Through Deep Waters
By Rev. Alicia Randolph Rapking
As I write this today, I am in Nebraska visiting my brother Richard and his family. This visit is long overdue. We see each other about once a year or so and it is unfortunate, but I have never ventured out to see him in the Midwest. I have been looking forward to this trip for some time, not only to see my brother, but also to attend a retreat at St. Meinrad Monastery first, to see a friend from childhood, and then to travel out to Nebraska for the long weekend.
I am very glad to be with my brother, but there are also feelings of anxiety and even guilt as I enjoy a warm summer weekend of activities with my brother’s family, including the USA Olympic Swim Trials. I am very aware of what is going on back home in WV. As I was driving through the Midwest last Thursday, crossing over the the mighty Mississippi and Missouri Rivers, heavy, destructive rains were pouring down upon my beloved WV, wreaking havoc on property, causing fear and anxiety, and destroying life.
Immediately, when I began to hear the reports on Friday morning, I began to pray, but I will admit that I felt guilty. I felt guilty spending time with family. I felt guilty not be home and available to people. I felt guilty about what my colleagues were going through in their communities, especially those who had just moved in this past week. I kept asking myself, “what should I do?”
I wanted to start for home immediately, knowing that it would take two days to get there. I also knew that my brother and I had been looking forward to spending time together for a long, long time. I felt indecisive. I felt torn. I felt sorrow. I felt devastated. I felt grief. I felt burdened. I felt guilty.
And then, I found myself singing the words to one of my favorite hymns, “How Firm a Foundation,” attributed to Robert Keen around 1787. Based on Isaiah 43, the words that kept singing my heart were these:
“Fear not, I am with thee; oh, be not dismayed,
For I am thy God and will still give thee aid.
I’ll strengthen thee, help thee, and cause thee to stand,
Upheld by my righteous, omnipotent hand.
“When through the deep waters I call thee to go,
The rivers of sorrow shall not thee overflow,
For I will be with thee, thy troubles to bless,
And sanctify to thee thy deepest distress.”
The words of this hymn, the melody that sang in my heart over and over reminded me that God was very present back home in WV and while there was death and pain, anguish and destruction, there was also God and mercy, unconditional love and grace. And through the people of God there would also be strength and aid. As my friend Laura Harbert Allen put it, recovery from this disaster is a marathon, not a sprint and so I also know that there will be plenty to do in the days and weeks and months to come and I will find my part to do.
Maybe some of you are feeling this same kind of feeling in regards to this disaster. Maybe you feel that you need to do something, that you know people that you want to find and help. Maybe you feel that you have to go and help, but don’t know how. Maybe you are feeling all the emotions that I have been feeling—indecisiveness, sorrow, devastation, grief, guilt. There are things that we can do.
The first thing that we can do is pray. Even if we do not know the words to pray we can sit in the presence of God with a heart of love and compassion. We can learn the names of those who have lost so much—the towns, the churches, the families, the victims—and we can bring these names before God.
Second, my friend Laura Harbert Allen shared a list that includes wisdom and practical information for our response:
1. Don’t go to a flood zone on your own. There are official channels for helping out and volunteering. And believe me, this is a marathon, not a sprint.
2. The number one way you can help is with a monetary contribution. All contributions, in any amount, will help.
3. Share VOAD’s information sheet for details on how you can contribute and volunteer. Here’s the link: http://bit.ly/VOADfloodWV.
4. Love each other. Help each other.
I love number 4 on the list! Love each other. Help each other. That’s Gospel and that’s what we should strive for at all times, but especially now, when so many have lost so much, loving each other and helping each other is an assurance of life and that God is with us at all times and in all places, even through deep waters.
More information on ways that we can respond will be forthcoming.
To God be the glory!
With thanks to Ted Boettner for use of this photograph.