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Sweating in a Sauna - a reflection on God's warmth and love

Written by  Fr Bill Burt SVD

frbillbburtsvd 150 Martin Luther once wrote, "Can a rock that has been in the sunlight all day not fail to give off warmth and heat at night? Can a Christian who has lived in the sunlight of God's love not fail to give off warmth and love? No. That is why you have to have first things first. You don't say to others, 'Start loving each other. Be nice. Be nice. Be nice.' No, no, no. First we need to live in the sunlight of God's love. We need to bake in the sunlight of God's compassion. We need to absorb God's light into us. And then…we start to give off love."

A rock giving off warmth and heat. A place where this happens most powerfully is in a sauna! In a sauna, rocks are heated. Then they in turn raise the temperature of the enclosed wooden box-like room. The body heat of the people in the room rises. They get hot. They sweat. The theory being that they sweat-out impurities from their bodies, and their general health benefits from this.

A rock giving off warmth and heat. Of course, saunas don't rate a mention in the Bible! However, the image of a rock is one that has a special place in our sacred scriptures. God is described as a rock in at least 40 places in the Bible. "He is the Rock, his work is perfect: for all his ways are judgment: a God of truth and without iniquity, just and right is he." This quotation from Deuteronomy (32:4), is the first reference to God as the Rock. There are wonderful metaphors picturing God as our great foundation stone. In the Psalms, God is "my strong rock" (Psalm 31:2), "the rock that is higher than I" (Psalm 61:2), "the rock of my strength" (Psalm 62:7) and "the rock of my refuge" (Psalm 94:22). Isaiah says that God is "a great rock in a weary land" (Is 32:2). Is it stretching the imagination too far to think of God the Biblical Rock as being somehow like a rock in a sauna, as being a rock that gives off warmth and heat?

A rock giving off warmth and heat. Something that cleanses, comforts, rejuvenates. Could the rock that gave solidarity to the house built by the wise man in Jesus' parable (Matthew 7:24-25) be seen not only as a foundation stone but also as a metaphor for living faith and for spiritual rejuvenation?

Martin Luther saw followers of Jesus being like rocks that have absorbed "heat" from God which enables them to radiate warmth, radiate love. For this to happen, the rocks have to be in a place where they can be "heated".

It could be said that missionaries are called to share in the heating process. We, ourselves, need to constantly be heated, by allowing God to turn-up the thermostat in the "sauna of life" where we live and work.  God can use so many means of heating: experience, reading, discussion, prayer, silence, study…are just some of his tools. Personally, I find that the people who come into my life each day are "tools" used by God to heat my missionary zeal. My guess is that this is the case for most of us. As we are heated, we in turn can heat others: the mission goes on…..

At my local gym, the RSL Club in Preston, I occasionally have a sauna after a work-out. My friends and I there are not a very attractive sight!  We're a few old blokes sweating away. I must confess that I don't find being there a particularly "godly" experience! I cannot ever remember thinking about God when I've been in the sauna. Yet, now, as I write this reflection, I find myself thinking about hot rocks and God. Tomorrow, when I go to the gym, I might experience something of the divine in the heat and sweat!


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