Monday, November 12, 2018

The Fires Around Me

When we moved to California, I discovered the phenomenon of the Santa Ana winds and the fires they cause. Apparently, family members and close friends did also, because once they saw the fires on TV, we received calls regarding our safety. Usually, the fires were up North or in rural mountainous areas, so we were never in harm's way.

The National Weather Service defines Santa Ana winds as "strong downslope winds that blow through the mountain passes in California. These winds, which can easily exceed 40 miles per hour (18 m/s), are warm and dry and can severely exacerbate brush or forest fires, especially under drought conditions ("

As someone who lives here, you get used to the fires. It sounds scary, but it's true. This year, for the first time that I can recall, the fires touched down in neighborhoods that were close to us. They were so close that as I drove home, I kept saying "Oh My God, Oh my God" and ran inside plotting our eventual evacuation if it came to that. My daughter's school was closed on Friday, due to poor air quality so I appreciated the opportunity to sleep in. At noon as I dropped her to a friend's house to work on a group project, I could see the fire in the mountains while I drove up the hill away from our home.  By one o'clock, the smoke had overtaken the skies. As I picked my daughter up later that evening, one could see the glowing embers in the mountains from the street. The fires appeared to be so close! By 7:00 pm two of my friends and their families evacuated. The fires around me provided an opportunity for introspection and clarification.

One of the most arresting and suggestive metaphors in the Bible is that of fire, a phenomenon common to all cultures ancient and modern and one that lends itself to a variety of imagery. In the Bible, fire is often used to communicate the presence of God. Think of Moses and the burning bush (Exodus 3:2-6). When fire ascends on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:18), it was the glory and the presence of the Lord. As I viewed the mountains on fire yesterday, it felt like Godly interference. I wondered if this was how the Israelites felt as they saw the smoke and the fire at Mount Sinai.

There is one other aspect of fire that we sometimes overlook. Because of fire's heat and destructive capacity, it frequently appears in the Bible as a symbol of God's anger and of the judgment and destruction that sometimes are extensions of that anger. The psalmist employs fire as a simile for divine displeasure when he asks the Lord, "How long will your wrath burn like fire?" ( Psalm 89:46 ) Isaiah, referring to God's coming in judgment, sees him "coming with fire" and bringing down his rebuke "with flames of fire" (Isaiah 66:15). ( I don't know which category the annual Santa Ana's fall into, but fire does keep us mindful of our brevity.

We were "lucky" because we had the option of preparation. Many didn't and fled as the flames sped through their property. When I thought about what was important, I was surprised to discover that I didn't consider too much of my earthly possessions important. My focus was on each other then necessary papers, prescriptions, pictures (though I realized that it wouldn't matter if these were destroyed), my laptop, my wallet, and some comfortable clothes. Everything else was irrelevant. A common theme after the destruction by many is that it's just stuff, we can rebuild, and I'm glad to be alive. Ultimately, we were able to stay put, though it was tenuous for a while.

To the Israelites at the foot of the mountain, the glory of the LORD appeared at the summit like a consuming fire. Exodus 24:17 [NLT]

The fires around me clarified the awesomeness of God, the smallness of man, and increased my faith. When everything is gone, all that's left is our faith and belief in God. Sometimes we have to go through the fires to reach the best things.


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  1. I love what you stayed close to the end of the post. When everything is gone, all that is left is our faith and belief I God. That is so true! If we could live life like that just holding lightly to earthly possessions, holding tightly to God. Praying for you and for California. May God grant you all safety and peace of mind

  2. "Sometimes we have to go through the fires to reach the best things." How true this is! Glad you and your family are okay!

  3. I hope those fires die out soon, and that your family stays safe. You sound like your peace of mind is resting on God’s power, and I admire that! I’ve never lived close to a forest fire, and I think I might be a bit of a wreck!

  4. Praying the fires stop! I was reading yesterday about how forest fires are an important part of the forest's life cycle because by clearing away the dead wood it creates room and nutrients for new life. Such a good illustration for our lives!

  5. "When everything is gone, all that's left is our faith and belief in God." So true! I learned that when my family went through a flood - and we didn't lose everything, just some. None of our stuff really matters all that much. Within 7 years, we have replaced all and more. Why do we have so much stuff!

  6. So much loss and pain. Praying you and all you love stay safe.


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