At one point in William Faulkner’s The Sound and the Fury the main character, Quentin Compson, expresses a desire to go behind the “clean flame.” As his native South evidenced greater and greater decay and his once-strong family has sunk into profound dysfunction, he longed for katharsis—essentially to be born again. These are the storms that chase us. For Quentin the “clean flame” was a means of refuge from tragedy and heartbreak. The idea of katharsis—a moment of purification—is significant within the Christian pilgrimage, as we all know. In a recent conversation the question was asked, “So how much healing does a person need?” The only possible answer is, “More.” More healing. More God. More community. More authenticity. More worship. These are the “clean flames” along the journey we have been called into. This quiet trip of the mind’s eye conjured these words from Martin Luther.
This life, therefore, is not righteousness
But growth in righteousness;
Not healthy, but healing;
Not being, but becoming;
Not rest; but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be,
But we are growing toward it;
The process is not yet finished
But it is going on;
This is not the end,
But it is the road to glory.
All does not yet gleam with glory
But all is being purified.
I keep a copy of this in my journal as a reminder that all is being purified. We’re able to see it in the people around us every day. In a sense we’re passing through the clean flame as the minutes and hours and weeks of our lives, also described as “God’s Curriculum of Life,” are put to work for us in the process of becoming whole.