I took my dog for a walk this morning. It was one of those beautiful autumn mornings when the fields are awash with golden light and the chill in the air awakens your senses. We sauntered along, not hurrying, so that Maggie could sniff all the intriguing scents that greeted her—evidence of the deer, bears, and coyotes who share this patch of earth we call home. I scrunched through the growing piles of pine needles and breathed in their tangy aroma. We startled up several birds from the roadside underbrush, and they flitted on ahead of us like a reverse wake that marked our passing. The air was hazy with smoke from nearby wildfires which were started by a mostly dry thunderstorm almost a month ago.
These wildfires have been big news, inducing much fear for those who live close to the encroaching flames. I ponder the dread that seems to be aroused in us humans at the threat of fire. Just like the residents of Tornado Alley or the Gulf states, who live in fear of destruction from tornados and hurricanes, we denizens of forested mountains fear the onslaught of the flames. Wildfire is seen as our enemy, a threat to our homes, communities and our beautiful habitat.
As with most things, humanity fears that which it cannot control, but in some ways, we have also become egocentric. We expect the created world to bend to our will and to limit its more destructive processes to the remote places where we will not be inconvenienced by their action. We forget that we are the interlopers, relative newcomers in the long march of earth time. We forget that the earth developed ways for healing itself long before our first ancestors were raised up out of the primordial ooze. We conveniently repress our knowledge that fire is a healer, a purgative, and a catalyst for new growth.
Periodically throughout the ages, fire has scoured the forests so that they might renew themselves. After years of carefully protecting the redwood forests from fire, forest rangers became alarmed at the lack of new seedlings that could continue to populate these rare and majestic trees. Then there came a fire which could not be controlled and burned fiercely through a section of the sequoias. Shortly thereafter, rangers noticed a proliferation of seedlings growing up to replenish the forest. Research revealed that sequoia cones will only release their seeds when a specific temperature is reached, a temperature that only fire can accomplish.
All of this makes me wonder what might happen if we were to courageously unleash a spiritual wildfire in our lives. This sounds like a scary idea, and it is. It would require radical trust in the beloved Creator to masterfully guide the flames into those dark places where dense undergrowth chokes out new sprouts of growth, and too many old trees crowd together and block out the sun. We all are in need of a good purging at times. What might happen in your life if the fire of the Spirit scoured away all the busyness, unhealthy habits, and toxic emotions that smother the possibility of new growth. What are the old, dying trees that need to go? And what seeds are awaiting the burning heat that will stimulate germination? Perhaps it is time to embrace the holy fire and let it burn.