Last summer we had the chance to hike Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks, we traversed thirty-six miles in six days as a family, exploring as much of the diverse and beautiful terrain as our feet could carry us, picking up snippets and insights from tour guides, displays and our own patchy internet.
One of the more striking features of this part of the world are the towering pole pines that make up the wooded area near the active volcanoes and surrounding mountains. These 80 foot trees, trunk extending to the sky to give way to spreading pine boughs near the top make up an important part of the ecosystem. Providing the most minimal shade that allows a robust undergrowth to grow, habitat to birds and a root system that supports the terrain.
These towering pines could overpower the forest, making it impossible for other plant life, but for one important feature. The cone of the pole pine is sealed shut with a waxy sap. No seeds can be released or planted until the waxy resin is heated high enough to melt, allowing the seeds to release. The temperature needed for the seeds to release is the exact heat a forest fire reaches when it passes over fdor the normal burn time.
It is only when burned by fire, that the new seeds can be released.
Only by heat can new life be created.
I have been thinking a lot about those tall, lumbering trees and their dormant seeds, laying in wait for the destruction of one way of living in order for a new way of living to spring forth. I prefer my change in small, incremental and controllable steps, I mean, who doesn’t?! But I sense that we are in a time in human history where a quick burn of some of the old and lumbering ways of being might be needed to bring forth the new life sealed within our collective human potential. The way we consume needs to change. The way we grow and distribute food needs to be changed too. And the way we treat one another and give one another access (or not) to resources based on gender, sexual orientation, race and geographical location needs to change. It needs to burn because for some people, things have been on fire for a very, very long time. The towering, old growth of our bias and systems of oppression need to be turned to ash so that seeds can open and new things can take root.
On a very practical level, we as Christians have the duty to no long accept for our neighbor what would be unacceptable for our own family. Or to put it in the words of the poet Jay-Z “over here we measure success by how many people successful next to you; here we say you broke if everybody’s broke except for you.” This is Kin-dom language, the language of the prophets and poets and the Gospels that our care is not self-care but community care. And that it is a cycle of letting go to ash what no longer works for everyone so that seeds of community care could sprout in the ash fertilized soil.
We have a part in the fire and we have a part in the seeds.
Sometimes when I think about these big problems I focus on how hard it is to change, instead of what beauty lies within the change itself. Focusing on the problem rather than the potential. Churches, who make up the bulk of who I work with in my consulting work, are often the worst at this. So many institutions are problem rather than possibility oriented.
I am just trying to remind myself that even fires that burn bright and hot don’t burn forever. And in their wake is a newness of life.
So on this Ash Wednesday as we begin the season of Lent, instead of focusing on the problem–how difficult it may be, what will be lost in the change–I am trying to see the small, hidden potential of what burns, what dies, what can no longer be. I am going to allow the heat of my discontent to release something new. The miracle of the insistence of life, of God’s love to break into everything, in fact to be made only to break into what is difficult and heartbreaking and hard. I am listening to the Spirit to understand what needs to die in me, in us but also what could be possible.
This post was adapted from a mediation originally shared in my twice a month newsletter. It’s a quick read including reflections on faith and living, book recommendations and other good, nerdy fun. If that’s your jam you can sign up HERE.