Looking towards the Angeles National Forest, you wouldn’t be crazy to think it looked like a battlefield, and honestly, that’s not too far from the truth. With over 42,000 acres burned, 18 homes destroyed, and two firefighters lost, the effort to put out the Station Fire has become nothing short of war, with several more battles ranging along other fronts. Seeing the LA area ablaze brings back vivid memories of the 2007 San Diego fires, and I thought it’d be fitting to share a reflection I wrote on those fires at the time. Hopefully some truths resonate for the situation now.
Something about fire has always captured my attention. I can sit by a campfire all alone watching it all night and be completely satisfied. Fire seems to have this essence that stops people in their tracks and forces them to look… to gaze as the flames seductively curl and dance up and around. That side of fire is beautiful.
But it also has a terrible side. Fire does not only breathe light and life, but it can bring darkness and destruction, black clouds of smoke announcing the coming of a march that walks to the rhythm of crackles and chars. While I sit here in La Jolla, evacuation mandates seem to be spiraling towards this point as if the fire realized its center goal was to reach “the jewel.” So many people, with the list of personal friends, family and associations growing more and more, have directly felt the impact of these wildfires. As the flames literally loom in the background, I can’t help but be gripped by an anxiety that makes me wonder how big and consuming this is all going to become.
It’s funny, though, that in cities where the fire did not just loom any longer but actually rolled through, reports have been saying people pause from what they’re doing to look at the fire. In a moment that demands panic and franticness, the response has been slow, undivided fixation. The beautiful and awe-inspiring spirit of fire remains intact even as it goes about its ugliest deeds. Both the unstoppable destructive force of the flames and its arresting essence that hypnotizes has reminded me how little we humans are in the context of all creation. We’re but small specks in the grand scheme of nature. We become so full of ourselves with our notions of “advancement” and “progress” and “technology,” only to find that we crumble in the midst of that which has remained unchanged in its behavior and character for ages. With such a realization, I can only respond to God with the desperate plea, “We’re at your mercy.” Cause where was I when he laid the earth’s foundation? Who marked off its dimensions and stretched a measuring line across it?
And when God did those things in the beginning, he saw that all of it was good–all of it, including fire. And when things fell to pieces with the invitation of sin, it was not just man that lost its perfect relationship with the Creator, but all of creation. It’s from this I believe that the allure of fire is a shade of its heavenly quality, while its urge to envelop and destroy is a symptom of fire gone wrong. And just as people will one day be redeemed so that the good and pure that God has instilled in us will be most magnified, so will mother nature. The awe we experience today in a sunset born out of polluted skies, in waves born out of the earth’s grumblings, in flames born out of dry and parched land, is a small glimmer of the awe that will overcome us when we are with mother nature face-to-face as she was truly meant to be.
If this whole entry is any clear indication, my odd mix of feelings in response to these flames is anything but clear. But in the midst of my convolution, I ask the one with true clarity of thought and purpose do his will, whether we understand it or not.