Hope from the Ashes

Andrea and I went hiking a few days ago in Waterton National Park.  It is a lovely treasure just a couple of hours' drive from home.   With COVID-19 restrictions being slowly lifted the park was being reopened on a limited basis so we took the opportunity to visit.

We set out along a trail excited as the wildflowers were beginning their display of loveliness.   The foliage was thick and dark green, the moss and lichens prolific on the weeping faces of sedimentary rock outcrops.   Oh, so lovely.

And amongst the green, the fresh growth and the splendour of the wildflowers stood the silent reminders of the 2017 Kenow Forest Fire.   The result of the confluence of all the right conditions - exceptionally hot, dry weather, strong winds, and a lightning strike.   The fire raged and consumed acres and acres and came ominously close (a couple of hundred metres) to the Waterton townsite.

Photo credit: Coaldale & District Emergency Services

As we meandered along the trail,  I was arrested by the remains of a burnt-out tree.  It stood about 4 feet tall and maybe 9-10 inched around - all turned to charcoal.

As I stood there in silence I was aware of this as a picture of death.   I became aware of space within me where I was holding some grief.   Grief from my own loss and also the grief of those I have served over the past couple of months.   I also found mixed in there grief as it relates to the pain in the world, most notably the recent murder of George Floyd at the hands of the police.  And, I suppose wrapped in that was grief that I was losing faith that love wins.  Wondering if the dispensationalists were right in their dark eschatology, as I clung to a faith that the God-who-loves will rescue a world that is in such miserable shape. Hoping the God-who-loves in partnership with people of goodwill will indeed rescue us from ourselves and heal our world.

I had been praying for a tenacious optimism - not a pie in the sky kind of hope or a bury your head in the sand kind of hope rather a hope that in the face of such turmoil and chronic despair would tenaciously anchor me in something much bigger and more beautiful.  Something that genuinely transcends.

At that moment the burnt-out tree, it became a physical symbol for the grief I was carrying. I began to release that energy, the burden, and the pain of it.  I was surprised by the depth of it, as I wasn’t aware of how much grief I was carrying.

As I poured out this grief before this tree, my vision began to widen.  As the release continued the burnt tree began to fade from my focus and I became acutely aware of the thick, green, lovely new growth emerging from the scorched earth.  Yes, all along I had been enjoying the wildflowers and lovely colours, but it seemed after my encounter with the ugliness of the symbol of death, the new life took on a new vibrancy, a deeper sense of peace and joy-filled my heart.

For me, this tree, in the context of fresh, new growth became a new symbol not just of death but new life as well.  That even in the ashes of catastrophic loss new life emerges.   The idea that while life is fragile, it is also tenacious and overcoming.  Creation leans towards life and beauty lured by divine love, and this has been a fresh catalyst for the tenacious hope I have been praying for.   A reminder that the God-who-loves is indeed at work making all things new, exchanging ashes for beauty drawing all things towards Christ in love.

Funny, as I stood in front of that burnt-out tree with all the new growth bursting forth around it, a line from an old movie bubbled up from my heart. It was a scene from The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel :

“Everything will be alright in the end so if it is not alright...”

“it is not the end.” I said in unison with the voice in my heart.

I laughed out loud and I felt remarkably lighter.  A strange peace.

I paused to drink deeply of the scene once more. To express my gratitude and take a deep breath, and I continued my meandering, enraptured by the beauty and the ashes. Hope renewed.

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