Meditations in the Smoke
Is there really a peace that passes understanding? And can we, normal human beings, find our way into that peace?
Last month, the Thomas fire became the largest wildfire to ever hit California. It ravaged the areas surrounding my home, including Summerland, Carpinteria, and Montecito. In the midst of the fires, I received a text from a friend, saying that they were “sitting in an escalating fear.” I instantly knew what they meant because I have struggled with fear and anxiety, even when fire was not, literally, on the horizon. Yet, Jesus says that He is giving us His peace. He says it is not like the peace of the world, but very different.
The peace of the world is dependent on favorable circumstances for its survival. Is my health good? Ah, I can feel peace. Do I have enough money? Ah, I can feel peace. Is my marriage intact…. or even rewarding at this point? Ah, I can feel peace. This is the peace of the world; a peace that is dependent on favorable circumstances.
But the peace Jesus gives his followers is not this kind of peace. It is a peace that is not dependent on circumstances for its survival. It is anchored somewhere else. It is anchored in the eternal. When the Scripture uses the word “eternal” it does not just mean something that goes on forever. It also means a certain “kind” of experience. It is a qualitative word. Eternal life, for example, is not just life that goes on and on; it is a certain kind of life. It’s a qualitatively different kind of life than what we normally experience- eternal life is actually God’s kind of life made accessible to us.
And so it is with the peace that passes understanding. It wells up from a deeper place than circumstance. It wells up from the beauty and depth of God. It wells up from the reality that, whether our house burns to the ground or not, “All will be well. All will be well. All manner of things shall be well.”* This kind of peace does not necessarily change the circumstance. In fact, it can be experienced in the final breaths in a hospice center, or in the midst of a divorce, or from the vantage point of a dying victim on the cross.
And so, how do we experience this kind of peace in the midst of literal, or figurative, smoke and threatening flames? As a fellow-struggler, I would like to offer a few suggestions.
1. Pause. Take some time away from the news. Find a place to sit, or lie, or walk and calmly breathe in and out for five minutes. Breathing in God’s love. Breathing out your fears. Breathing in God’s love. Breathing out your fears. During this time, do not follow your thoughts. They will arise and beckon you to follow them. Simply see them arise, endure, and pass away, but you needn’t think your thoughts for these five minutes.
2. Admit. Admit the frailty of life. Admit your lack of real control.
3. Trust. Make a gesture of trust in God. It might be to hold your hands open as you would in offering something to God. It might be taking a symbol of your fears (a stick, a rock, a picture you draw) and literally letting it go. Letting it fall from your hands….and into God’s.
4. Thank. Spend a second five minutes listing what you are grateful for right now. During the raging fire that threatened us, for example, I thanked God for the 7,000 firefighters expending tremendous efforts to save our homes.
5. See. Take a look at the bigger picture. We believe in a God who is writing a larger story than the chapter we find ourselves in. What is that larger story for your life? What are you meant to be learning about yourself, God, and life through the circumstances you currently face? Actively receive what God is offering you through these circumstances.
Then, get up and do what you need to do. Do not fret over what you cannot do. And try in little bursts to remember the space you experienced with God when you paused, admitted, trusted, thanked, and saw that peace that passes understanding.
* ending quote from Julian of Norwich’s “Showings”
Note: Many of these thoughts were spurred on for me by a talk given by Dr. James Finley which you can find with the following link: https://www.youtube.com