Silent Shouts of Thanksgiving

In my mind’s eye a Temple, like a cloud
Slowly surmounting some invidious hill,
Rose out of darkness: the dark Work stood still…
—William Wordsworth

This has been a week of great trial for me and now, as I find myself looking back on what has come to pass, I finally find some stillness rising from the darkness.

As many of you know, I grew up and my parents live in Southern California—in Escondido to be specific. And, as is now world news, northern San Diego County has experienced the largest and worst fire in decades, considerably larger than the previously disastrous fire of 2003. In 2003 Michelle and I were working on renovations to our condominium in La Jolla when the fire season began; we tried to get up to my parents’ house, but I-15 was closed, as we could ourselves see flames coming from Ramona into Poway adjacent to the freeway. Finally, we did get to my parents’ house by an alternate route and as we were watching the television, worried what might happen to our condominium on the edge of Miramar, I stepped outside to just get away from it all. As I did, I saw flames coming from the Poway fire into the San Pasqual valley towards my parents’ home. We maintained calm until the Valley Center fire crested the other hill and was visible from the back porch of my parents’ home nearly 180° from the approaching Poway fire. At this point we packed things up and prepared to evacuate, but it never came.

So when I heard from my parents on Monday afternoon that they were evacuating the present Witch Creek Fire, I knew the flames had to be close. And so began my worrying, my earnest praying, and my seeking others to join me in so doing. I was comforted by the number of folks who have shown concern and have joined us in prayer. It was, however, a terrible feeling of helplessness to be so far away and with no way to help. With all of their animals my parents evacuated to my best friend’s family’s home in Valley Center. There they stayed through the night until the next morning the Hutchisons too were evacuated, in advance of the spread of a newly arisen fire in Pauma Valley. My mom called me quite upset, especially that Hutchisons were unable to relocate all their livestock. At this point the modicum of composure I had until then maintained went away. For the next day my worries, prayers, and distraction from work and other things got worse.

Finally I got word from my folks that they had returned to their home and, although it was covered in ash and littered with charred refuse, it was still standing. The Hutchisons likewise returned to their home and it, along with their livestock, seem to have fared well. And, as if God’s mercy hears and grants our prayers all at once in order to make it all the more clear to us his loving-kindness, the very same time brought the beginnings of rain to our parched Piedmont.

North Carolina, for those who have not been following the news, is over fifteen inches short of our average rainfall, so restrictive rates have been imposed by OWASA (who have called for all of us to reduce our water usage by half) and the city of Raleigh risks running out of water this summer. We have, however, in the last twenty-four hours received a steady and slow outpouring of nearly two inches of rain. This is hardly a fix to the drought we are suffering, but it has filled the 300 gallon water tank we connected to our gutter, has left some standing water in our pond, and may mark the beginning of rejuvenation for our groundwater. This evening I am off to a presentation being held at the local volunteer fire station concerning the groundwater and drought situation here and how to deal with it.

In an unrelated, although somehow poetically resonant way, my copy of Into Great Silence (which was just released on DVD) arrived today and so I have been rejuvenating myself by entering into the simple and prayerful rhythms of Le Grande Chartreuse. Into Great Silence is a film I took nearly one hundred parishioners to see some months ago, which I also wrote about in a previous post. For those who have not yet had the chance to see this film, add it to your Netflix queue, go find it at your favorite video store, or if all else fails buy it as a video retreat to which you can return over and over. Into Great Silence is an odd contrast to the also relatively new silent film, The Call of Cthulhu (2005), Michelle and I watched last night. And although I make no attempt to claim I’ve understood this cinematographic representation of H.P. Lovecraft’s novel of the same title, it seemed appropriately timed to me to address in a terribly silent way the reality of looming destruction, danger, and all that was raging through my head as the fires threatened my parents and their home.

Yet, as if in answer to a third and unvoiced prayer, the arrival of and my watching again Into Great Silence has capped off the stillness brought about as I now thank God for bringing my parents, the Hutchisons, and others through the fear and terror of the San Diego fires as well as the rejoicing thanksgiving I echo for the coming of rain to bring life to our ground once again. So a stillness has set in, like a Temple that has been outpoured from clouds. Deo gratias!

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