John, a college-age buddy of mine, is serving on a firefighting crew in northern California this summer. It's not likely he'll be engaged in the kind of inner city, big building firefighting, whose image has become so emblazoned on our collective consciousness since 9/11.
He's much more likely to see action off the beaten path, knocking down brush fires and forest fires. As of this writing, he's received his training and a very recent e-mail putting him on alert for the next 24 hours. He has not been trucked or flown to his first engagement, though that may occur before you read this, given the combustible nature of this year's fire season.
Understandably, he's filled with anticipation. Because he's a thoughtful guy, he's spent some time considering his reasons for taking the job. They extend beyond the pay and the sense of daring. I think they even extend beyond the desire to serve and protect. John is not only a thoughtful guy; he's also a prayerful one. He's looking for divine intelligence on the front lines the kind of intelligence that encompasses both overall strategy and individual safety.
Happily, those issues aren't at odds. In fact, overall strategy and individual safety balance each other naturally, especially when we look for divine inspiration to infuse the decisionmaking at firefighting command posts.
For many decades, across large swaths of mountainous terrain in this country, the policy was "snuff-out-every-blaze-no-matter-what." While there's apparent logic to this, some experts now feel it was often the wrong policy for both strategic and safety reasons. Why? Because now, that same terrain includes huge amounts of acreage clogged with undergrowth, a vast tinderbox, that would have burned off bit by bit, fire by fire, decades ago, if nature had had more say in the course of events.
So a more inspired response encompassing overall strategy that includes short-term and long-term concerns, and also includes safety concerns for both the public and the firefighters themselves is in demand.
And is at hand. The Bible brims with messages of divine inspiration that embrace collective concerns and private needs. Inspiration that proves individual safety is neither a chimerical hope nor an impediment to a good comprehensive strategy in thwarting advancing threats.
Consider the inspiration St. Paul, then a prisoner, drew on when he and fellow shipmates were caught at sea in a terrible storm. His original advice to the authorities to cancel the trip had been rejected for a policy of "sail-no-matter-what." Still, divine intelligence was there for him to draw on.
The inspired solution was to run the fore of the ship into an immovable wedge. The aft broke open, and everyone, fellow prisoners and soldiers, made it safely to land. Those who couldn't swim used boards and broken pieces of the ship to float themselves out of danger. Paul's overall strategy, if we can call it that, benefited others and buoyed his individual safety.
That's characteristic of the inspiration flowing from God, the all-knowing divine Mind. As we turn to God in prayer and realize something of His presence, we find that we or whoever is charged with decisionmaking arrive at more insightful solutions. And the larger concerns and the individual needs are both addressed without exacerbating long-term issues. In other words, through God-given inspiration we can deal intelligently and safely with fires today, without making the situation worse for firefighters decades from now.
Monitor founder Mary Baker Eddy once commented on one of the Bible's most famous stories involving fire. "Holy inspiration has created states of mind which have been able to nullify the action of the flames, as in the Bible case of the three young Hebrew captives, cast into the Babylonian furnace; while an opposite mental state might produce spontaneous combustion" ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 161).
Prayer, turning to God, divine Mind, avails us of the best solutions. That's important to know for those who are firefighters and for those who care about the well-being of firefighters, and about the well-being of the environment. Inspiration for quick, effective response comes from the divine Mind. This inspiration never puts a single one of us in harm's way.