Feeding Our Fire

December 31, 2009 3 Comments

One of my favorite poetry finds this year comes from Judy Sorum Brown, whose piece “Fire” ties in nicely with a theme that has been developing for me over the past twelve months.  In addition to Judy’s work, I am grateful for the writings of Larry Dressler, which have helped me to embrace the metaphor of “fire tending” (not firefighting) as part of the work we do as leaders, facilitators, consultants, teachers, and perhaps as parents.

Larry’s book Standing in the Fire points out that when we work with groups of people we are to some extent always playing with fire.  Fire can burn, of course, but it can also purify and renew, it can serve as fuel, it can warm us, and it can make us uncomfortable enough to get moving.  The key is first not to be afraid of the heat.  From there it all comes down to the choices we make about how to build and feed the flames in light of what it is we are trying to collectively accomplish.

What I most appreciate about Brown’s poem below is that it points out that sometimes our work is simply to do less, to leave or create space for things or people to breathe and self-organize.   To all of our fellow fire tenders out there, this one is for you, thanks for your good work, a wonderful year of shared thinking and conversation, and may your flames burn brightly in 2010.


What makes a fire burn
is space between the logs,
a breathing space.
Too much of a good thing,
too many logs
packed in too tight
can douse the flames
almost as surely
as a pail of water would.

So building fires
requires attention
to the spaces in between,
as much as to the wood.

When we are able to build
open spaces
in the same way
we have learned
to pile on the logs,
then we can come to see how
it is fuel, and absence of the fuel
together, that make fire possible.

We only need to lay a log
lightly from time to time.
A fire
simply because the space is there,
with openings
in which the flame
that knows just how it wants to burn
can find its way.


  • cynthia parker says:

    Thanks for bringing this poem back to my mind. Loved it when I first met it. Had a literal experience of this in my fireplace recently. Have it metaphorically a lot. Peace!

  • Gibran says:

    Thanks so much Curtis – this is right on point! My experiences of standing in the fire have been the most transformative in my life, my experiences of wisely tending to the fire, have been the most accomplished.

  • Prakash Singh says:

    I hope you will continue inspiring us with your articles ! Thanks !

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