Here in the West, we have had our share of forest fires lately. In the year 2017, hundreds of thousands of acres burned in California and Oregon. The fires were destructive, burning away homes,roads, bridges, parks and trails. It was heartbreaking to watch. Yet, there were many who said that this is simply a part of the forest life cycle.
Climate change comments aside, that statement reminded me of something I saw as a little girl when I was visiting the grove of Giant Sequoia trees in Kings Canyon National Park.
And as I walked through that grove, astonished by the majesty of these ancient marvels, I saw a tree, wider than a house and taller than a skyscraper, that had big black scars on its trunk. There were places in the trunk that were open and cavernous, and along the edges and inside of those places it was jet black, like charcoal.
The sign next it said that the tree had survived a forest fire many years ago. I remember the moment because a completely new awareness came to me. A tree could survive a forest fire.
Later on I found out that those trees actually need fire in order to live.
Sequoia seeds are pyrophytic, which means they cannot come to life without fire. Because the seeds are encased in a very hard cone, it is only fire that can open the seeds up and begin to grow the incredible life contained inside.
The fire goes through the forest and takes down the lesser plants. Their ashes remineralize the soil and create fertility for the germinating seed. The underbrush is cleared so that baby trees can receive light.
Most importantly, the fire reduces the clutter of the Incense Cedar and white fir trees, the larger crowd of light blockers who are happy to live in the darker places in the forest.
It is fire alone that unlocks the ecosystem potential and makes it possible for these magnificent trees to grow. They would not BE without fire. These trees can survive a forest fire because they require fire to thrive.
When we begin to follow Christ, we are transformed to also be pyrophytic.
There is a HOLY FIRE that burns in the life of God, and every time that fire is present, changes and new growth come. The underbrush that blocks the light of God is removed so that growth can begin. Those parts of our lives that thrive in darkness are cleared away. The seed of potential for a LIFE that is meaningful and filled with awe is broken open and begins to grow.
It is a torch and a pot, burning with holy fire, that passes through the sacrifice and opens the seed in Abram to become the father of countless more than the stars in heaven.
It is a bush, burning with holy fire, that opens the seed in Moses and begins a new life for Israel, full of miracles and freedom.
It is holy fire that clears away the worshippers of false gods around the prophet Elijah and turns the hearts of the people away from evil. It is a chariot made of that same holy fire that carries him away at the end of his days.
And as the risen Christ prepares to ascend to that same place where Elijah awaits him, he tells his heartsick disciples that it is better that he goes so that he can send the Advocate. (John 16:7)
Weeks later, as the disciples of Christ gather, it is tongues of holy fire that descend upon them and the seed of a new LIFE is opened up to grow. A beautiful bride in the form of all of God’s people as one comes together, sharing the hope and beauty of life in the risen Christ with others. And what has grown from those seeds, opened so long ago, is still growing, even until this very day.
Moses and Elijah and the Apostles encountered fire and every one of them felt the heat. They felt it in the form of fears, challenges and loss, but they survived and increased. Those fires sprouted seeds in them that grew into lives of true meaning and impact. Though scarred and changed by the fire, those men all became giants in the forest of things that really matter.
It is fire, the holy fire of God’s Spirit, that opens the seed God has placed within each of us and makes it possible for our lives to begin to grow into something truly meaningful and awe inspiring. Though the fire can feel scary and leave scars where unnecessary parts of our lives have burned away, we survive it and become more than we ever thought we might.
We grow into mighty towers of love, of mercy, of wisdom and forgiveness. We point to the heavens in our stands and, in doing so, make this world a more beautiful place.
God, send that fire, send the burning over each of us. May we be opened by it and grow from the seed of magnificent purpose you have placed in each of our lives. Amen.