty or permanence in my faith, but because they reflect back to me the truth, the beauty, the love, the mercy that is the essence of the One this faith is ultimately about. So we will set out on a long walk to I’m not sure where, gems in my pocket, pen in hand, and faithful guides and companions to walk along the way.



  1. Adiel said,

    April 16, 2015 at 8:30 am

    This made me sigh deeply internally. A happy sigh, an understanding sigh, a hopeful sigh. Good riddance to your old flimsy house. Hello to the wild and beautiful path you walk with Him.

  2. May 2, 2015 at 10:05 pm

    […] I described as a desert in my twenties transformed into an ash heap in my thirties. I have no more Cornerstone to run home to. My spiritual community is full of the […]

  3. May 23, 2016 at 2:47 pm

    […] forward a few months from that shattering trip, and this year’s grief has centered on the death of god. More specifically, the death of the ideas and constructs I’ve built up to define god. Peter […]

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