by Rabbi Katy Z. Allen
Gazing into a campfire is mesmerizing. The flames are constantly moving, shifting, dancing, leaping up, dying down. The coals glisten, brighten, darken. The fire holds memory and ancient connections to our earliest human hunter-gatherer ancestors. Vivid images rise up, of shaggy-haired men and women wearing primitive animal skin clothing sitting around a roaring fire that warned off potential predators and ripping off chucks of roasted game meat from the bone with their teeth to feed themselves.
Fire was critical for the survival of ancient humans and for the development of civilization. But despite all our technological advances, fire remains critical to us today. Even in our modern, highly developed societies, fire is needed to provide heat to protect us from the cold of winter and, albeit often in less “primitive“ forms, to make it possible to cook our food.
Fire is also fearsome and dangerous, and in our climate-changed world it is ravaging forests and towns, indiscriminately killing plant life and wildlife, and human life as well.
Despite their fearsomeness, like a campfire, raging wildfires are mesmerizing, turning their past and potential future pain to beauty in vivid hues of orange and red and black. And once the fire is gone and even just a short time has passed, the landscape slowly transforms. It springs back to life with new growth, giving rise over time, to a rich new ecosystem of thriving more-than-human life.
The natural world is programmed to turn the pain of wildfires into a new generation of beauty. What does it take for us to do the same?
Rabbi Katy Allen is the founder and rabbi of Ma'yan Tikvah - A Wellspring of Hope, which holds services outdoors all year long and has a growing children’s outdoor learning program, Y’ladim BaTeva. She is the founder of the Jewish Climate Action Network-MA, a board certified chaplain, and a former hospital and hospice chaplain. She received her ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religion in Yonkers, NY, in 2005. She is the author of A Tree of Life: A Story in Word, Image, and Text and lives in Wayland, MA, with her spouse, Gabi Mezger, who leads the.singing at Ma'yan Tikvah.