September 2015 Pastor’s Pen
Dear Holy Trinity family,
We’ve all heard the phrase, “fighting fire with fire,” but I never understood it till now. A Washington State wildfire sparked by lightning on June 29 has consumed over 38,000 acres (as of 8/16) and has surrounded Holden Village. Holden is the Lutheran retreat center to which Pastor Mark, Kristiane and I have made many get-aways. This Wolverine Creek Fire has had us praying for the safety of Hot Shot firefighters flown in from around the country, Village volunteers (4 remain in the Village as of 8/18 – others were helicoptered out after the fire cut off the only access road), the wildlife (including a doe and her two fawns who found refuge in the Village), and the magnificent Glacier Peak Wilderness surrounding Holden.
A Holden friend of ours is a professional firefighter and over the years has helped prepare the Village for the very real possibility of wildfire. Rain Bird sprinklers were installed to saturate roofs and the exterior of buildings and a perimeter of flammable materials was placed outside the Village– to fight fire with fire and perhaps stop the worst of the incoming flames. Here’s a description by Co-Executive-Director Chuck Hoffman, posted on the Holden website on August 16:
The back burns have been set in a way that will preserve as many trees as possible while creating a ring of black around the Village. The burned ring runs from the east perimeter of the Village, around the remediation work to the south, and west past the ball field. It was unsettling to see fire on Copper, Buckskin, and Martin’s Ridge while the Village filled with smoke. The evening revealed the horror and beauty of flames burning the fuel on the mountains. Despite the fact that these blazes were intentionally set, it's still fire, and so remains unpredictable. But we also know that we are witnesses to the rebirth of this valley. It's been more than 100 years since the last fire came through. So while we are thankful that it has not caused significant harm to our beloved Holden, we honor the renewal of creation in the midst of a paradox.
In the summer the ball field is usually a dry, prickly meadow bordered by Railroad Creek, towering pines, looming mountainside and the primary trail leading into the wilderness. It is the place where llamas brought in to do trailwork spend the night and where deer often choose to graze. It is also the location of the Village labyrinth, outlined with stones, populated with wildflowers and an occasional woolly bear caterpillar. Some of you have heard my description of that labyrinth when it is carved out of deep snow and glowing with candlelight, illuminated by starlight on New Year’s Eve. A blazing fire signals the entry/exit point – fire that cannot stray and ignite the world in midwinter.
Regardless of the season or its particular location the labyrinth (which we laid out in our Fellowship Hall on Sat., Aug. 22) is a powerful devotional tool; it provides space-out-of-space and time-out-of-time to us poor creatures who are so time-pressured and hemmed in on all sides with distractions. Simply put, the labyrinth is a circuitous path into and out of the center of a circle. It is not a maze; wrong turns are not possible! One simply follows the path in, then out again. The labyrinth predates Christianity, but was adopted by Christians as a way to go on pilgrimage without ever leaving town. The most famous labyrinth is on the floor of the Cathedral of Chartres. People unable to make the long, hazardous, expensive trip to the Holy Land were able to make pilgrimage in their hearts by walking (or kneeling and inching their way along) the labyrinth.
The idea is that we leave outside the labyrinth all distractions, self-sufficiency, supposedly-brilliant-but-in-reality-ineffective solutions we’ve drummed up for our own problems. We change our prayer setting to “receive” rather than “send.” We ask God to speak to us rather than bombarding God with our outgoing messages. We invite the Holy Spirit to open up new understanding, to grant peace, to tickle or discomfit or calm or otherwise spiritually awaken us. We wait on God.
Some walk quickly and steadily. Others take a few steps and pause for a couple minutes. Approach and engage the labyrinth however you like. You may not like it. But then again you may. Ask someone who’s been on the women’s retreat in Mendham about the outdoor experience up there. Or visit the lovely labyrinth on the east side of St. Andrew United Methodist Church in Spring Lake. Or ask youth who have walked the labyrinth at Synod retreats. Don’t take somebody else’s word for it, though. Experience it for yourself.
For millennia human beings have intuited that there are limnal places on earth, border places, “thin” places as the Irish would say, geographic locations, holy space where heaven and earth are in unusually close proximity to each other. You may have traveled to some of those places revered since ancient times. The labyrinth is a sacred space – and in our case it is portable.
For me personally, walking the labyrinth is one way of “abiding” with my Lord. I have an occupational hazard to overcome: wordiness. When I’m chattering to the Lord, I’m not listening. But how can I reap the benefits of abiding, dwelling in the Lord’s presence if I never leave time and space for the Lord to communicate with me?
Hopefully God’s angels, professional firefighters, devoted volunteers and the ring of fire around Holden Village will preserve that special locus of community, seasoned in prayer and echoing with God’s praises. Regardless, Holdenites’ abiding in Word & Sacrament will sustain and strengthen, comfort and them, in the Valley, around the country, around the world.
In Christ, who invites us to draw close,
Pastor Mary Virginia Farnham