“Silence,” says the prophet Jeremiah, is a “burning fire shut up in my bones.” This bone-fire is the stomach-pitting, skin-galvanizing, hair-raising crooked old finger pointed straight at him. He is a man of conviction. A convict, condemned to speak plainly and clearly what he has heard from the Lord.
Jeremiah was a prophet, maddened by the word of the Lord. But I believe that we all feel that bone-fire from time to time. A moment when we feel some task or calling laid upon us, from which we can not turn away without doing ourself great harm. So, we look for water. Desperately. Douse the flame! Keep it from getting any large. Don’t you know that a fire that burns out of hand can burn a forest to the ground? Best to put it out. But, like a trick candle, it keeps coming back. We’re lucky that it does.
Interesting, the origin of the word ‘conviction.’ It comes from the latin ‘convincere’, which means ‘to overthrow, vanquish.’ A person of conviction has been overthrown by some belief or vision which compels them forward. At its best it reaches the heights of integrity: “Here I stand; I can do no other.” Our calling is not only laid upon us, but it overthrows us. What else can we do?
Why is it that when I am most free I seem to have the least choice? Perhaps what I call ‘freedom’ is the exultation I feel when I am overthrown by a good purpose that is greater than myself; and because it is greater than myself, it seems to originate from outside of myself; and because it originate from outside of myself, I seem to be its prisoner.
I do not want to end up like Jeremiah, or Ezekial. Or any of those other holy mad dogs, lying on my side eating bread baked over human excrement, or wandering through the streets of Jerusalem with my head in an iron yoke. But I do want to fan the flames of conviction. I want to respond truthfully and authentically to what I see and hear. Is it possible, to do this and not go insane? Or to go just a little bit insane? It is dangerous fire, for sure. I’m afraid we may have to accept all of it, or none.