Revd Jackie

Rev. Jackie Bullen

Fireworks and Bonfires

Early on in JRR Tolkien’s epic master-piece, Lord of the Rings, there’s a passage describing a birthday party and accompanying firework display, put on by Gandalf the Grey, a wizard of Middle Earth, who we’re told takes the form of a noble, robust old man with a long grey beard. It is said that his kind demeanour, and his love of Hobbit-kind, disguises his immense power.

In the book, Tolkien describes how the local inhabitants had not seen fireworks like these for many years, as trees, flowers, birds and sailing ships were all created by the wizard’s work with coloured smoke and light. The finale was a large dragon that breathed out fire and, circling over the heads of the guests, was the signal that supper was to begin.

Fireworks are often used to mark celebration of some sort - a birthday party, a wedding or New Year. Celebrating the 5th of November, and the good fortune that the UK government had in escaping from the intent of the treasonous Guy Fawkes to blow up the Houses of Parliament, sounds reasonable enough; but coupling it with the tradition of lighting a large bonfire seems an odd way to mark the missing of a catastrophe - using as its centrepiece the result that was likely to engulf them had Fawkes’s plan come to fruition.

Historians have long argued over how the nation would have changed if the Gunpowder Plot by Fawkes and his colleagues had succeeded. As the date chosen was for the opening of parliament, it was not only the MPs who would have been present in the chamber, but the King and Queen alongside many senior palace and other government officials as well. Had the plan come to fruition, the structure of government would have collapsed and a whole level of authority removed. It would have meant starting again from scratch with instability and uncertainty the inevitable consequence.

Fire can cause damage and destruction which may make us afraid of it but it can also be used for good purposes. It can cleanse and renew.

Farmers use fire to burn the stubble on the fields that have been harvested to prepare those areas for a further planting. Metalworkers and jewellers refine precious metals in the immense heat of a furnace to remove impurities.

God too can be likened to a ‘refiner’s fire’, an analogy which authors, poets and hymn writers have embraced. As the song goes “Purify my heart, let me be as gold and precious silver. Purify my heart, let me be as gold, pure gold”.

If we allow God into our hearts, we can become more like him despite, or maybe especially through, the trials and difficulties, the ‘fires’, of our lives. It may be painful to go through those burning flames, but we can come out the other side holier and closer to him.

With best wishes and prayers