(Originally posted on June 29, 2012)
This morning I sat in contemplation next to the Blue River, where just one year ago sandbags were piled to hold off the rampaging waters that threatened nearby homes. Today smoke rises on the horizon as parts of this state burn for lack of that water we once disparaged. I grieve for the loss of lives and livelihoods, wilderness and wildlife, homes and hope that has resulted from this scourge of nature – so unpredictable and unmanageable.
A woman awaiting the call to evacuate says of her prayers for rain, “I no longer have faith it will happen.” These fires are indeed a brutal siege on our lives of relative comfort and safety. No wonder we falter and question the benevolence of the God we have believed watches after us. No wonder we fall into despair when the workings of this natural world, the creation of our Creator’s hand, are so contrary and destructive to our wellbeing.
How does faith survive amid the flames that swallow every touchstone and consume each talisman of our belief?
But fire has its own mysterious and miraculous presence, as it brings us warmth and light, heats food for our sustenance, tempers steel, melts glass for shaping, removes the chaff from a grain of wheat. We would not have the comforts of our lives without the fire we now fear and denounce. It is a paradox we can scarcely bear to acknowledge. Life requires us to see and experience both sides of fire – we cannot have the blessings without accepting the burdens.
Faith, too, is a mysterious force – arising from within, called forth by the touch of the Divine. Faith brings us comfort and sustenance, tempers and shapes our character and separates the mundane from what really matters in our lives. Faith burns inside us as we struggle and grow, fall apart and then get up again.
Truly our faith is not diminished by the disasters that befall us – only our ability to be inspired by that faith.
The flames that ravage the landscape around us distract us from the flame that burns within until we become exhausted with our struggling and resisting. Only then can we find comfort in the rising warmth of our own faith, a fire not doused by floods or tears.
Faith requires us to face both the glory and the gore of this existence with equanimity. We are asked by faith to get up after every fall and keep moving forward, to withstand both the deluge and the drought, to sort through the ashes of our despair and find the gems that lie hidden. Life requires us to see and experience both sides of faith – we cannot have the blessings without accepting the burdens.
In the midst of these devastating fires that threaten to wipe away our past, may we find faith in the present moment that promises each of us a new beginning.
Dr. Karen Wyatt is a hospice and family physician who writes extensively on spirituality and medicine, especially at the end-of-life. She is the author of the award-winning book “What Really Matters: 7 Lessons for Living from the Stories of the Dying.” Connect with her at karenwyattmd.com, on Facebook at fb.com/karenwyattmd and on Twitter @spiritualmd.