I love the smell of a campfire, or of a fire burning in a home fireplace when I’m on a wintry walk outside. But the acrid smell of an unconfined and uncontrolled wildfire is not only threatening, but can be terrifying.
In the western United States, Chile, and Australia horrific wildfires have been raging, destroying vast amounts of vegetation, property, and lives, leaving in their paths denuded landscape ripe for erosion and flooding. In praying about this situation I have loved thinking about some of the Bible’s references to fire as helpful, and a sign of God’s presence, demonstrating that a fire does not have to be destructive and devastating.
For instance, Moses finds the burning bush in the wilderness, and although the bush is on fire, it is not being consumed. This definitely gets Moses’ attention, and he listens to God as the divine purpose for him is revealed (see Exodus 3). When the Israelites are in the wilderness, we find them guided by the fire and perhaps being warmed by it at night (see Exodus 13:21).
Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, the three young Hebrew men thrown into the middle of a fiery furnace for worshipping God, must have been aware of these experiences of their ancestors. The story of these young men was certainly one of my favorites growing up. When they were finally released from the inferno, it was observed that the fire had had no power over them. Not a single hair on their head was singed, nor were their clothes “changed,” nor was “the smell of fire” on them (see Daniel 3).
Our family had an experience a couple of years ago which illustrates that this divine protection is operating today. For the past two summers Colorado Springs, Colorado, has been hit by two devastating wildfires. In June of 2012, our home was one of those threatened by the Waldo Canyon fire.
On a Saturday morning my husband came into the house to tell me that we needed to begin praying for our community immediately as there was a plume of smoke and he could see fire. Like the rest of the western United States, we had been experiencing a prolonged drought and had been on high fire alert for months.
What came instantly to thought was from the last verse of Hymn 123 in the Christian Science Hymnal:
“When through fiery trials thy pathway shall lie,
My grace, all sufficient, shall be thy supply;
The flame shall not hurt thee; I only design
Thy dross to consume and thy gold to refine.”
This was a promise from God, and I planned to stay close to it!
Throughout the next week I did just that, knowing that God would preserve not only my peace and harmony but also our home. I prayed to understand that home, in its spiritual sense, is not a material structure made of wood, stucco, etc., but a structure whose substance is Spirit, in which we find a sense of safety and joy that can never be in jeopardy or threatened.
Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer of Christian Science, writes: “The real house in which ‘we live, and move, and have our being’ is Spirit, God, the eternal harmony of infinite Soul” (Pulpit and Press, p. 2).
Also, our Christian Science branch church started an around-the-clock prayer-watch.
The containment of the fire was going well—that is, until there was a back draft from a collapsing thunderstorm on Tuesday afternoon. Because of the winds, the fire jumped a canyon ridge and came roaring down the other side, where there were homes. This neighborhood had already been evacuated along with several others. But in the next three hours another 25,000 people had to evacuate, including us.
As we hurriedly finished packing both cars, and loaded in our dogs, my husband and I held to the fact that God was governing and protecting everyone—the neighbors, the wildlife, the pets. Because of the smoke, the visibility was only a few feet as we drove down the hill, and the thought came it might be too late to leave, that the road below might be engulfed in flames.
I trounced that erroneous and terrifying suggestion by knowing that the spiritual truths we had been affirming were indeed powerful and that we were in the Father’s care. All we could know or experience was God’s power, presence, and harmonious action. This put to silence the fear and doubt that would try to creep into thought.
I also prayed with a statement that I work with on a daily basis: “Thus founded upon the rock of Christ, when storm and tempest beat against this sure foundation, you, safely sheltered in the strong tower of hope, faith, and Love, are God’s nestlings; and He will hide you in His feathers till the storm has passed. Into His haven of Soul there enters no element of earth to cast out angels, to silence the right intuition which guides you safely home” (Miscellaneous Writings 1883–1896, p. 152).
Upon returning to our house three days later, all was well. The fire had been stopped less than a mile from us. We were extremely grateful for this clear evidence of God’s power and presence. We later learned that although 346 homes were either damaged or destroyed, and 18,000 acres burned, only two lives were lost, and no other injuries were reported.
Ever since, whenever the subject of the fire has come up in conversations with friends and neighbors in the area, they mention that during the evacuation and in the following days there was not a cross word, a horn honk, not one fender bender; there was no impatience, irritation, or aggravation. Neighbors checked on one another to make certain that the evacuation was going well, helping each other when necessary. The calm, quiet, stillness of unselfishness that prevailed was amazing. You absolutely felt divine Love’s presence ministering to all.
There were other evidences of divine Love’s outpouring of love in our community. A website was provided for people offering rooms in their homes for those who needed one. The woman next door to the home we evacuated to—a complete stranger to all of us—came with gift bags of beautiful fruits and vegetables and other groceries knowing that grocery shopping was not something we would want to do right then. We felt so tangibly the love and prayers of our church, of the community and the nation, for the safety and well-being of everyone.
Those prayers had their effect and were noted by all. While the fire was burning, we listened twice daily to reports by the Federal Incident Commander, who had come to coordinate the firefighting. About ten days later, when he was to leave, he wanted the community to know that in 40 years of firefighting he had never witnessed such an unprecedented support of a community, both for members of that community and for the firefighters who had come from all over the country to help.
He said that considering the breadth of the fire, and the 32,000 or so individuals impacted by it, it was amazing that only two lives were lost. Additionally, he reported that there was not a single injury to anyone else, including the 1,500 firefighters. He was quite moved. We all were.
The widespread protection we experienced, and the loving support we felt for and from one another, are what has stuck with us. To me, they hint at God’s enduring love for every one of us, manifested in the blessed promise “the flame shall not hurt thee,” nor have any lingering effects in our lives.
In fact, when my husband and I get asked, as we often do, “Did the house smell like smoke when you returned?” we answer truthfully: There was not even the smell of smoke.
Patricia Gantt Reiman is a Christian Science practitioner in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
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