Thursday, April 12, 2012

Fire and Water

Fire and water: They are often regarded as opposites, but are they? Really?

Look at it from the standpoint of physics: When a substance is at a low enough temperature, it is a solid. When we warm it up, it eventually hits the melting point and becomes a liquid. Right? If we heat it up even more, we eventually reach its boiling point and it becomes a gas. You with me so far? Then if you keep raising the temperature, eventually you will reach the point at which it will become a plasma, or fire.

You see? They are not really opposites. They are truly part of the same continuum. It is just a question of matter being at different states of existence.

"But what about water extinguishing fire?"

Yes, that's true, but why? It's because the water lowers the temperature below the burning point. The fire raises the temperature of the water, in turn lowering its own temperature, and if the substance gets cool enough, the fire goes out.

"Why are you mentioning this, fascinating as it is? What does it have to do with the Faith?"

I'm so glad you asked, dear Reader. A simple look in the Writings for fire and water produced some interesting quotes, and fun thoughts for me. One of them was the above. As for some of the other quotes, here they are.

First, 'Abdu'l-Baha says, "Water extinguishes fire in the same way that religious differences cause annihilation." If we see ourselves as the water, and the other person's love of their Faith as a fire, then our arguing with them can either lower the temperature of their fire and extinguish it, which would be a tragedy, or act like fuel and cause them to explode in the fire of fanaticism, which would also be a tragedy. Regardless of which way it goes, nothing good can come of it. It is as the Writings say: "If two souls quarrel and contend about a question of the Divine questions, differing and disputing, both are wrong."

Baha'u'llah says, "Let thy soul glow with the flame of this undying Fire that burneth in the midmost heart of the world, in such wise that the waters of the universe shall be powerless to cool down its ardor." To me, this speaks of the intensity of love that we should feel. While we all think that water will always put out a fire, that's not really true. There are many fires that burn hot enough that they can actually ignite the water. Even the sun burns so hot, and is so large, that a tiny bit of water won't actually extinguish it, but will instead become more fuel for it. This is how the petty arguments of others should effect us. (You know, I just typed in "otters" by accident. That gives a great image to my mind.)

It also call to mind that other famous quote: I know not, O my God, what the Fire is with which Thou didst light the Lamp of Thy Cause, or what the Glass wherewith Thou didst preserve it from Thine enemies. By Thy might! I marvel at the wonders of Thy Revelation, and at the tokens of Thy glory. I recognize, O Thou Who art my heart's Desire, that were fire to be touched by water it would instantly be extinguished, whereas the Fire which Thou didst kindle can never go out, though all the seas of the earth be poured upon it. Should water at any time touch it, the hands of Thy power would, as decreed in Thy Tablets, transmute that water into a fuel that would feed its flame.

The next quote that came up was "I know not what the water is with which Thou hast created me, or what the fire Thou hast kindled within me, or the clay wherewith Thou hast kneaded me." This is so beautiful in the context we're looking here. The imagery is so reminiscent of the Bab, where He says that the fire is within the water and the water is within the fire. It also brings to mind the image of ceramic to me, where the clay is malleable due to the water, and then, when exposed to the fire, become purified and more useful.

Then there is that passage from the Kitab-i-Iqan: Thus it is that outwardly such deeds and words are the fire of vengeance unto the wicked, and inwardly the waters of mercy unto the righteous.

Why would this be? How could the same thing be so different for different people? Again, I think of water. If your hands are cold and you put them under the warm water tap, it feels as if you're burning. But when your hands are warm, the hot water feels so good. In other words, "My will and the will of another than Me, even as fire and water, cannot dwell together in one heart." The heart is where it is, and the water from that tap can only feel hot or cold, not both at the same time. (I'm ignoring the idea of only part of the hand being cold.) Or, as He says in the Tablet of Ahmad, "Be thou as a flame of fire to My enemies and a river of life eternal to My loved ones..."

Anyways, this is all me just thinking a bit about a couple of words from the Writings, and taking a single concept and seeing where it goes.

Now, where does all this lead us? I think in a few different directions.

First of all, it is a reminder to not be that water that extinguishes the flame of love in another heart, or our own. There is so much in the Writings about being that source of encouragement, that well-spring of hope, that loving soul to whom others can turn in times of need. In this case, we can be the water that refreshes, but should be cautious not to be that water which extinguishes.

Second, I think it also allows us to use this as a tool, sort of like a thermometer. When we are teaching the Faith, sharing these beautiful ideas with others, we can see their reaction to better gauge how receptive they are to it. Do they jump back, as if it is burning them? Then we need to tone it down. Do they respond positively to these ideas? Then we should give them some more, but not so much as to drown them.

Finally, I see this all as confirming the idea that we are all on the same path to the same Creator. We are all just at different points on it. Although fire and water appear to be different things, they are in reality the same thing: matter. They are just at different states in their existence. One is a liquid, the other a plasma. Is one better than the other? I don't think so. But they do have different attributes. They are used for different things.

I think people are like this, too. While we may all be on the same path, we're not at the same point. We are sometimes at very different points. If we want to be more effective at teaching the Faith, sharing this incredible vision of Baha'u'llah's, then I think we need to recognize this, and be respectful of where everyone is. We also need to recognize what their skills and talents are and use them appropriately.

After all, I'd hate to use a cup of fire to try and quench my thirst, or a bit of water to light my way.


  1. I was very happily surprised to run into your article this morning. I was raised Baha'i yet I am non practicing. I guess that's strange since I always loved the writings and have turned a few people onto the faith just through the way I don't mind explaining it's core beliefs and values as they are such a part of me.

    Today I woke up and was feeling like I was searching for a serious talk with someone. The thought "Why are fire and water so different, yet so similar" came into my mind. Other tangents soon followed, "They both can destroy" "They both are powerful and strange" etc.

    This lead me to type into my browser "fire and water" and this post was the first page I saw.

    How wonderful. I currently am going to college away from my family and no longer have contact with any Baha'i's in my area. Your post was like a wonderful journey of smooth thought process, with conclusions arrived at through the writings, that I have missed out on since the last devotional gathering I attended. Thank you. Sometimes only the writings can answer the deepest questions you have .

    1. And thank YOU for such a confirming comment. Best of luck to you in college and on your journey through life.