We feed on ashes.

One day long ago, a woodsman bought his prized possession, a piece of solid metal in a world full of wood and stone. The rest of the morning he walked through the woods, head tilted back, practiced eyes searching for a handle in a sea of oak, cedar and pine. Returning home with the appointed limb, he carefully slid his knife under the bark along its entire length, checking for imperfections, learning its shape. Satisfied with the result, he carefully tamped and shimmed the axe-head into place on the new handle. Now complete, he leaned it against the wall and slid into bed, pleased with the day's work.

Day after day he rose, bathed, ate, and stretched out his hand to the companion of his labors, hefting the axe fluidly with battered fingers. Out in the soft morning light, he checked the head's fit for any hint of fatal looseness that could signal the beginning of the end to his faithful friend. With practiced hand, he ground metal on stone until convinced that each stroke would complete its task. Focused and sharp, woodsman and axe disappeared into the crowd of quaking victims.

Winter's necessity has chilled the bones of many a man, but the woodsman was prepared. Finding a mature oak with towering trunk reaching skyward, he began his work. His body soon fell into the familiar rhythm of the staccato dance between man and tree. Feet planted firmly, hips leading, twisting before outstretched arms following through to drive the axe-head powerfully into silent partner. Its melody filled the woods. With the first notch reaching well into the oak's heartwood, he sharpened his instrument and began with renewed vigor on the opposite side. As he neared the tree's center, his ears began to detect the subtle signs of the music's impending finale. The splintering crescendoed into powerful cracking that resonated deeply in the earth beneath his feet. Respectfully, he backed away from the failing giant as it drifted slowly earthbound. Violently she met the ground, returning briefly heavenward before settling in silent exhaustion.

Piece by piece, he parted out his treasure. Deliberate strokes returned hard-earned rewards. Over the following week, the mighty tree gradually withered away as the woodpile at his home fattened. The woodsman returned the axe to its resting place, its repose well-earned. Once the oak wood had cured, he began to cook over the fire it produced. As winter approached, he burned it with increasing frequency, relishing the warmth so hard won. The tree had been enormous, and he had harvested such an amount as to be without want for the rest of the season. Just half of the wood would be enough to sustain him for many years. Maybe he would give some of the wood away to the families nearby that would soon begin to feel winter's fingers reaching under their ill-fitted doors. He had seen their woodpiles and knew they would be found wanting.

However, in the reassuring warmth and comfort of the fire, his mind began to dwell more on the wood and less on his neighbors. Finding a particularly striking piece, he turned it over and over again in his hands. In the quiet light, he focused on the grain, admiring its tightness and uniformity. What was once a dull wash of brown came alive in his hands with the very tones of the fire - subtle variations of reds, browns, ochers, and greys. The more the fire's warmth massaged him, the more comfortable he became, and the more he was entranced by the wood's beauty and worth. Each passing day produced new wonder, and he soon realized that he loved it. Even sooner he forgot why he had harvested it in the first place.

At first, he answered the door when they came knocking, but soon he began to resent the interruption and stopped responding to them. "They should have planned better," he thought. "How could I be expected to help someone that was so painfully irresponsible?"

With time, the knocking stopped entirely.  

His own looming woodpile would not be sufficient, that much was clear to him. The coming year he would need to work much harder in order to maintain the pile, and hopefully grow it to the size he wanted. No, what he needed. The very thought making a withdrawal from the pile hurt him. He needed to find a way to augment the pile, in order to stay warm of course, but he would certainly need a great deal more in order to be at peace. He would cut enough. Enough to never need again.

But clearly, there would never be enough.

This little tale is based on the story of the woodcutter in Isaiah 44. Everything we have, we are expected to administer wisely; that includes our excess. Until we understand what enough truly means, we will never be able to appropriately manage our excess. I submit that in a culture that claims to never have enough money or time, we should begin our self-examination in our wallets and on our watches.

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