Posted by Rev. Daniel Christian on October 21, 2017
The past two weeks have been an agonizing time for many. The fires continue to rage and each day reveals more pain, loss and death. The grief and shock continue to ripple throughout our families, communities and across the country and around the world.
Witnessing human suffering at any level shakes us to our core. When we see wide scale suffering and destruction like we are witnessing in Mendocino, Napa and Sonoma, we struggle to find any words that can possibly express the depth of our pain, sorrow and horror. The right words to say at the right time can be elusive.
In the face of profound tragedy our own feelings of life’s frustrations and disappointments seem to just fall away. The phrase, “don't sweat the small stuff”, becomes automatic.
Tragedy and sorrow in another human being opens within us a sharing and care of the human condition. Instead of stepping back we step forward and embrace the needs, feelings and life of another.With fires burning acre upon acre I am reminded of the Book of Joel. When destruction is all around us what is important? What isn’t? Where is God in this life? Where is God in your life?
The Book of Joel uses images of fire and smoke as a way of reminding us how God can create anew out of the ashes of our lives. This is timely today as we have seen and experienced people sifting through the past, and taking what they could into the future.
What is stunning in the face of tragedy is the frequent ring of gratitude. People are devastated. They have lost everything. However, through the depth of their pain many remain grateful for their lives. Person helping person. Neighbor helping neighbor. We are not spiritual or physical Islands. We are connected to one another. We are connected to God.
Doris is a member of our church. She is 103 years young. She has lost most of her sight and hearing. Her home was completely destroyed. I saw her on Sunday and she was smiling and had a twinkle in her eye. All she could talk about was how grateful she is and how she is a witness to the best of humanity in the face of devastation. She is an inspiration to us all.
Doris’ story like so many show us how the Holy Spirit creates space within us and allows us to experience gratitude, when all around us is apparently lost.
The Book of Joel lives up the value of human memory. When we have experienced God’s grace in the past, we believe in that grace in the present, and in the future.
Remembering God's goodness in the past will be important during the days, weeks, months ahead. We will continue to sift through this tragedy and put our lives and community back together. The suffering, death and long-term restoration will be staggering. Yet, something else will also emerge out of the ashes, death and loss. The healing and saving hands of another by the grace of God.
When tragedy hits the human Spirit it has an endurable resiliency of turning our darkest hour, into our finest hour. Neighbor helping neighbor, county helping county, state helping state.
I am reminded of a quote by author Joshua Graham which was posted on my friend's Facebook page. She is a pastor in Santa Rosa. Over 10 people in her congregation lost their homes. She opened up a shelter at her church and took care of mostly senior citizens who had to evacuate their homes. She posted “I survived because the fire inside me burned brighter than the fire around me.”
I pray that within all of us we will continue to burn bright and help one another as we rebuild our communities. Have a blessed week
Rev. Daniel Christian is the Pastor at First Presbyterian Church of Ukiah
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