Set Fire to the Rain

He said to me: “The trees are on fire today.”
In his brain, behind neatly swished hair, he wished
for a camera to document
violent red and vicious yellow
leaves.

He doesn’t know fire though.
I have met its wicked tongue
seen the heat in its pupils,
dilated with ravaging.

Those trees on fire were far from precious flower,
for they were incinerated,
and hurting.

Lost amid ashy nightmare
the leaves weren’t waiting to fall,
they weren’t there anymore at all,
for the fire had followed through their veins
and devoured.

Only skeletons remained of the sierra plains
rolling hills were left charred,
and each tree will have a scar
deep within its core.
Yet somehow, nine years later, they are back
same as before.

David McNew / Getty Images – photo courtesy of NBC News story on the Williams Fire

The ash still dusts my memory, a distinct haze of snowing soot and bleak dark skies. The sun is blood red through such a covering, piercing the mind body and soul with fiery fear. School was cancelled for the week, so on that Tuesday morning I had packed the things I considered dearest, which at age 11 only consisted of dance ribbons, some books, and my favorite childhood American girl doll. My parents closed up the house as I waited outside in our sand-colored Toyota Corolla. Tasha, my dog, sat in my lap trembling as we watched the ash sprinkle the front window.

Fire raged that October. It wrecked hundreds of thousands of acres, leaving nothing but charred land and desert behind. Not just houses were lost, but the homes and memories of people who could do nothing but watch the destruction burn through all they had. A week later I would learn that my math teacher was one of those unfortunates. It was a merciless fire, without hesitation and without stop for a week straight.

I have posted previously about how I have learned to see God through water thanks to my friend who wisely pointed it out to me, but another metaphor that has challenged me is the idea of Him as an all-consuming fire. More commonly I think I have encountered this image in worship songs, but when I have found it in the Bible it is rarely seen as a positive, or hopeful image.

 

In the Old Testament God sometimes appears as fire, but often His fire is something that destroys the unfaithful. In Deuteronomy 4:24, it says “For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God.” Then in the New Testament this metaphor remains with roughly the same meaning, such as in John 15:6 where it says “If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.”

See I come from California originally, where wildfires are all too common a threat for us. Just yesterday I read a news story of another one burning through the hills North of Los Angeles. This time of year is fire season in California, when the land is parched and the desert climate persists against all our attempts at overwatering. However, I remember when I first learned that forest fires could be a good thing, in fact they were necessary in many ways to help the land renew itself.
So here is my question: do some of those branches that get thrown into fire and burned, ever come back out? Are some of them charred to the core, while others are simply refined for better use? How can the Holy Spirit come down upon us with tongues of flaming fire, kindling such fire in us as servants of the Lord? Most importantly, how can the fire be more helpful than hurtful?
 
Obviously I don’t have all the answers to these questions. I can say that this last summer I drove past those same grassy fields that were covered in flame and torched with ash nine years ago. I remember the blackness persisting for many years, scarred trees and brittle land. Yet as I drove past them I didn’t event think twice, I had forgotten that it ever even happened, as it had grown back to the natural brush of rocky rolling hills. Fire still threatens these hills every year, but somehow they keep coming back, and the land seems better than before.

1 Peter 1:6-7
In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by firemay result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.”

 

Isaiah 43:1-3

“But now, this is what the Lord says—
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine.
When you pass through the waters,
I will be with you;
and when you pass through the rivers,
they will not sweep over you.
When you walk through the fire,
you will not be burned;

 the flames will not set you ablaze.
For I am the Lord your God,
the Holy One of Israel, your Savior”

 

** The poem at the top of this page is titled “Fireflower” and was written by myself.

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