Last Tuesday I left work around 2:15 and drove from the monastery grounds onto Highway 83. Within two minutes I came to the edge of the pine trees and as I drove west I began to see car after car pulled alongside the highway. The temperature was nearly 100 degrees that day and I initially thought that tires had burst or cars overheated. But the number of car grew as the seconds passed. Not 5 minutes after leaving the monastery, I looked left and there on the south side of the road, a few miles south was the beginnings of the Black Forest fire. My first call went to the monastery as a warning and the second to my husband as I watched the fire grow quickly, large plumes of gray and white and the darkest black streaming high into the sky. To see it so close and to know that the ongoing drought brought the highest levels of fire danger in the entire state, left me in with sense of panic that it was so close to the monastery and to all those homes. I felt a strong sense of hopelessness. I stopped on Powers Blvd and looking East, prayed that firefighters were already on site. I couldn’t drive. I watched in the distance as red flames popped up and knew trees and structures were fueling the fire.
I had been out of town the previous summer when Colorado’s Waldo Canyon fire jumped the canyon, quickly destroying homes and had been home for the aftermath. I prayed for early containment, but as I watched the speed of the spread over just a few minutes, I wondered how many it would take. I couldn’t decide if I should return to work to see if help was needed or continue home. I felt paralyzed but the words of Bob Dufford’s “Be Not Afraid” came instantly in my mind base on the words of the prophet Isaiah. ” When you pass through raging water, I will be with you; in the rivers you shall not drown. When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned.” (Is 43.2) They brought me comfort and the reminder of God’s presence through all devastation – both with the fire and as I though back over a year where floods, avalanches, earthquakes, tornados, tsunamis and blizzards frequently made the news, often resulting in loss of life.
Within the next few hours air support was ordered and as the hours ticked by we watched news coverage of air vehicles carrying and dumping bambi baskets with thousands of gallons of water onto spots of the fire with others dropping retardant. Air support flew over the house in the morning and into the fire 10 miles north. They looked like a flock of large birds hovering, diving and rising. The song “On Eagle’s Wings” kept playing in my head as I watched. I thought about the things that remind us of God’s presence during difficult times. For me, its always been music that restores my hope and helps me remember God’s promise of everlasting presence.
Then, there are those moments when people reach out through the space of devastation. On Wednesday morning, I received and email from Saint Mary’s College in Indiana, my alma mater, offering prayers and wishes for the safety of my family. That afternoon the email was passed to the CSC sisters on campus, who began praying for the safety of our sisters at Benet Hill. It reminds me how God uses all means of prayer and how much power for good the internet and social media have. Firefighters worked long shifts fighting the unpredictable land battle, placing their lives at risk each day. Those with land for horse, llamas and other large farm animals served as temporary shelters for those who’s homes were threatened. Calls for gatorade and water for firefighters produced such a huge response that they had to ask people to cease and switch to snacks. All of these acts, and so many more provided hope and showed the love of community and our common bond that surpasses politics and religion.