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  • Writer's pictureLES HENSON

Prayer for Coming Fire Season: Message at the Prayer for the Hills Service at St. Claire’s, Kalorama

Reading: Psalm 36, Esp., 5-9.

We live in a land of great beauty and splendour from the red centre to the surf, from tropical rain forest to snow capped mountains. But what I love most of all is the trees. I have always loved trees. In England as a boy I loved the Oaks, the Elms and great Horse Chestnuts. In West Papua, were I live in one of the great tropical rainforests of the world for 20 years. I loved walking in the forest with the trees going straight up for 30 to 40 meters. I particularly enjoyed the kind of trees whose root system was so great that you could walk underneath and experience the cathedral like atmosphere. But most of all I love the Australian Gums trees. Those beautiful ugly trees, all distorted and misshapen and yet so beautiful.

We live in a beautiful country. Yet it is a dangerous country. A country that is untamed and to a fair degree untameable. A country that we must seek to live in and treat with respect, or we will bear the consequences. Kevin Rudd, then Prime Minister of Australia in a Memorial Speech commemorating the Victoria Bushfires at Westminster Abbey on March 31 2009 said:

“For Australians, the world suddenly became silent and still on Black Saturday. Silent and still as we confronted the overwhelming power of nature – and the overwhelming terror of fire. This fire was no respecter of persons – inexplicable in its movements, unimaginable in its destruction. And we were left speechless in its wake.”

Later in his speech he commented:

“Confronting the elements is indeed confronting for the soul.”

There are moments in our lives, which each one of us will never forget they are burned into our mind and into the very depths of our soul. They are so confronting that we will never ever forget them. One of those moments for me as a 14-year boy was November 22, 1963. It was about 7 o’clock in the evening in Britain when the normal television service was interrupted with news of the assassination attempt on United State President John F. Kennedy. The televised pictures and those of subsequent events are embedded in my mind and the minds of a whole generation of people who lived through the 60s –they are images we can never forget.

However, for me as a new Australian the events of Saturday, 7 February 2009 and what became know as the Black Saturday Bushfires are a day of much greater significance and sorrow when indeed the elements confronted my soul and the souls of my fellow Australians. I will never ever forget that moment in the early evening when the wind changed direction and the sky was strangely darkened, and although I was not in a bush fire area. I was in fact, in a friend’s swimming pool in North Croydon, yet at that moment it was as if time stood still, and as each one of us in that pool look at one another and we knew that something terrible was about to happen. It was a moment when the elements indeed confronted our soul, and indeed the soul of a state and the soul of the entire nation.

The Black Saturday Bushfire is the worst natural disaster in Australia’s short history in which 173 people lost their lives and many more will continue to be haunted with the consequences and the tragedy of that day for many years to come, and for those most deeply affected they will live with its consequences every day for the rest of their lives. It’s a day we as fellow Victorians must never forget. For from that tragedy we must learn and keep on learn lessons that will prevent another tragedy of such scale happening again.

The paradox of all these events is that as we try to grapple with why these natural disasters seem to happen in such a terrible way. Yet, they are the occasion for the most incredible acts of the human spirit. At such times, we see acts of great heroism and a wonderful demonstration of human kindness. Perhaps, the irony of it all is that we Aussies only seem to really get it all together in moments of disaster and great tragedy. It is then that we are strangely at our best.

As we remember Black Saturday and prepare for a coming fire season:

  • Let us as a community continue to pray for those impacted by the events of Black Saturday, particularly for those who lost loved ones, those who continue to grieve.

  • Let us also pray for and support those who serve in the CFA and all of the emergency services that God would watch over them and protect them this coming fire season.

  • Let us pray that their plans and preparation for the coming fire season would be completed and that they might have the full cooperation of the boarder community.

  • Let us pray also the those ‘drongo’s’ to use Stephen May’s expression, who are tempted to deliberately light fires that their acts of stupidity would be prevented, and that the broader community would not become complacent as the events of Black Saturday recede from memory.

  • Let us above all pray for God’s protection on our lives and the lives of all in our communities and for a very uneventful fire season.

As we face this coming fire season let us remember and take comfort in the words of Psalm 36:5-7 which tell us of God’s love for us and his desire to protect and preserve us in the midst of natural disasters and tragedies. The Psalmist writes:

5 Your love, O LORD, reaches to the heavens,

your faithfulness to the skies.

6 Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,

your justice like the great deep.

O LORD, you preserve both man and beast.

7 How priceless is your unfailing love!

Both high and low among men

find refuge in the shadow of your wings.

In these verses, the psalmist struggles to find words to describe the love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice of God. They are as high as the heavens, or as a later psalm says, ‘as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him’ (103:11). They are stronger and more enduring than the mighty mountains, deeper than the deepest sea.

We know from our own experience that if we have trusted in God, we can say with the Psalmist:

“How priceless is your unfailing love” (36:7a).

The image we have of God in verse 7 shows the feminine side of God’s character. God protects us and cares for us as a mother hen shelters her chicks under the shadow of her wing. She is ready to give her life for those she protects. That is a breathtaking image of God and his love and desire to protect us. Those who trust in God may have many difficulties, but because of God’s presence and love, they will enjoy the peace of God in the context of the most trying circumstances. This is just like having a feast of good things, says the Psalmist. It is like having our need for water met by a mighty river or by a spring or fountain that never dries up. It is like always having a light on our path no mater how dark and stormy the night. So as we face this coming fire season let us trust in the One who watches over us and longs to protect us under the shadow of his wings.

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