With a forest fire raging out of control several years ago near the canyon we lived in, we stayed close to our radio, following reports and listening for the call to evacuate.
Earlier in the day when we'd climbed an observation tower farther up the mountain, we saw that the fire had engulfed the neighborhood on the other side of our ridge. I was trying to pray, but that image and the predictions coming over the radio were obstacles to the kind of prayer that I knew could help.
An understanding, in any degree, of God's goodness and of the presence and power of divine Love does make a difference; it brings calm, hopefulness, and a growing realization of how widespread and potent spiritual good actually is.
Mary Baker Eddy wrote in "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures": "Christians rejoice in secret beauty and bounty, hidden from the world, but known to God.... Practice not profession, understanding not belief, gain the ear and right hand of omnipotence and they assuredly call down infinite blessings" (p. 15).
I wanted to pray in this way, for myself and for those neighbors who had already lost their homes, but it was hard to get past the feeling that we were caught up in an impending tragedy. Remembering past blessings and attempting to affirm the supremacy of Spirit competed with the thought that our friends across the ridge had lost everything.
The call to prepare to evacuate came, and I put aside my mental wrestling to concentrate on deciding what to pack. As I went from room to room, I was surprised to find that our stuff didn't matter that much. I could have filled a car and a pick-up truck with possessions, but in the end we didn't come close.
I grabbed some pictures, some computer disks, and a few pieces of jewelry that had been my mother's, but the more I looked at all the things we had accumulated, the less meaningful I found them.
This shaking out of priorities had the practical effect of bringing me closer to the heart of prayer. My initial efforts had been a plea for protection, but now I was beginning to see how our needs could be met by Spirit.
Having to think through what really mattered got me thinking about the lasting things we would take with us - our love for one another and our desire to help our neighbors. Love and the desire for good are more substantial and meaningful than the fear of loss, and I found myself feeling encouraged, even confident about whatever would come next. The "secret beauty and bounty" had appeared in the midst of this local disaster, and I felt I could trust God's care.
As it turned out, we didn't need to evacuate. The fire took different directions over the next few days, but it did no more real damage, and eventually the Forest Service got it under control.
Many who had lost their homes were recipients of such an outpouring of neighborly love that they came to feel that while they'd lost houses, they'd gained a community. People from all around brought supplies and gifts for those whose homes had been burned. The day after the fire, one family found outside their temporary residence a yard filled with things to get started again - bedding and kitchenware and a beautiful carved rocking horse for their young daughter.
Last week when hurricane Rita threatened, friends of ours headed out of Houston, and I thought back to the lessons I'd learned. When confronted by an emergency, we have more going for us than news reports or human expectations might indicate. We are surely benefited by prayer, the desire for deeper meaning and lasting good. We are embraced by divine Love, and, even in great difficulty, God has priceless gifts for us. The words of this hymn sum it up:
The storm may roar without me,
My heart may low be laid;
But God is round about me,
And can I be dismayed?
(Anna L. Waring, "Christian Science Hymnal," No. 148)