Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Fire into Wine

Another beautiful day in Northfield.  Yesterday we watched giant excavators pull up bits of Second street.  Their noises were so loud and their immensity so overpowering that you, sweet boy, did not feel comfortable standing alone to watch.  You settled into my lap, beside your friend Aubin, and stroked your stuffed kitty and stared with wonder and terror.

Today, fire surrounds Holden.  We are watching with wonder and terror the pictures of a smoke filled valley, of firefighters lined up at the silver counter, of a red-flame horizon along the Tailings pile.  We are refreshing our browsers, we are living inside other people's dreams, we are zooming and re-zooming on maps that depict the fire as a red mouth slashed with lines to indicate strength of heat.  We are singing and praying and tagging each other in pictures from long ago.  We are remembering ponderosa pines and fiddlehead ferns and cottonwood leaves shimmering in late afternoon light.  We are wading though our memories, touching with our minds the blond beams in the fireside room, ice cream containers housing yarn, scalding knives fresh from the Hobart.  These memories and prayers are the warm lap we sit in while we watch the fire unfold.

Yesterday, while digging for a recipe for Rita's Triple Treats (to make for tonight's Holden Evening prayer gathering) I came across a recipe for Blackberry "Fire" Wine.  The note says "This wine was made with the blackberries at Field's Point during the 2007 evacuation."  I loved this--partly because it made me laugh, partly because it made my mouth water, partly because I love the sense of creativity bursting forth in the middle of exile.  If Jesus can turn water into wine, why can't fire be turned into wine too?  I sort of like the idea of Railroad Creek valley as vineyard.

I have never really believed in praying for miracles.  I have prayed for miracles, for huge shifts of the heart, healing in the body, peace between warring nations.  But I have always understood that the real prayer I should pray, the one I can always expect to be answered, if for God's presence through all of it.  I've always understood that God reminds us of this presence through human contact mostly, through hugs and smiles, through offerings of food and quiet listening, but sometimes also through moments in nature or words encountered at the right moment on the page, a song working its way to the heart at the right instant.

I am wary of praying for miracles because I fear what will happen to my faith when the miracle doesn't happen.  Certainly, miracles do arrive for some people--but for every cancer patient saved by a miracle, what of the thousands who are not?  For every person miraculously saved from an avalanche, what of the broken bodies never found?  Miracles seem like fishy business to me because they seem to suggest a hierarchy--certain people or places are saved while others are not.  I don't believe in a God of hierarchies.  I don't believe in a God of this person but not that one.  I don't believe in a God who shows more favor to a remote village in the mountains than a church in Charleston, South Carolina.

But the Bible is filled with miracles.  Blind people see, lame people walk, water turns into wine, water turns into something you can stand upon, men spend days inside large fish, arks hold two of every creature and a sea parts so that people can walk through to safety.  In the Bible, people and places are chosen.  I am having trouble reconciling this, making sense of this in my head.

Because the truth is that I want Holden to be chosen.  I want God to save those buildings.  I want a bubble of safety over it.  I want a story to tell my grandchildren of how the fire came and went but Holden was saved.  

I am wary of miracles and I am praying for a miracle.

The village has been planning for fire for a long time.  If Holden is saved, it will be due to the forethought of smart people, to the hands that installed sprinkler systems and cleared brush, to the firefighters wrapping the buildings in tinfoil skirts, to the "fab five" villagers who are working without ceasing.   But I am not certain that all of that intelligence and bravery and preparation will be enough; fire is, by its nature, unpredictable.  I am sitting and waiting.

I am wary of miracles and I am praying for a miracle nonetheless.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Birthing and Burning

It's August and you, Matteus Mark, are two years old.

It's August and here in Northfield the humidity has cleared and the blue skies are shimmied with puffy streaks of white.  Flower boxes are overflowing and bikers stand outside Blue Monday, wiping dust from their spandex shorts and blowing cool air over the tops of their coffee cups.  You're home with a babysitter, probably cooking cupcakes in the play kitchen or watching the diggers tear up Second street or taking Baby Tay for a ride in the doll-sized stroller.

Across the country, a fire is creeping closer to Holden.  There are no people left in the village, just whatever sound the huge sprinklers make sending water over the forest and buildings.  Just whatever sound the fire makes, deciding what to devour next.

You speak in four or five word sentences.  "What happened in this book?" "Mama sit right here." "Thisbe wake up now." "Pushing Baby in stroller." "Raisins in oatmeal please."  You like present participles, everything happening right now and continuously: sitting, standing, sleeping, eating. 

The dim scabs of bug bites decorate your arms and legs, your right cheek, the back of your neck, the bridge of your nose.  You like to cuddle and tickle.  You are ridiculously sweet.

Thisbe is dressed in green today (actually turquoise that she adamantly swears is green) for her second day of Vacation Bible School.  The theme is G-Force and the hallways of Bethel are decorated with orange cones and rolls of black paper dotted with white lines.  A cheetah puppet talks to the children about God while they roll on the floor or sit slack jawed, staring.  Thisbe's learned half of one song (something about "small as a bug" and "tall as a tree").  On the first day she made a shrinky-dink in the shape of a shoe, "helped everyone remember that story about Moses in the basket" and made a "real tornado!" inside two water bottles held together with glitter tape.  For snack, there were white chocolate chips and M and M's.  She's in heaven.

Above Lake Chelan is a cloak of smoke.  It's sometimes a haze and sometimes a high white plume and sometimes gauze in the lungs.

You demand to read a book filled with fire trucks but empty of plot at least 73 times each day.  You subsist mainly on yogurt and fruit and oatmeal and eggs and noodles and bread and peanut butter and rice.  On Mondays we go to the farm and choose eggplants and peppers and bushy stalks of kale.  We clip the flowers that don't have bees nesting inside them and we're thankful to see the bees nesting anywhere at all.

What we know about fire in a forest is that most of the time it's part of a cycle that's good and necessary.  It's the way nature needs to behave in order to be healthy.  But it's also true that global warming has caused higher than normal temperatures, has sucked the water from much of the west coast this summer.  This fire's blossoming spread may have more to do with the harm we've caused the earth than the earth cyclical ability to rejuvenate itself.  But the truth is that whatever caused or prolonged the fire, Railroad Creek Valley was going to burn eventually.

But there is a village in Railroad Creek and that village is the spiritual center of my life.  I learned to become myself in that village.  That village has transformed and sustained thousands of people over the years.  All of us are different for having passed through that place.

I am, you are, part of a community that believes death never has the final word.  We believe in resurrection.  And we believe good care of the planet is part of our job and our responsibility.  But on the other side of that village burning are so many unknowns: whether we would be allowed to rebuild, whether there would be enough money to rebuild, whether people would care enough to make that happen.  And even if rebuilding occurred, there would be many long years of absence and charred remains.  The truth is that for all our preaching and belief otherwise, to face the death of some one or some place you love is terrible and terrifying. 

So, like you Matteus, we occupy the present participles that pull us through these hours and days, that make time a river instead of a past or a future.  Railroad Creek is still running.  And we are waiting and hoping and praying...for the village to be saved, yes, but also for the good courage to face that possible death and the faith to believe in the new life that exists on the other side.