Nov 3, 2007

Wildfires and the Peace of God

Last week as we prepared for mandatory evacuation due to a wildfire that was rapidly advancing in the direction of our home, it became very clear to me why I’m a student of A Course in Miracles.

I woke up at 6am with a phone call announcing that school was closed until further notice. It smelled like burned wood and the sky was gray with smoke. On TV we saw houses on fire, people packing up their valuables and firefighters mobilized throughout the state. The stadium and several high schools were filling up with evacuees.

In the next couple of hours the phone rang off the hook. Friends and neighbors wanted to know how we were doing. They were understandably anxious and fearful for our safety or for their own homes. They shared what they knew from watching the news and their own fears or hopes about the situation. I noticed that though I was responding appropriately to the fearful comments and sharing what I knew of the situation, a part of me was still at peace.

I went outside to find our cats and saw ash falling from the sky like snow. The smell of smoke was so intense it burned my nose. Yet, as surreal as this sounds as I write it, there was a total disconnection between what I saw and the peace I felt. It was as if I were an actor in a movie, playing a difficult part, but all along knowing that none of it was real.

I remembered a favorite church hymn that said “The storm may roar without me, my heart may low be laid, but God is round about me and can I be dismayed?” Often, I have prayed to be spared from difficult situations. Now I realized that I didn’t have to pray for the storm to turn into a sunny day. I could watch the storm, or the fire in this case, and be spared mentally from the fear, anger, or anxiety. I could be in the world but not of it.

We can access the Peace of God by looking at trials through ‘forgiving eyes.’ As separated beings we have a split mind which houses two completely separate and opposing thought systems: the ego and the Holy Spirit. The ego is the thought system of guilt and attack whose purpose is to keep us unaware of our true nature as God’s image and likeness; the Holy Spirit is the memory of God in our mind. Moment to moment we chose with whom we look at the world. We can look through the ego’s lens of fear, or through the Holy Spirit’s lens of forgiveness and love.

The way we ‘see’ the world tells us which teacher we have chosen. When the Course talks about seeing, it refers to how we perceive the world or how we interpret it. While at this level we don’t have control over what we actually see, we do have total control over how we interpret what we see. If when we look at a situation we feel fear, anxiety, anger or any negative emotion, that is a clear indication that we have chosen to look through the ego’s lens.

The text tells us that “Trials are but lessons that you failed to learn presented once again, so where you made a faulty choice before you now can make a better one, and thus escape all pain that what you chose before has brought to you. (T-31, VIII. 3:1).”

Our emotions tell us when we have made a 'faulty choice.' As soon as we notice that we're not at peace, we know we have chosen to perceive the world with the ego. We can always choose to let go of the ego’s interpretation of a situation in favor of the Holy Spirit’s.

Sometimes, though we try to let go of pain or fear, we may feel trapped or unwilling to let go of it. In that case a step in the right direction is to at least realize that the reason we are feeling this way is that we have chosen to identify ourselves with the ego and that 'faulty' choice is costing us the Peace of God.

At 11am we received a mandatory evacuation order so we packed a few things and evacuated like all of our neighbors. We were out of the house for four days. Two dozen homes burned in our neighborhood – over a thousand in the county. When we returned I was happy to see our home was spared – the fire came within a mile. But I was even happier that throughout the evacuation I didn't experience any anxiety or fear. I was so infinitely grateful to know that while I have no control over the outcome of a wildfire, I have the tools to make a choice for Peace of mind.