I woke up and looked out the window one day early this summer as a mysterious pale yellow hue hung in the sky, casting a sepia tinge over everything. Wow, I thought, it's like the backdrop of a Renaissance painting. Then I got a faint whiff of something like charred wood.
The news was that 100's of forest fires had been ignited in areas of British Columbia and Washington, some in temperate rainforests nearby that average 200 cm of rain a year. Our rainforests had turned into a tinderbox in the middle of a 3-month drought. In the weather reports, we began to hear a new and recurring descriptor: "smoky," or levels of smokiness, along with "mostly sunny." Reports came in of homes and camp grounds being evacuated and some overcome by the flames. The images from the TV screen were apocalyptic.
The smell and the haze continued over Vancouver until the wind finally shifted, dispersing the smoke somewhat, and my mind began to clear a little. Questions of "why" arose. If I didn't know better, I'd say this was God's day of judgement. Or, man's judgement on himself. Or, perhaps, as some would say, a summer simply when "shit happens."
Whichever view you take, there is no question our "smoky summer" raises feelings of vulnerability. Even in this pristine home of abundant rain and lush green, everything could be lost. The water supply is not limitless, even here, more so with more and more people finding a comfy harbour in this quiet little Lotus Land on the shelf of the Pacific.
The smoky haze draws me inward to a more tremulous awareness of the tenuousness of life. I cannot speak for those who have lost everything. That is just disheartening and leaves anyone at a loss for words. But for me, I rarely feel this reluctant awareness that has been forced upon us, and this awareness is the good that has come from a summer of so much destruction.
Yes, I think about what we've done to bring this on ourselves and what we should be doing to change our lifestyles to make such events less likely to happen in the future. I hope we all would. But more so, I've become aware of what I love most, and I hold those things more closely while holding everything else more loosely. I am more aware that my life does not consist of the abundance of my possessions and worldly dreams. It's foolishness to put my confidence in things that are not eternal. These temporal things God gives as quickly as they can be taken away. My life with God and those I love are eternal. That's all that counts in the end.
And I remind myself, too, that in the end, in spite of droughts or other calamities, the earth and all God's children will be satisfied. In his own death, Jesus identifies intimately with the longings of the land, absorbing its sufferings in his own body, when he utters, "I thirst." And the promise of relief for this parched land is embodied in his resurrection.
My wife's parents called from Manitoba. They say their summer has been one of the most productive they can remember because of the abundant rains, with farmers harvesting bumper crops. And this morning on a late day in August, here in Vancouver, the skies have finally opened up and let go with a good, steady rain. The ground, the trees, the very walls of the house are drinking it in like thirsty nomads on the verge of death. Our moods have brightened, and we are dancing in the puddles. "Keep it coming Lord, please, more... more... more," is our prayer.
I love the book of Ecclesiastes. It helps put this summer into perspective for me. "There is a time for everything, and a season for every event under the sun . . . a time to mourn and a time to dance . . . ." Ours is to take it in with the life we have. Amid all other responses to bewildering events such as our summer's drought and fire, this is the best response I have while I hold onto Christ, who feels our thirst and will satisfy.