I volunteer my services on Vashon Island to the King County Police and Fire Departments. I responded to a house fire on Vashon Island late Monday afternoon. The home was in a remote location, and the firefighters were hard-pressed to get to the house in time to save it. They arrived to find a locked gate with a high fence, delaying even further their arrival. One corner of the house was already fully engulfed.
I’d been working on correspondence in my study when I heard the first siren, and the moment I heard the fire truck I also smelled smoke. Stepping out on the porch, I could see a large plume of smoke southeast of the monastery. Before my pager went off, I was in my vehicle, camera in hand. Fire chaplains often take on the role of station photographer, documenting fires for the departments.
When you live in the heart of a forest, a fire can easily consume far beyond the place of origin. This fire seemed to [have] started in a fire pit, quickly burning through tall grasses until catching the house on fire. The occupants were not home at the time, so no one was injured.
The thought of the homeowners returning to find their house destroyed left me feeling sad. In the eight or nine years I’ve served as the island’s police and fire chaplain, I’ve witnessed far too many similar incidences.
It is never easy to see families suffering loss, be it a house fire or a sudden death. Ultimately, all is transitory, and there is no real security in this life. A number of years ago a fire in our forest came within one foot of destroying the St. John chapel. I’ve not taken anything for granted ever since. Natural disasters and the economy have deprived countless American families of their homes, and the future does not look bright.
Most of us do not even own our homes, since taxes and mortgages are like a form of rent and make us vulnerable to banks and the Dow Jones. Everything in this life is transitory and can disappear in a moment of time. Even our own life can end abruptly and without warning. Yet as Christians we keep moving forward, embracing whatever God has placed before us. Worrying about the future keeps us from focusing on the horizon, and trusting that God is there with every step of the way.
This life has been given to us as a time of preparation for the eternal life that is our inheritance as God’s children. The transitory nature of this world will end when God’s kingdom is ushered in and we all stand before the great judgment throne of God. Loss, pain, and suffering in this world will not have been in vain if we embrace everything as an occasion for transformation of self.
To stand in the presence of God for eternity requires that we be deified, and all of life’s suffering is meant to help us prepare for an eternity of communion with the Holy Trinity.