The Heats of our Desire
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Posted on: 4th June 2021
I have been seeing a chiropractor for some back problems. On my first visit, after some rather aggressive manipulation, I was told to go home and apply regular ice packs.
Ice, said the chiropractor, is my best friend. I replied that my hot water bottle was my best friend, and had been for some time, and so it was explained to me, in anatomical terms, how ice would heal, and heat would harm, the muscles of my back.
We can find a similar principle at work when we experience difficulties in our Christian life. We are drawn to that which is warm and cosy and soothing, but these things can prevent our spiritual muscles from healing and in the end, make the problem worse. Often, it’s the shock of a cold shower, or a block of ice in the small of the back, that bring about our healing.
The last verse of the well-known hymn, Dear Lord and Father of mankind, asks God to
Breathe through the heats of our desire
Thy coolness and Thy balm;
The words of this hymn were taken from a 19th C poem, written by a Quaker in protest at what he considered to be excesses in worship. The hot desires referred to are not those we would normally associate with the sinful life, but to music, incense, or anything else designed to ‘bring the skies more near or lift men up to heaven’. Such practices are described by the poet as vanities, mere intoxication, creating a fever of the blood and brain, and which drown out the still small voice of God so that the very methods we use to seek God ensure we will not find Him. Instead, these heated practices should be replaced with the coolness of silence, stillness, and quiet service.
While I find much to admire in Quaker philosophy, I cannot agree with this view of worship. Silence and stillness have their place, but we worship a God of abundance who has given us a rich world full of sights and sounds, and smells. The psalmist invites to ‘play skillfully and shout for joy’ (Psalm 33), even the mountains and hills burst into song and trees clap their hands (Isaiah 55). In rejecting the excesses of some styles of worship, we could, instead, end up with a cold, dull, and unattractive faith.
Reluctant to lose the comfort of my hot water bottle I did some research on the benefits, or otherwise, of ice and heat, and found the following advice:
After an acute injury, ice should be used to minimize swelling for the first two to three days. After this period, heat can be used to increase blood flow and assist the natural healing process. Applying heat too early may cause additional swelling by increasing blood flow to the injury.
We can then conclude that in our spiritual and in our physical lives, hot and cold both have their place. The trick is knowing when to apply the short, sharp, shock of an ice bath, and when a hot water bottle and a soft blanket would be more appropriate.
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens:
written by: Catherine Beaumont
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