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When the world is burning


Photo taken Tuesday in Northern California by Kim's childhood friend (used with permission)

The pandemic season has been strangely marked by fire. When we first became aware of COVID-19, the devastating Australian wildfires were still raging. Several months into the pandemic, the killings of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd sparked protests against racial injustice across the nation, and our cities began to burn. Now, record wildfires darken the skies of the western U.S. On Tuesday of this week, Europe's largest refugee camp was almost entirely destroyed by fire. And on Thursday, another massive fire broke out in Beirut's port. On Friday, we will remember the flames of 9/11.

In a news cycle that seemed dominated by flames this week, I remembered a few lines from an Ash Wednesday poem by Jan Richardson:

This is the day we freely say we are scorched.

This is the hour

we are marked

by what has made it

through the burning.

"Scorched" feels about right, doesn't it? I have spoken to several of you who feel overwhelmed by the weight of the world's pain, on top of back-to-school stress and the ever-present pandemic fatigue. The flames are across the country and across the world, but they feel as though they might engulf us too.

This week's fires urge us to respond in two ways.

First, pray. When the world is burning God's people must pray for his swift intervention. Pray for peace and justice in our cities. Pray for rain, for containment of fires, for preservation of life, for the rebuilding of homes and the healing of land in Washington, Oregon, and California. Pray for thousands of refugees who have lost everything--again--in Lesbos, Greece. Pray for the traumatized and frightened people in Beirut, for the aid workers whose efforts were disrupted. PRAY.

And second, rest. God's whole system of justice in the Old Testament flowed from the Sabbath rest that God built into his people's identity. Sabbath reminded God's people of their own deliverance from oppression; therefore, they were to extend rest and deliverance to everyone, rich and poor, slave and free, citizen and immigrant. Justice and mercy flow from Sabbath rest. And so when we are scorched, we must rest before we run toward the flames. We must bring ourselves into God's presence and allow him to refresh us with his healing rains in our own souls. REST.

We've just finished a series on prayer, and each of the letters of the P-R-A-Y acronym help us to pray and rest: Pause, Rejoice (or Lament), Ask, and Yield. But perhaps you need others' help -- I know I do. In my own scorched-ness, I paused yesterday for midday prayer on Zoom. The familiar words prayed in community fell like a cooling rain, and I was refreshed. Why not join midday prayer next week, or reach out to Liz or myself or a friend for prayer? Or perhaps you simply need a walk. Or a nap.

This is the day we freely say we are scorched. But just like our Ash Wednesday crosses, that scorched-ness is not the end of the story. The God of the cross is also the God of new life. Let us pray for that life to bring healing to the world, let us be refreshed by that life in our souls.


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