Through the Fire Through the Fire
Through the Fire Through the Fire

by Joanna Cosgrove
The fire bed’s dim orange glow could be seen through the trees, casting delicate shadows on the pensive faces and bare feet of those standing around it.

It was more than just a warm respite on that chilly March night. It marked a tangible test of faith that sealed the commitment to a positive life change. There was no nervous lip-biting, just an excited anticipation of charging across this barrier armed with the newfound “can-do” spiritual fortification gained from an engaging, uplifting seminar called “Fear Into Power.”


Firewalking is one of man’s most time-honored transformational tools. Traditionally practiced as a method of ritual purification, healing and worship, it is a physical exemplification of “mind over matter,” piting self-actualization against a daunting external stimulus.

Like a karate chop through a thick block of wood, the key lies deep in one’s own sense of empowerment. Unlocking and enacting self-empowerment was at the heart of “Fear Into Power,” a seminar conducted by Dr. James Pawelski, assistant professor of philosophy, and Rev. Dr. Cathie Kelsey, chaplain and director of Albright’s Multi-Faith Center. The seminar has been held three times since spring 1999.

Although it’s commonly held that religion and philosophy are at opposite ends of a broad spectrum of thought, they each share important core tenets when it comes to putting what you believe into practice.

“Applied Pragmatism is essentially a philosophical method for solving problems by looking to the consequences that different solutions are likely to bring,” says Pawelski. “Pragmatism is something we learn by doing and the study of philosophy as a whole allows us to separate ourselves from our beliefs so we can objectively examine them for better or for worse.”

Likewise, according to Kelsey, religion holds an abundance of practical skills for managing one’s emotional life. “There are many traditions that are practiced in religion that half of our student body has no information about and that many of our religious students don’t have clear in their minds.” She says, “They experience the power of music, language and movement, and practice this during the context of worship, but are unable to translate those skills into the rest of the week.”

Pawelski says, “As human beings, we have a far greater capacity for managing our emotional states than we normally access. By learning and practicing certain techniques, we can become masters of our emotional states. ‘Fear Into Power’ blends aspects of pragmatic philosophy and positive psychology with personal conviction.”

In fact, says Kelsey, “Fear Into Power tries to point out some non-religious practices and helps students use them over the course of the seminar and beyond. During the seminar, we invite them to set a goal for themselves and mark their commitment to that goal by walking across fire.”

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