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“… doing God’s will always leads to your greatest happiness.” – Sri Daya Mata, IN SWEET COMPANY: CONVERSATIONS WITH EXTRAORDINARY WOMEN ABOUT LIVING A SPIRITUAL LIFE
In these times we live in, when we are frequently asked to stretch ourselves beyond the possible, this story comes to mind.
Twenty years ago, I lived for a time in a pristine hollow in Southern California aptly named Eden Valley. Our home was surrounded by oaks and pines, and buttressed by boulders anchored to the hills over time. A single custard-color road led in and out of the Valley. Fragrant with the smells of wildflowers and tall grass during the day, lit by the moon and stars at night, the Valley was so silent you could hear the thrum of the cosmic motor.
July, 1990. I’m at my desk in the back of the house working at the computer. The phone rings. I walk down the hall to answer the phone and glance out the windows as I always do when I move through the house — an homage to the beauty of land. A thirty foot wall of orange flame stares back at me fifty yards from the house, a brassy, arrogant dragon sizing me up for the kill. I understand now why the poets use fire as a metaphor for rage.
The phone rings, and rings again. My husband is calling to check in. I shout into the phone, as if shouting will bring him home faster, “There’s a fire fifty yards from the kitchen door! Come home!”
A neighbor stands at the top of the driveway opposite ours with a worn garden hose in his hand spraying water on the flames. I call to him. “Have you notified the fire department? the neighbors?” He shakes his head yes.
I call the meditation retreat a mile up the road. “It’s Margaret,” I say. “There’s a fire in the Valley and I’m alone. I need help!”
I back my car to the kitchen door and open the trunk. I rip a dozen photographs from the wall and toss them into the car. I gather family heirlooms, checkbooks, medical records, medicine, and toss them into the car. I stand for a moment in the front hall and look about me, thinking what else I best take with me before I leave. My mind is racing. I am breathing hard. My throat and eyes are dry.
And then it happens: A resonant voice inside my head begins to speak and I am wrapped in calm: “Go outside and stand before the fire. Raise your hands and say to the flames, ‘By the power of God in me I command thee to stop.’” This is what It tells me. Just like that.
I know enough about this Inner Voice to know that what I am hearing is not idle musing, not some delusion of grandeur. This is the real deal, a moment of Divine Direction. I stand stock still and consider my directive, my obvious limitations. “Yeah. Right,” I say. The frenzy returns.
I race into the bedroom, grab my purse, a change of clothes. Smoke billows through the house. My chest burns. It’s hard to breathe. I drop to the floor, crawl to the couch, and lay there for a minute to get my bearings. Maybe I pass out. Next thing i know, two monks from the meditation center burst through the kitchen door in full firefighting gear. A friend rides piggyback on their jet wash.
One of the monks shouts, “Get her out of here.”
My friend carries me to my car like a sack of potatoes, drives me to the meditation center and splays me out on a hillside where I am tended by EMT’s now on the scene. Our house is spared except for smoke damage. The earth around us is charred, wounded. I am back at the computer within a few days as if nothing has happened.
Once you set foot on the spiritual path, things are never what they seem. Nothing happens by accident. As the days stretch into weeks and months I think often about my directive and how I responded — or not — to its call. The idea that I could talk a fire down is, from a human perspective, utterly absurd. But from a spiritual perspective, I had received what I believed to be a divine mandate, one I responded to with skepticism and disdain. I had spent the last fifteen years of my life trying, with all my heart, to prove to myself that life’s difficulties could be surmounted “by the power of God in me.” That I did not heed this call, that I did not trust my inner guidance, caused me great sorrow.
Then one morning several months later, though I did not hear a voice, I knew what I must do: Though I could not change the past, I could use the past to prompt me to be more receptive, more willing to do what I was “asked” to do in the future. My “Who am I to think I can do this?” question shapeshifted into a “Who am I to think God cannot do the impossible through me?” response.
Though I have never again been invited to put out a forest fire, I have been asked many times since the fire to do things I was absolutely convinced I could not do. To my great surprise, when I was calm, when I attuned my heart and will to the God of my heart, I was shown how to do what I was asked.
Though my efforts do not always bring the results I hope for, doing what I must, what I’m asked, to the best of my ability, whether or not I succeed, brings outcomes more meaningful to me than success: appreciation for the ingenuity, economy, and timing of God; comfort in knowing God will do a much better job than I could with whatever I was asked to do; and the readiness to express compassion to others who, like me, contend with navigating things beyond our reach.
These are fires I will never put out.