But now thus says the Lord,
he who created you, O Jacob,
he who formed you, O Israel:
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have called you by name, you are mine.
When you pass through the waters, I will be with you;
and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you;
when you walk through fire you shall not be burned,
and the flame shall not consume you. - Isaiah 43:1-2
These words from the prophet are comforting. They remind us of God’s promised presence in the most troubling times, even times “when you walk through fire.” They remind us of the struggles our ancestors endured. They may be helpful words to hang onto in these frightening times of fire.
At the same time the flames have consumed some, as the reports of the dead and missing continue to climb. Just as our ancestors endured casualties, so are we now facing loss, real loss. So, how do we carry on in faith in times such as these. A few simple suggestions:
1. For now, try and stay in the moment. Be prepared, taking necessary precaution, but best you can, take a deep breath (inside!) and try not to catastrophize. Being present to this moment is the best way to be calm and to be there for others.
2. Pray. Pray for whatever your heart leads you to - pray for rain, pray for the first responders, pray for loved ones, pray for the families of the dead and displaced strangers, pray for wildlife, pray for the hurting earth. Include some time for silence in your prayer into which, as Mary Oliver says, a greater voice
3. Connect with one another. Isolation can be a recipe for amplified fear and despair. Part of what is difficult about this tragedy is that it does not allow for easy gathering. Going out is not safe and so to gather at the church for a vigil only puts you in more danger (hopefully by Sunday the air will be better). Take advantage of phones, emails, text, social media to be in touch with loved ones.
4. Let this awful tragedy be a teacher about our broken relationship to the created world. Because it so painful, it is tempting not to face the reality that our life together has to change if we are find a path to a sustainable future.
5. Put your angst to work. When the smoke clears (literally), channel your pent up grief, anger, sadness (or whatever you feel) into constructive work. This can mean different things for different people--as the Apostle Paul teaches us we all have different gifts and different roles to play. Find your issue, project, cause, and dedicate yourself.
Remember your belovedness. Be heartened by the heroic acts of others. Let your heart be opened by this experience.
God’s Peace, Rob