Sunday, January 21, 2007

The Great Yellowstone Fire of '88

I once had a dream toward the end of a very difficult ministry. What Greg and I had imagined to be the "perfect ministry fit" actually ended up being the "perfect storm," and we were being sucked into the raging maelstrom. No matter how hard we tried to navigate the tempest using God's principles, it was obvious that the ship was breaking up and it was time to go for the lifeboats. It was during this season the dream came:

I found myself attempting to clean up after a worship service in the home of one of our elders. It had been an odd service, very chaotic and unsettling. I didn't recognize anyone on the worship team (some of them seemed more goblin-like than human) and they had played strange, discordant instruments. I was quite relieved when the service ended and the people dispersed. Until I saw the terrible mess that was left.
Rocks, sticks and rubbish lay in heaps about the room. I began picking up sticks and stones and trying to arrange them into orderly piles. I was growing weary of my task when I noticed an old vacuum cleaner--kind of like the old Electrolux canister-- in the corner. I grabbed it, thinking I could vacuum up the smaller bits of debris and get done faster.
When I turned on the machine, however, gasoline poured out of it! The harder I tried to clean up the mess, the messier things became. Once the room was doused with gas, something caused a spark and the room I'd been trying to salvage went up in flames. I fled the house and watched the destruction with dismay.
As I awoke from the dream, however, I heard the Lord say:
"As the Yellowstone fire burned away the old growth and made way for the new, so I am doing in My church."

Having lived at the eastern entrance to Yellowstone in the early nineties, I felt I understood what the dream meant. The Yellowstone fire of 1988 had raged out of control for weeks and threatened to consume the park at times, but had eventually burned itself out. Over 45% of "America's firstborn National Park" had been scorched, but many experts concluded that the land was more blessed than harmed by the fire.

"Fire is the best thing that can happen to aspens," wrote biologist Ted Williams. "Five hundred trees can sprout up in an area where there was only one tree before a fire. Fire stimulates the root system to send forth suckers that grow into new trees. It has been noted that the aspens have been vanishing from Yellowstone. That's because their roots have simply been waiting for fire to replenish their growth."

And another expert noted:

"Many people thought that Yellowstone would never recover. Scientists, however, knew that fire was a necessary part of the cycle of life in a forest. Life would not only go on, but would also benefit from the fire. The fires left large patches of cleared ground opened to the sun. Seeds released from pinecones took root almost immediately. Lodgepole pine seedlings began to grow at the rate of an inch or two per year. Wildflowers were abundant by the following spring, and the grasses and shrubs were a rich green. Nutrients from the ash caused the vegetation to prosper. Yellowstone was far from dead!"

Not long after I had that dream, we left that church and it appeared to burn to the ground. But ten years later, new life can be spotted peeking up from the ashes and there is room for much growth now that the shadow of the diseased and dying "old guard" has been removed. What felt like a death sentence at that time was actually a prelude to new life. It is a repeated and observable cycle, both in the natural and spiritual realms.

So, what motivated me to blog about a decade-old dream today? Greg preached at a dying church yesterday and it stirred up some long-buried memories.
I shed a few tears during the service, but took comfort in remembering that it gives the Lord pleasure to raise up beauty from ashes and to turn our deepest mourning into a wild dance of joy.

Isn't that just His way?


Ann Powell said...

Thanks for sharing your insight from a rough event. There IS beauty after ashes. God helps us make sense of it all. We are blessed that you are part of the beauty at ALC.

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