by Linda Ryan
You know, I don’t think I’ve ever really thought so much about weather in very long time. The weather seems to be all the news this week, with floods and fires and extreme heat and flooding covering many miles in various places in the world, uprooting millions of people. It’s been that kind of week, I can’t say it’s been an unadulterated pleasure, even as I sit high and dry (and hot) here near Phoenix.
I grew up in an area where hurricanes happened somewhat regularly. We would get usually one or two each year that resulted in damage either by trees being blown over, roofs being denuded of shingles, or sheds being blown over. I remember lots and lots of rain, and coupled with the wind, it got scary. Granted, they weren’t storms of the magnitude of Harvey or Katrina, but to a kid, they were still pretty frightening. I was always glad at the end of the storm, when the rain seemed to lighten up a bit, I could hear frogs in the punch bowl-shaped field across the road. After really bad storms or hurricanes was the only time the frogs sang. For me that was kind of the rainbow at the end, and I looked forward to it.
People in Texas, Louisiana, and those who are yet to be affected, would celebrate seeing the sun, with or without the frogs, I think. The damage has been enormous. The disruption of a major city and a numerous other cities, towns and communities that are home to a number of major industries (key parts of our national economy) has made it something that is going to impact all of us.
It’s so encouraging to see people coming together from all over to help; like the Cajun Navy, the busloads of people coming from all over the country and various agencies, both for-profit and nonprofit alike, pulling together aid in the form of food, blankets, rescue vehicles, and even shelter. Learning that Mexico has offered aid is one of the best things yet.
On the other hand, the northwest is a place where they would welcome even a quarter of the water from Houston and the Texas coast. According to the USDA Forest Service, there are currently 71 wildfires burning are burning in Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Utah, Nevada and California; many totally out of control. Most are in rugged, difficult terrain, far from water sources and firefighters.
What both hurricanes and fires have in common is that they produce wind, strong winds; like a second punch coming right on top of the first one. The wind is not always predictable, and it spreads the fire and blows the rain where it will. This week the country has taken quite a beating not just by fire and rain but also by wind.
There are times when we read Bible stories where we actually have our attention called to the weather or to weather-related phenomena. Probably the most familiar one is that of Jesus sleeping in the boat while the tempest rages and the disciples are fearful that they may lose their lives because of the winds and the waves and probably some rain too. There’s also the story of Job where natural and weather related events come together to tear his life, his home, and even his family apart. There’s also Jonah, the storm at sea, and Jonah’s attempt to flee what God wanted him to do that resulted in him getting thrown overboard and ending up in the belly of the great fish.
There are folks who want to blame events like the Northwestern fires or the hurricane battered shores of the Gulf coast (and also South Asia) on purely human offenses against God. No matter how much scientific information bolstered by actual data, photographs, and charts, there has to be a reason why things like the fires, hurricanes and great winds happen. It must be a punishment from God for something. Maybe for accepting things that others consider totally unacceptable, or maybe the opposite – not accepting things that others accept. It’s funny, both sides claim God has a hand in it, and it’s a punishment against sins others commit.
Undoubtedly God has a eye on this somehow. For me, I can’t believe that God directs such suffering on people just on a whim or even as a punishment. I don’t think God punishes people, especially innocent people. So I can’t accept it’s the will of God that people should be forced out of their homes, endangering their lives and sometimes losing them because somebody sinned (in their neighbor’s estimation) or because someone espouses the wrong theology or whatever. I don’t think Jesus had on his Day-Timer that there was going to be a big storm on the sea of Galilee on such and such a date at such and such a time and Jesus needed to be asleep to make a point. Definitely, Job didn’t have any advance warning of the catastrophic events of his life, and I’m sure Jonah had no plans for anything except a swift journey as far away from where he was supposed to be as humanly possible. Still, the weather caught up with all of them. Jesus did get to make a point; that he could command even the winds and the waves. Job had a lot of enduring to do, but in the end his faithfulness earned him not just a restoration but a restoration several times over of what he lost. As for Jonah, after being in the belly of the fish, he got to land and realized, okay, he had better go where he was supposed to go.
Sometimes we need a storm or fire or headline even of the storm, or fire, to get our attention. It’s not for us to sit back in our homes and say, “Thank God, it wasn’t here.” Indeed we are fortunate, but that is all the more reason why we need to be conscious of those who aren’t. It is part of God’s plan — of that I’m sure. We can look at disaster on television and be moved to make a contribution (like to Episcopal Relief and Development). It may encourage us to go where that problem is and try to help fix it. It may be buying cases of water or a bunch of blankets to add to a collection that’s being made locally that will be transported to areas of need.
That’s what impresses us when we look at examples of disasters and the people helping each other. Most of these people are strangers, nobody knows exactly who they’re being rescued by or who they are rescuing. The important thing is to rescue, to help, to feed, to shelter. That is faith in action, not sitting around talking about religion. it’s putting religion to work. Not just Christians, because Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Universalists, and just about every other known faith group or non-faith group has been involved in helping. I think that’s a God thing, and perhaps the useful part of a disaster is that it forces us to work together with people that we don’t agree with or maybe who speak another language. It’s important to help one another because helping one another is a sign of love, and God’s greatest commandment was to love.
I hope this next week is a little less fraught with disasters. I know it will be a long time before the fires go out and before the water totally recedes. Both areas are going to need a lot of attention, and in different ways, they are all going to need healing both of the earth and of those who have been affected. Maybe this week is a week for prayer, but it’s also a week for work. The disasters are over, there are still needs, and there will continue to be needs for months and maybe years to come. God did not say, “Do this and that’s all you have to do ever.” We are expected to continue to show love and help and compassion.
Prayers going up from all over for all those affected, not just in our country, but around the world wherever disaster strikes and things seem hopeless. God grant healing to the land, to the victims, and to the lost.
Now where can I be useful?
Image: McTaggart, William, Through Wind and Rain (1875). BBC.CO.UK via Wikimedia Commons.