Fire and forgiveness

I have an image of a tree-covered mountain, rising above Cascade Locks on the Oregon side of the Columbia River Gorge. Weeks after I took this photo, the area was devastated by the Eagle Creek fire, which spread to 48,831 acres and is now 50 percent contained. On my way home from a friend’s wedding in Idaho last week, I drove past this scene. Everything has changed. The mountain – once covered in green – now has angry brown and orange splotches of fire-damaged forests. But the fire didn’t take everything. There are many surviving trees, and the gorge remains a place of intense and overwhelming beauty.

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Flo Harvey writes of a time when someone lied about her “to a trusted friend and colleague.... The hurt and the strain destroyed my work relationships and ended a close friendship.” Flo left a job she loved. She was hurt and angry. “Forgiveness was long in coming.” 

Someone we know – playing with matches – gets a little too close to the tinder-dry parts of our lives, and we’re devastated.

Flo writes that she was devastated for a long time: “Holding on to something can be damaging.... Clinging to hurts, unmet expectations, and disappointments – revisiting them over and over again.” She found herself “unable to step into mercy, forgiveness, and restoration.”

This kind of response makes sense to us in the aftermath of a fire. Everything we’ve worked for is destroyed. Everything we love has been taken from us. But those tender, tinder-dry places in our lives, hardened by fire, can be softened by forgiveness. “I pray often,” Flo writes, “that I will learn to let go of offenses and forgive.”

Letting go of offenses lets us “hold on to God’s grace.” The psalmist writes: “We went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.”

Next spring, the Columbia River Gorge will be covered in green and bursting in blossoms. I’ll be taking pictures, trying to capture its intense and overwhelming beauty.

Eric Muhr

On community

This week’s Fruit of the Vine is a collection of short reflections from me. I’d like to include Saturday’s reflection here:

Sometimes I wonder what early believers talked about as they broke bread from house to house. The Scripture makes it clear that they prayed and ate and praised God, but I wonder if they also talked about what kind of a community they were becoming and why.

I was in a group like that once. Most of us attended different churches on Sunday mornings, but we all got together on Sunday afternoons to sing, to wait in silence, to talk about where we were seeing God at work. Mainly, we were just curious about what God might be doing. There was one conversation in particular that keeps coming up in my memory, a discussion about what the church could be.

A woman spoke of her desire to be part of a place where people seriously struggle with what it means to believe instead of simply showing up for the social connections or from a sense of duty. Another shared his vision of creating a place that was open all the time – a kind of community center – a place where people gather to seek counsel, to come together with friends, to discuss and take action on issues of social justice. A third talked about an increasing individualism in society that competes with our desire to be known. We long for community but struggle with commitment.

And I wonder – what about you? If you’d been with us, what might you have shared? What do you long for in a faith community?

I’d like to know.

Eric Muhr

Those who mourn

In this morning’s Fruit of the Vine, Dan Cammack considers the second of Jesus’ blessings in the Beatitudes – “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted” – and Dan asks, “How can this be? About the only blessing we may see in mourning is that it clears out the tear ducts.”

Dan reasons that Jesus could be referring to “tears of repentance. Unless we are deeply grieved by our true condition, we are not likely to look for help or seek change.” The reality, though, is that there is much in the world and much about the world for which we might mourn. “Just as Jesus cried over Jerusalem, we cry, sometimes literally, over our families, communities, churches, nation.”

I’ve been thinking of flooding in Bangladesh, rebuilding in Texas and Florida, distribution of relief supplies in Nepal. I’ve been thinking about a friend from Puerto Rico who finally got through to his family back home, talked to his dad over the phone. I’ve been thinking about a friend without health insurance and another friend who witnessed a crime on the way to church yesterday. There are many who have reason to mourn.

There are many who mourn.

There are many also who pray.

Dan writes that he has “experienced many times the church at prayer in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. Usually everyone prays out loud simultaneously – sometimes on their knees and sometimes on their feet. Hands are raised to heaven, and faces are wet with tears.”

Will we join them? Might we pray with them?

God knows the source of our mourning – the meaning of our prayers. I wonder if this is why the very act of sharing our burdens with God and with one another can lighten our load. Dan recommends that we pray through Psalm 30, and Dan reminds us, “Blessed indeed are those who mourn.”

Eric Muhr