Like many children, I was afraid of storms. For several reasons, I was afraid of the storms at my grandfather’s farm. There was not real cellar or basement under the house, so in cases of very bad storms, there was nowhere to retreat. The windows in my grandfather’s house rattled easily. The trains that came by the house four times a day rattled the windows and thunderstorms rattled the windows also. I was also afraid of lightning. I had seen where lightning had struck various trees on the farm and how it would run into the house, disabling the phone and electricity. I was afraid that lightning would come in through the windows in the house and I would be struck.
In the part of the south where I grew up, another kind of storm caused fear during a certain part of the spring. We were often under tornado watches and warnings. I remember drills at school to help us know what to do in case of a sudden tornado. We were to make our way as quickly and orderly as possible to the breezeway between the main building and the gym. I was never quite certain how sitting in the breezeway would keep me safe in the case of a tornado and I was always glad that we never had to rush to the breezeway.
Storms are a part of all of our lives. Wikipedia, that fabulous, know-it-all, online resource explains storms in this manner:
“A storm is any disturbed state of an environment or in an astronomical body’s atmosphereespecially affecting its surface, and strongly implying severe weather. It may be marked by significant disruptions to normal conditions such as
strong wind, tornadoes, hail, thunder and lightning (a thunderstorm), heavy precipitation (snowstorm, rainstorm), heavy freezing rain (ice storm), strong winds (tropical cyclone, windstorm), or wind transporting some substance through the atmosphere as in a dust storm, blizzard, sandstorm, etc.” (Storm article, Wikipedia)
I think that most of us have a storm or two that we remember more than others for the intensity or the uniqueness of it. The storm I remember most from my childhood is the ice storm of 1967. We were hit by a sudden ice storm when the temperature did not drop as much as was predicted. It hit on a Friday evening and lasted through the weekend. The electricity went out for three days in our neighborhood. Luckily, we had a fireplace and a stash of wood. When we were not around our own fireplace, we were with the rest of our neighborhood around the pot-bellied stove in Mr. Cooper’s house. We cooked on that stove and played games around it and I remember that storm as fun.
When I moved to WV, I heard about the big storm of Thanksgiving week in 1950 and how many feet of snow fell during those couple of days. In every congregation I have served I have heard the memories of that storm and there were some interesting memories that folks have shared with me. The most memorable was from Mr. Lantz in the Jerusalem church in Barbour County. He remembered his flock of turkeys getting on the top of the turkey house instead of inside and they stayed there through that storm. Some of those turkeys did not fare very well.
And since living here there have been several memorable storms.
During September I have been thinking about and writing Care of Creation, especially facing the knowledge that our planet is in trouble. The situations that have led to the danger in which our planet finds itself are numerous. Some of those situations have come about because of greed. In those cases, we have turned away from facing the consequences of our actions. Some of those situations have come about not because of greed, but because hundreds of years ago, we did not know what some of our practices would lead to as far as our planet and the whole of creation are concerned.
Numerous hurricanes and tropical depressions have already devastated many places this season. We have all seen reports about how the Bahamas have been hit with such devastation that it is difficult to imagine how recovery will happen. Many residents of the Bahamas have already left. They have become climate refugees, seeking another place to call home. We will see more and more climate refugees as storms increase in intensity and devastation. As a reminder of this devastation and as a reminder to pray and support emergency efforts, my congregation has placed seashells on the altar. These days, I find myself drawn to the altar to be there in silence and to hold the people of the Bahamas in my heart.
If we pay attention to the scientists and to the evidence, we know that storms are becoming more numerous and intense. Not only are summer storms increasing in might and devastation, but winter storms are as well. The warming of the seas and the atmosphere have led to the increase of storms and intensity. It is something that we must pay attention to, prepare for, and help with recovery, but if we are to get out of this cycle we must also make some sacrifices that will lead to addressing the causes of these storms.
As I have been thinking about the intensity of storms and about Care of the Earth, I have turned to the Divine Speech in the book of Job, where God has been challenging Job to understand Creation from God’s perspective. In the 28th chapter of Job, we find an interlude where Job speaks about Wisdom and considers where Wisdom originates. We, too, are asked to consider Wisdom, how we are to understand its presence in Creation and to recognized that, at times, it is hidden from us—that we are not aware of everything. We cannot know everything just by who we are and where we live and what we know. There is more to God’s creation than what we can see and touch and hear. There is more to God’s Wisdom than what we have experienced.
In this interlude we are to think about how God understands and knows all of Creation. God looks to the ends of the earth and sees everything under the heavens. God knows that the wind has weight and the waters depth, rising and falling, and increasing. It was God who made a decree for the rain and a way for the thunder. God saw, declared, establish, and searched out all the elements of Creation—of wind and rain and snow and ice and storm. In the midst of storm and devastation, we are to seek God’s wisdom.
