The following excerpt is taken from the book Soul On Fire, by Peter Calhoun. It is published by Hay House and available at all bookstores or online at: www.hayhouse.com
Canyonlands Base Camp, Utah:
Late April and Early September (15 years after my farewell sermon)
As I was crossing the Rockies from Boulder to central Utah, the contrast of warm sunshine and the newly fallen snow from a late spring storm had rejuvenated my spirits. I turned off interstate 70 onto Utah state Road 191 and viewed the awe-inspiring red-rock formations for which arches and Canyonlands national Parks are known. I knew that I had come home again.
For me, those canyons were like nowhere else on earth. The huge rock formations felt alive, their presence pervading the landscape. it seemed to me that anyone who had spent time in the interior of this region could not help but be changed in some profound way.
Soon we were making the final leg of the journey to our base camp. The last seven miles took us down a rough forest service road, which included a creek crossing that challenged even our four-wheel-drive vehicle because the creek’s banks were flooded with snow runoff.
At last we arrived and the trip was well worth it. A huge stand of old-growth cottonwoods lined both sides of a stream that flowed through a wide canyon of towering rock walls. By the time we had unloaded and set up camp, we were exhausted, and the late April sun was already beginning to set over the western rim of the canyon.
That night we gathered with our travel-weary students around a council fire for introductions and an orientation. Most of the students had already been apprenticing with my former partner Marilynn and me for a year or more. They were all in this program for the long haul, and I had become quite attached to many of them.
After retiring for the evening, I remained awake under the bright moon for some time. Night holds its own counsel in these canyons. The interrogatory call of the owl was soon answered by the haunting soprano voices of a family of coyotes.
Before falling asleep, my thoughts turned to the many shared experiences we have had with our groups in these wilderness areas. Like Elijah and Moses, Jesus Christ, John the Baptist and St. Francis, we had journeyed into the pristine wilderness. What happened on our wilderness journeys was not an educational program, because spiritual knowledge can never be taught. It must be experienced. Instead it had been a dance that was at once exquisite, healing, empowering and self-validating.
For some there was an incomprehensible, yet transformative, encounter with the unknown. We each brought to the group our own special energy that, when combined, created greater possibilities for personal transformation than our individual abilities alone. Each of us, in our own way, had been seeking to understand the Great Mystery.
The majority of us had come from urban areas around the country and had, until recently, little experience of the wilderness. How different it all was out in the midst of such vastness, remoteness, and deep silence, in this place defined by the steep sandstone walls of the broad red-rock canyon, towering over us like gigantic ramparts.
It is our condition as humans in this modern world to be caught in the tangled webs of self-absorption, trivia and distractions. But out here, it was different. No one seemed preoccupied with personal agendas. There was a pervading consciousness of being a part of something greater than ourselves, greater even than the summation of what we were. Our spirits needed this as much as our bodies required food and drink. We needed endeavors that would take us out of ourselves and beyond the vicissitudes of our mundane lives.
Her nightly journey
Grandmother Moon had almost completed her nightly journey across the sky when I slipped into dreamless sleep. The next morning, following a sunrise meditation, we began preparing an area for a sweat-lodge ceremony to be held that evening. This traditional native ceremony of purification involved the release of not only our physical toxins, but also the mental and emotional pollution that we all brought with us as an inevitable result of the impact of daily life in the modern world. Through this ceremony, we would be more open and receptive to the higher spiritual energies that we were seeking in this wilderness retreat. in addition, each of us had our own methods of individual preparation.
For our fire, we dug a shallow pit in the sandy desert floor and carefully laid a number of sticks within it, pyramid-style, in alignment with the four sacred directions. as with all of our ceremonial fires, we used no paper or chemicals. I felt the calming effect this preparation had on us. It provided the spiritual foundation for our sacred ceremony that would follow in the evening. This inner silence was an essential prelude to what would happen next.
