Many years ago, shortly after arriving in New Brunswick, I was travelling along a back road when I saw a field engulfed in flames. It was a scary site to see, so I did what seemed like the right thing to do, I called 911. It turned out that what I thought was a wildfire, was the controlled burn of a blueberry patch. Some blueberry fields, particularly on the east coast, are purposefully set on fire to burn off the excess brush, and encourage new growth. It’s not a common practice anymore, but it still happens, and it traces is origins to the Passamaquoddy tribe, an indigenous community of people who lived on the east coast of what is now Maine.
I thought about that story as I watched coverage of the wildfires currently burning across Canada.
What we are witnessing is horrendous. It feels like our beautiful country is on fire. A TV reporter said that if you take all of the places that are currently on fire in Canada, and put them together, itwould take up as much space as the country of Switzerland. That is a sobering perspective. And while we in central Canada feel inconvenienced by the smell of the fires, which is driving us indoors, I think to myself what it must be like to experience them directly. I remember the fear I felt when I saw one small field on fire. What must it be like to be a homeowner, or a firefighter watching a massive wall of flames inch ever closer? What must if be like to stare into the heart of a glowing, angry monster intent on consuming everything in its path? It must be terrifying.
Fire is such a curious phenomenon. It is on the one hand essential to our survival. It provides warmth and fuel. Human beings would never have survived if they hadn’t found a way to create and tame fire. But at the same time fire can cause chaos. The fire that purifies in one place, petrifies in another. The fire that provides fertile ground for blueberries in one field, is the same fire that can snatch away all forms of life in another.
First gives and fire takes away.
Human beings well understand the power of fire. We fear it, but we also seek it out. We love our candles and our campfires, both of which can bring peace and joy. And who doesn’t like the smell of a bonfire in the fall, to say nothing of listening to it crackle and pop? Fire can invite us to draw closer to closer to each other, and can invite intimacy, and storytelling. Fire can symbolize human passion, “she is fired up” or “he is on fire” we say when someone is sharing what means the most to them.
Human beings understand the yin and yang of fire.
There is an anecdotal story about Thomas Edison. It was said that Edison’s workshop where he kept his inventions, burned to the ground. Instead of being upset, Edison was quoted as saying, “yes the fire took lots of things of value, but it also burned up all my mistakes, now I can start thinking in fresh way.” Months later he invented what would become the record player.
Carl Jung once wrote, “the difference between a good life and a bad life, is how you understand fire.” What did he mean by that? I’m not sure, but I’m going to think about it.
Fire gives and fire takes away. Right now we are reminded of how vulnerable we are in the face of its destructive power. Our prayers today are with all those who are suffering from the fires across our country. We pray for those facing property damage. We pray for those who are battling the fires (prayers of concern, but prayers of gratitude too, for those from around the world who have come to help us.). And we pray that even in areas of destruction, that life will find a way to do what it does so well, regenerate itself and create beauty anew.