I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. Matthew 3:11 (NIV)
We went riding at Little Manatee State Park again today. We used to only visit there when we wanted a quick trip as it is near our home, but the park is becoming my favorite. They are working to improve the equestrian experience with new amenities like water hoses, hitching posts and signs. There are also many new trails. Today, we rode through an uplands area that had just been through a controlled burn. Florida folk would call it the scrub or pine flatwoods. There was very little shade as most of the pines were small and palmettos covered the ground. It was not a place that we would choose to ride in the summer, but with a cool breeze today, it was a comfortable and interesting ride. Because we could smell smoke, we knew that the burn had occurred very recently. The state park service sets them to mimic the fires started by lightening. These fires once occurred regularly in the Florida environment. Not only does the ash nourish the ground, but the heat stimulates plant growth of the natives and prevents the non natives from taking over. From high up on our horses, we could look down that into the center of the saw palmetto patches. They were black from the burn, but with no fronds to cover their trunks, their star shape was accentuated. They extend out from a center core and creep along the ground almost like huge earthbound sea anemones. I can only imagine what difficulties they presented to the early settlers trying to clear land to plant crops. Grasses were already sending up green shoots even though the earth around them was scorched. Though the sand pines and long leaf pines looked dead and brown, I know that the next time we visit, they will have green needles on them again, and underneath the trees will be new seedlings that the heat helps to germinate. Though we did not see any deer this trip, birds flew in and out of the vegetation and a black snake sunned on the trail so we knew that the wildlife found a safe refuge during the fire. In addition to the nourishment of the environment, the prescribed burn helps to prevent forest fires by keeping the pine woods free of underbrush. We were surprised to find a small patch of fire with flames still flickering along the trail. No one warned us that it still burned. As I was thinking about the fire, I was reminded of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. He is there to clean out the ugliness of sin, to remind us of our need to repent and seek forgiveness. He also helps to nourish our soul so new growth can take place. He comforts us in the midst of trials and reminds us that we can take refuge in God. Like the planned burns in our state park, the Holy Spirit’s fire burns within our hearts for good and for our benefit.