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  • Writer's pictureHannah Nesher

Keep the Fires Burning

Updated: Feb 13, 2022

“A fire shall always be burning on the altar; it shall never go out.” (Leviticus 9:13)

The wood-burning fireplace is one of the many things I love about this cozy little home we moved into, sitting high atop a mountain in the Judean Hills in the Land of Israel.

Unfortunately, the first time we tried to light the fire, all we got was a house full of smoke! We tried to light the fireplace during our first winter storm in the Land –usually this just means cold, wind & rain – but still; the homes are not heated, nor do they have carpeting. So we were freezing! No matter how much paper & kindling we used and how hard we tried, nothing would light the fire. We went to bed that night cold, miserable, and suffering from smoke inhalation!

Having given it our most valiant attempt and failing; we had no other option but to call in an expert – Gioria – the guy who sold & installed the fireplace in the first place with the previous tenants. After describing the problem, Gioria said, “I’ll be there in 15 minutes!”

In walked a Yemenite Jew, skin as dark as the fireplace itself – a man of few words – but he sure knew his fireplaces. He began to bang on the tube that goes from the fireplace out through the ceiling (whatever that tube is called). Every time he banged, we could hear stuff coming down the pipe – ok I googled it and I think it’s called a ‘flue’.

After a whole lot of banging, Gioria opened the fireplace and – with his bare hand mind you – began to clear out the ashes & dirty soot that had fallen. This dirty debris he simply dumped into plastic bags. But lo and behold the logs in the fireplace still wouldn’t catch fire. It wasn’t that the logs were wet; it’s just that there still wasn’t enough ventilation.

Gioria decided he needed to climb onto the roof; but since it was already dark and he didn’t have a ladder with him, he said he would come back the next day. Yes, 7:00 A.M. there was Giora at my door, climbing onto the roof with a ladder & a rope. He had to clear out all the sooty, black gunk from the top, its source, in order to clear the passageway so that oxygen could flow.

Finally, with more ash clearing and the appropriate kindling material, we succeeded in having a roaring fire going in our fireplace. Halleluyah! Blessed warmth! I rewarded Gioria with a cup of hot coffee (and a few hundred shekels); and he rewarded me with a few words. He showed me a picture of his new grandson; and a video of his son playing with his new baby boy. J

Then, allowing me to hold his cell phone, he clicked on a photo of his beautiful wife & I could see his love for her in his eyes. I could imagine him coming home to her after clearing out people’s dirty fireplaces with his bare hands; and she being so happy to have a husband who works so hard to provide for her and their family.

Gioria told me that she has cancer; “But”, he said, “We are happy! We take walks together; we enjoy our family and new grandson; it’s ok… it’s a good life.” They were walking through the fire together but not being burned.

I love this about the people of Israel – their love & devotion to family – the way that they squeeze every drop of delight out of the simple joys of life. Knowing well the depths of sorrows (tsuris); the Israeli people truly appreciate every opportunity to celebrate the simchas (joyous times).

The Lord began to speak to me about my plugged fireplace. He said that I also need to clear all the debris that has been blocking the flow of life-giving oxygen to my own heart – causing the fire in my heart to grow dim. The past year had been a difficult one: my first-born son passed away after a long illness which was a nightmare of suffering; it was hard to understand why God didn’t answer our prayers to heal him. My faith took a serious blow!

Then I went through hip replacement surgery which was a difficult trial, requiring a blood transfusion; and leaving me weak, housebound & dependent on others for a long season.

It had been excruciatingly painful to live in exile in Canada with its long, cold, dull, grey winters, for the past three years – in ‘the land of black & white (as my daughter Liat expresses so beautifully in her film, "Life in Color'.

We had lived those past three years in a city that actually carried the nickname “Deadmonton”. So (needless to say) we were definitely looking forward to packing up and returning to the Land of Israel. And then….two weeks before our departure – I fell down the stairs, shattering my elbow, requiring yet another surgery. Oye vey!

We came back to our Land, broken & limping, but so thankful to be home again and to be reunited with our family. And yet, we felt almost numb; devoid of the joy that we should be feeling having been delivered from this place of ‘death’ and in God’s mercy, being gathered back into our land. Why? Where was the excitement? The ‘joy of my salvation’? The joy of the Lord that should be my strength? The fullness of Joy found in His presence?

I began to pray; and this is when the Lord showed me the plugged fireplace. I had allowed all the ashes of my grief, sorrow and pain to block the flow of His Spirit in me; so the fire in my heart could no longer be the roaring blaze it is meant to be. The problem was that no amount of banging and hollering could unblock enough of the debris to get the fire going again. Yelling at the devil was just not going to do it!

And without a clear, clean flow of life-giving oxygen, all we’re going to get it a whole lot of smoke that stings and irritates the eyes & respiratory passages. The truth is that when the fire of the Holy Spirit dies down in our heart, not only do we become irritable; but we irritate and annoy everyone around us! We can’t even breathe freely with all that smoke in the air. We love to sing that beautiful song, “This is the air I breathe… Your Holy Presence.. living in me.” But if the air we breathe is filled with smoke there is no room for His Holy presence.

At a Messianic congregation we often attend in Jerusalem, the worship team led us in another beautiful song, “ Great are You Lord” whose lyrics are, “It’s your breath in our lungs So we pour out our praise to you only…” My lungs were longing to breathe in the fresh, pure air of the Holy Spirit; but instead I was breathing in the ashes of mourning and grief.