Learning the Trade

The shop is dark and empty. With a snap, flame sizzles into existence, briefly casting the shadow of the One who lit it against the wall. The Master of the shop stoops to gently set the flame in a bed of twigs and starters, resting on a great stone slab in the center of the room. He breathes softly over the newborn flame. Its glow can’t even reach the walls of the shop, but it’s enough to illuminate His smiling face held close, pleased with His work even from its infancy.

Time passes, and now the man is not alone in the shop. He’s brought in His apprentice, His son, to learn the trade. The young man – barely more than a boy, really – has already been in training for years. From youth, tending the flame has been his sole trade, the only thing he knows how to do. And now the apprentice was to inherit the flame, still alive on the stone pit – no longer a spark, but a blazing fire.

Tending the flame is almost fully the young man’s responsibility now. He studies the fire carefully, sometimes leaping around the pit for tongs or bellows with which to stoke the flame. While he dances around the crackling flame (which seems to dance itself), the One who started the fire stands back, observing with arms crossed and the same smile on His face. He’s always ready to step in, should the apprentice need Him. When the young man stumbles or accidentally runs out of fuel, the Master of the trade is there to help, to refuel, to stoke embers back to life. When the apprentice grows frustrated and claustrophobic inside the shop, the Father speaks gently, reminding him of the purpose for the work.

“This flame is the best thing we have to offer those who enter the shop,” He reminds the apprentice. Every day, He stands at the door, inviting the passing crowds to step inside. Some days are busier than others, but rarely does a day go by without at least one or two new faces coming in, seeking reprieve from the wind and sleet and snow, eyes blinking hard when met with the fire’s light. The Shop-Keeper is quick to take their coats and offer them a seat where they can warm frostbitten noses and chapped hands. And as each new visitor takes their seat, He strikes up a conversation with them.

The apprentice, always present to tend the flame, has learned that the visitors’ minds need to defrost as much as their limbs when they first enter the shop. The Father’s conversation is to their spirit what the fire is to their bodies. And as they talk, both Master and apprentice listen for the purpose of the flame. This is where the fire’s application is determined.

When it becomes clear that the visitor is hungry, the apprentice calms the flame low enough to prepare a meal over it. Engrossed in conversation with the Master, the visitor doesn’t realize what’s happening until a bowl of soup is in their hand.

At other times, people bring their own tools in need of repair, and the same fire used to prepare food is coaxed to produce the heat of a furnace. In these instances, the visitor stands far back while the apprentice makes iron malleable in the flame. He finishes those days dripping with sweat but satisfied with the result of the work.

His favorite of the fire’s many purposes, however, is not the cooking or smithing done for new visitors. Whenever a familiar face enters – not a visitor, but a regular to the shop – they usually have a more specific request. They greet the Master as a friend, and the apprentice is quick to make preparations for them. He retrieves smaller pieces from the woodpile, or some coal, and a vented metal container, or else maybe a lantern. With the pieces all assembled, he reaches tongs into the very heart of the fire and reverently lifts out a few glowing embers, depositing them into the container. Gently breathing over the tinder, he fans the same flame to life, now alight in a portable home.

At this point – his favorite part – his work is done, and he hands the flame over to the Master’s friends. In their hands, the flame goes into the dark, cold world beyond the shop. It might be used to warm and feed a family at home, in some cases. In others, the light is held high on a torch – a beacon eager to point the way back to the Master’s shop. New visitors, eager to be near the fire for themselves, will find their way to the shop’s door, and familiar friends will be back before long to carry the light out again. The apprentice will be there, still learning the trade and tending the flame, as his Master stands back, observing, with a smile on His face.

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