In Chinese Medicine, the way the life source courses through our body is divided into a circuit through five ‘elements’: earth, fire, water, metal, and wood. Each of these elements has some responsibility for specific internal workings of the body, a part of the spirit we contain, and has a special relationship with actual organs in our body.
This morning we learned about the Fire Element which involves the heart. In Chinese medical theory, the Heart is considered the “Emperor”. It puts the stamp of red and the ‘who we are’ onto blood in the narrative of Chinese medicine. The heart maintains the rhythm of life and also contains the Shen, or the part of our spirit that is most ethereal.
This is the narrative I heard in class this morning about Shen.
The Shen originates in the stars. The star spirit is scooped up by the Big Dipper and is poured into the heart of the embryo during its development.
For about three months, the infant maintains its place within the Dao (the flow of life as intended). Then, the eyes start to sparkle and the babe seems to recognize its separateness from its mother. That sparkle is the Shen. It is the moment when we realize we are here, on a journey to discover and honor our path; it is also the moment we are no longer completely in the Dao.
Our shen is like a fragile bird of vulnerable spirit and our bodies are like the nest. The practice of Chinese medicine is to assist the body in keeping the beautiful small red bird in the nest without burying it underneath a blanket.
When we die, the shen returns to the stars, and sometimes can change the stars by carrying with it the lessons and impact of living and learning in this life.
So, by implication, we affect the whole universe by our participation in life here and in relationship, and the stars are among us and within us, burning a bright sparkling light directly from the stars.
I was reminded in hearing this narrative that often in my work in hospital ministry and in the times I spent with congregants at the time of a loved one’s death, I would hear, “they are going up to be stars now” said. Especially at the death of children.
Last weekend while in New York, we saw the Lion King and one of the narratives in that show involved the ancestors shining down from the stars.
Even in the Christian narrative we understand ourselves to be starpeople. Flesh incarnate with fire.
My teacher went on to talk about fire and its complexity. He described it as a campfire, which has a delicate balance and rhythm, ever changing, yet bright and light and responsive to the amount of wood, the wetness of the wood, the breeze. It crackles and flickers and reaches to the sky and outward in every direction.
So is the fire of life. Strong, rhythmic, vulnerable, changing, bright, changing.
This afternoon my job was to form dried mugwort into cones or towers, place them onto a classmate and light them on fire.
I was uncomfortable setting an herb on fire on top of my new friend’s leg. I was uncomfortable with her doing the same to me. This is called Moxabustion.
It all worked out okay. I found it to be warming and rather lovely, actually, the heat penetrating deeply and warming broadly. On some level, there was a holy ground to it, a need for trust, and a sense that fire is powerful… holy in its way. It’s amazing to feel the fire within me reaching up to join the coals snaking down the cone of moxa.
No wonder that the ancient Hebrews tell of their God leading the lost as a flame in the dark.
This evening I am considering what it means for our flesh, our bodies which are mostly water, to contain the fire from the skies. It is the fire that gives form and motion and spark to our bodies, our nest. It is the water and the muscle and the vessels that give place and containment to fire.
I celebrate the image of that big dipper scooping up the fire of the stars and pouring it into a life in the making. What a very large story.
As I write this, I have posted a picture Allen took at Carolina Beach. He is there now, looking through big binoculars at Jupiter and its moons. Soon our firewood will be delivered to warm the bungalow we cozy into as autumn cools the evenings and colors the leaves the shades of fire: orange, yellow, and red.