Shuffling my way to the kitchen, my mind was an empty carafe waiting to be filled with the sweet smell of my morning cup of coffee. I like routine and my mind doesn’t truly kick into workable gear until I’ve had my quiet time, mug in hand, moments of reflection as I gaze out at the bay. This particular morning, my routine was interrupted. As I glanced out the windows on my way to the coffee maker I was stopped in my tracks.
The sun was wounded, ruby red and bleeding into the waters of the bay as it made its debut over the hills. I’d never seen anything quite like it. Standing in my robe, dumbfounded, I gazed at this bright, bloody ball on the horizon for a few moments, all the warnings of not looking directly at the sun absent from my mind. It was truly awe-inspiring and it took me several beats before I had the presence of mind to grab my iPhone and try to snap a few shots. Without the proper filters and know-how, the best I could get was the red stain in the water, the sun being too powerful to capture the unusual crimson hue.
As the day progressed, the sunlight proved to be odd as well, its normal cheerful yellow tinged orange and feeling somehow dirty. It turns out, the air was dirty indeed, the result of a massive wildfire that was raging a couple of hours south of us.
Normally we coast dwellers are protected from the results of the summer fire season, ocean air blowing in to keep us clear skied and oblivious to the yearly devastation that happens in our forests. But this fire was relatively close and the winds had caused it to grow virtually overnight into a raging beast that was impossible to contain. In the end, the Chetco Bar fire consumed roughly 190,000 acres, several homes, and blanketed the whole of Southern Oregon in a veil of toxic air.
The days were strange. Each morning, that ruby sun would peek over the hills bringing another day of smoky air and brownish orange sunlight. More fires around the state raged out of control, dominating our news feeds and our conversations. It seemed as though the whole state was burning.
I found myself gauging the tint of the sun throughout each day hoping for a return to normal. But day by day the dirty orange hue remained the same making me feel edgy and anxious. Though we were far enough from all of the fires to be safe, the world just felt wrong somehow. Life’s colors were off, lending an apocalyptic feel to our world. The poisoned air brought coughing, runny noses, and a general malaise that added to the gloominess.
That old Platters song, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, kept running through my head and the effects of the polluted air made my throat scratchy, the constant need to clear it reminding me of my days as a pack a day smoker. Yuck!
When the weather patterns changed and the skies cleared, when the sunlight finally became white and clean again, it was with much rejoicing that we embraced the cleansing breezes, and when the rains would sporadically fall, we gleefully welcomed every drop.
We rural Oregonians, especially those of us who live on the coast, take for granted the clean, crisp air that is our normal state of affairs. Frankly, I hadn’t given this particular blessing much thought until having it taken away for a couple of weeks. As I mused on this through those strangely off kilter days, one thought cropped up again and again and it keeps gnawing at me now.
What fires do I allow in my life to rage out of control, polluting my spirit and making me feel out of sorts?
My first thoughts on the matter bring up the obvious culturally acceptable trash that passes for entertainment, the ‘normal’ sins of excess, even the life-sucking news outlets, all soul poison to be sure. But with further consideration I find that those things are akin to the smoke of the wildfires stinging my eyes, not the root problem, but affecting me nonetheless, clouding my vision and changing the color of my world.
Those things, depressing though they may be, cannot in and of themselves dim the light of my Father in my spirit. It’s the more insidious attitudes that are the deeper problem. Pride, envy, greed, and even self-reliance are the things that, when allowed free reign, put me out of alignment with my Creator and make me feel disjointed and on edge. My view of life becomes critical and void of peace, my ability to love is lost and my soul chokes, starved for oxygen.
“Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your vision is clear, your whole body also is full of light. But when it is poor, your body is full of darkness.” (Luke 11:34, Berean Study Bible)
When my perception is no longer clear I find myself full of judgment and worry and darkness. My whole bodily experience suffers and in that darkness I fall and break. The bustle of life halts for a moment and I’m jolted to realize I’ve somehow left that place of clarity and light, of joy and peace, trading it for the busyness of a life lived under my own power.
Then He brings about a reminder in the form of polluted air and I see how much I miss the sweet communion with Him. Quieting myself before my God, I rejoice as I’m cleansed by the water of His words as they rain down on my dry and thirsty spirit. The welcome breath of His Spirit blows away the toxic spaces in me and brings clear vision once more, filling my world with light.
This is what my soul needs, time just soaking in His Word, time trying to still my racing thoughts and simply be in His presence.
“Be still, and know that I am God.
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth!”
(Psalms 46:10, ESV)
I thank you Father for the reminder to be still before you. How well the light in me reflects Your beauty is directly proportional to the time I spend basking in your loving presence. May I put aside the things of this world for a time each day and learn to reflect you well and may You alone be exalted! Amen.
Photo credits: Forest fire and smoke and fire in trees by skeeze at Pixabay. Red reflection by Rebeca Jones. Woman meditating by mimagephotography at Bigstock.com. (Air Quality index taken from WeatherBug and was the actual weather warning for our area that day!)