Grieshog

The Irish have a word for it. Grieshog, Gaelic speakers tell us, is the process of burying warm coals in ashes at night in order to preserve the fire for the cold night to come. Instead of cleaning out the cold hearth, people preserved yesterday’s glowing coals under beds of ash overnight in order to have a fast-starting new fire the next day.

The process is an extremely important one. Otherwise, if the coals go out, a whole new fire must be built and lit when morning comes, an exercise that takes precious time and slows the more important work of the new day.

The primary concern, then, was that the fire from yesterday not be permitted to burn out completely at the end of the day. On the contrary, the coals hidden from sight under heaps of ash through the long, dark night were tended carefully so that the fire could leap to life again at first light. The old fire did not die, it kept its heat, in order to be prepared to light the new one.

It is a holy process, this preservation of purpose, of energy, of warmth and light in darkness. What we call death and end and loss in our lives, as one thing turns to another, may in these terms, be better understood as greishog, as the preservation of the coals, as refusing to go cold.

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