In my wildest fantasy I could not have anticipated the sequence of events that followed. it was dreamlike. I remember my gaze being drawn to a certain spot on the pyramid of sticks that were carefully placed in correct alignment with the four directions by our fire-builders, Mark and Lynn. I was aware of the piercing whistle of a red-tail hawk soaring somewhere over the western rim of the canyon. Perhaps my ally was alerting me to what was about to unfold. There was no other warning! Other than the hawk’s cry, there were no signs, synchronicities or premonitions to alert us. One moment we were in that ordinary time and space. The next moment we were in that magical time in which the normal laws of our third-dimensional world no longer apply.
Suddenly, without even a trace of smoke as a warning, the sticks we had just laid for our fire mysteriously burst into flames. We looked on in disbelief. I realized at that moment that since arriving at our base camp I’d been expecting something to happen, yet I never could have envisioned this. Before us, reality had been stretched, bent, and folded onto itself to precipitate an inconceivable spontaneous combustion. The awesome mystery silenced us all. Time stood still.
A hush fell upon all of us as we gathered before the fire. The sky had become pink and gold, and the late morning sun illuminated the pastel colors of the upper canyon walls. The ineffable splendor of the brightly burning fire against the desert landscape shifted me into heightened consciousness.
Then the inner Voice that often accompanied my visions said, "There is a spiritual force within all fire, and this is what has been spoken of as the elemental force of fire. As a group, you have inadvertently entered a state of magical consciousness and in the power of that awareness you have brought forth the element fire itself." For a brief span on the desert, we had altered the very fabric of reality. It was truly a sacred moment.
The very same fire
I was told that this sacred fire burns within each one of us, as well. It is the very same fire that is found within the stars themselves. When this fire within is activated, then we, ourselves, burn like miniature supernovas. In the scriptures, fire is frequently associated with the manifestation of a deity. Moses heard the voice of God in the burning bush, and the children of Israel followed a "cloud by day" and a "fire by night" in their wilderness wanderings. Elijah was taken up in a fiery wheel. The Holy Spirit descended on the disciples gathered in the upper room on the day of Pentecost as the "rushing of a mighty wind" and in "tongues as of fire."
Similarly in Christian mysticism, fire is experienced as a manifestation of divinity. Blaise Pascal described his encounter with divine fire in this ecstatic utterance: "Fire! God of Abraham, God of Isaac, God of Jacob. Not the god of the philosophers and scholars. Absolute certainty! …Joy! Joy! Joy! Tears of Joy!"
The inner guidance I received, however, only served to deepen the mystery for me, because what had just been shared among us in the desert was beyond syntax and could not truly be explained. From a traditional religious point of view, what happened to us was miraculous. But miracles are not an intervention in the divine order, but a calling into play of laws beyond our present understanding. It has been said that the miracles of today are the science of tomorrow. An automobile, a television, even the lighting of a match would have been a miracle to those of Jesus’s time.
The story of our experience with the sacred fire did not end there. If that had been the case, perhaps it could have been passed off as an anomaly of nature, or even one of those random events in a universe of infinite possibilities about which quantum theorists love to postulate. Fast-forward just over three years, to early fall, and this time we were with a new group of people in the same location.
On the second day of our gathering, while I was teaching I was struck with the realization that I could manifest fire once again with conscious intent. I shared the story of our experience three years earlier. Our ceremonial fire for a Native American sweat lodge had been laid on the sandy desert floor waiting to be lit the next day, and I stated my intent.
The following afternoon, as our large group of vision questers waited for the tender to light the fire, it happened again. Suddenly and mysteriously the sticks ignited! This time, unlike the episode three years ago, I had set my intent in the presence of our vision questers. I’d had the audacity to ask my teachers from the spiritual realms to honor us with another spontaneous combustion. Not only had the wondrous fire elementals responded to my petition, but they also simultaneously honored us with a second and third combustion in two separate piles of wood that were resting 20 feet away. Amazingly, not a trace of smoke alerted us – just unexpectedly, out of nowhere…FIRE!
No one uttered a word. We simply gazed awestruck at the three rapidly growing flames. I could sense the mounting elation in the hearts of those around me. it was an ecstatic moment! It was another EPIPHANY!