Column of Fire

Column of Fire began as an assignment for one of my art classes at the neighboring university and quickly became a community project and event, culminating on the last day of the school year at Conception Seminary College.

My assignment was to take found material at a specific site and transform it into a three-dimensional form. I chose the burn pile on the grounds of Conception Abbey and the form of a column that would be set on fire. Not only is it a striking visual image, it is a biblical reference to the manifestation of God as a “column of fire” to the people of Israel (cf. Exodus 13:21 and following). Indeed, just as the Israelites were in the presence of an awesome sight, so the Conception community witnessed and participated in a powerful event.

Before it was set aflame, I invited the community to add to the structure anything from the burn pile or anything they wanted to “offer up” or “sacrifice.” Like a big vigil light, the column was covered with branches, woodcuttings, and small furniture. People also attached written prayer intentions, irreparable religious items, and documents or mementos they wanted to part with or move on from. It was a manifestation of creativity, self-expression, and ritual release.

Then we gathered together at dusk for a ceremony of blessing, to make acceptable to God all our efforts, prayers, and offerings. The column was then lit. As the fire grew hotter and higher, we continued to step back in awe and wonder. Continuing the ceremony in celebration, we sang the Song of Moses (Exodus 15:1-18), familiar to us as the Third Responsorial Psalm in the Easter Vigil. The whole thing was a beautiful combination of art, theology, and liturgy—a traditional practice in the Catholic Church.

– Br. Luke Kral, OSB

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