Another passage of scripture that explores the idea of God’s wisdom and our understanding is illustrated in a clear way by an experience of Jesus and the disciples. One day Jesus and the disciples got into a boat. The waters must have been calm when they started to the other side of lake, because Jesus fell asleep. A sudden storm developed. It was so bad that experienced fishermen were frightened. Imagine that. People who had been on the water all of their working lives, enduring many storms, were afraid of this storm. As the boat was filling with water, they knew they were in danger and they woke Jesus, with the words: “We are perishing!”
Jesus got up and, as Luke reads, he rebuked the storm. And the storm quieted. The disciples were amazed, but the story indicates to us that Jesus not only demonstrated that he could perform miracles, but also that he was in tune with nature and knew the wisdom and way of the storm. He understood its inner nature. The poet of the Job interlude proclaimed that God’s wisdom is imbedded in nature, even the elements of the weather. Jesus knew this and understood the nature of the storm. The disciples witnessed a miracle and deep wisdom that led to trust in God.
The wisdom that the poet in Job spoke of gives us the confidence to think about what God is saying to us through these storms. We are not to dismiss them as a fluke of nature. We are to pay attention because the wisdom that God has instilled in the elements of nature is responding to the conditions that have changed and been created in the last decades, changes and conditions that we humans must acknowledge as having played a part.
What can we do, you might ask? Are we doomed? That is exactly the question that I believe was running through the minds of the disciples when they woke Jesus. By stilling the storm, Jesus was proclaiming to us that we are not doomed, but we must pay attention to the nature of the elements and what is happening to our climate and that we must not leave it up to God to fix when God is calling us to see, declare, establish, and search out conditions and solutions that will help us and future humanity to care for and thrive on our planet.
This past August, when I was in Cambridge, one of my classes was an environmental ethics class that was taught by Dr. Larry Rasmussen, who for decades has been a well-respected Christian ethicist. I entered the class, fully expecting to be discouraged at the end, but I was surprised that I felt hope as it ended. Over and over and over again, Dr. Rasmussen spoke to us about certain scientists who agree that it will be the faith communities who have the biggest potential to save the planet from our climate crisis.
Because we are already organized worldwide. And because we have a mandate from God to care for the earth. What it will take will be for us to continue to seek how God has spoken and is speaking to us about Care of our Earth and then to be bold in carrying out the tasks, large and small, that will make a difference and help others to pay attention and get involved as well.
As I have thought about storms for this a sermon and this particular reflection in the Seasons of Creation series, an old hymn has playing in my head. Charles A Tinney, an African American Methodist preacher was born in 1851 to a father who was a slave and a mother who was free. We know that the conditions of his childhood were harsh and often, the only way for the family to survive from day to day was for Charles to be hired out for difficult manual labor, something a child should never have to endure. There must have been many times when he was frightened by the storms of his life, the conditions that seemed intense and unsolvable, the conditions that seemed like they might lead to devastation and death.
As he grew, so did his faith in God, so strong that the storms of life could not beat him down, so strong that he grew in wisdom and trust and hope. His hymn, “When the Storms of Life are Raging,” is the hymn that I have heard in my heart as I have reflected on storms. I have heard this hymn as I have read countless articles about climate change. I have heard this hymn as I have read about the ice in the artic melting. I have heard this hymn as I have read about climate refugees being turned away, their last hope shred from them. I have heard this hymn as I have read stories about the courage of youth, organizing a worldwide march that involved millions of people.
I hear this hymn coming from the sea, from the wind, from the thunder and lightning, from snow and ice.
I hear this hymn now, in my heart, as I proclaim to you that there is always good news, no matter how bleak things may appear.
When the storms of life are raging, stand by me;
when the storms of life are raging, stand by me.
When the world is tossing me, like a ship upon the sea,
Lord, who rules the wind and water, stand by me.
In the midst of tribulation, stand by me;
in the midst of tribulation, stand by me.
When the host of hell assail, and my strength begins to fail,
Lord, who never lost a battle, stand by me.
In the midst of faults and failures, stand by me;
in the midst of faults and failures, stand by me.
When I’ve done the best I can, and my friends misunderstand,
Lord, who knows all about me, stand by me.
In the midst of persecution, stand by me;
in the midst of persecution, stand by me.
When my foes in war array undertake to stop my way,
Lord, who saved Paul and Silas, stand by me.
When I’m growing old and feeble, stand by me;
when I’m growing old and feeble, stand by me.
When my life becomes a burden and I’m nearing chilly Jordan,
Lord, the Lily of the Valley, stand by me.
–Charles A Tinney
May it be so.
To God alone be Glory!