Lessons from the Storms

Bishop Thomas J. Tobin - Without a Doubt

Our thoughts and prayers continue to go out to so many people whose lives have been shattered by the fearsome hurricanes of the last few weeks.

We stand in solidarity with those in Florida, Texas, Cuba, and the Caribbean. We pray for those who died; or lost family members and loved ones; or saw their homes, schools, churches and workplaces destroyed; or who lost all of their earthly possessions. All of these good folks, our brothers and sisters, need our personal, spiritual and material support.

The damage caused by the wind and waves is mind-boggling: millions of people without power and drinkable water, thousands of homes damaged or destroyed, and hundreds of lives lost. The wall-to-wall reporting has brought the tragedies right into our homes. Who can ignore the heartbreaking reality of eight poor, elderly people dying in the withering heat of a Florida nursing home? Or do we realize what it means that civilization on the Island of Barbuda has been totally extinguished, and that for the first time in 300 years no one can live there?

Is the ferocity of the storms caused by climate change and global warming? Or is it simply mother nature making up for the relatively quiet hurricane seasons of recent years? I don’t know and personally I’m content to let the scientists, politicians and planners figure it out.

But, I believe that with a little reflection there are some faith lessons to be learned from the natural disasters we’ve experienced.

The first is the reminder of the enormous extent of God’s presence and power in the universe. Our age is marked by a misleading human narcissism. We’ve come to rely on the wonders of science and technology to solve all of our problems, and heaven forbid that we experience even a minor inconvenience along the way. We think that our little daily problems signal the end of the world.

But in fact, the universe is very large and we are very small. We are but a passing millisecond in the long march of history, quite literally here today and gone tomorrow.

Most of the time God lets us go about our daily routines, living our fantasies without interruption, but once-in-awhile the power of nature teaches us a lesson and puts us in our place – a fierce hurricane, a violent tornado, a crippling blizzard, a powerful earthquake comes along to remind us of our smallness and helplessness.

The Bible speaks to us of God’s sovereignty: “For the Lord is the great God, the great king over all other gods, whose hand holds the depths of the earth; who owns the tops of the mountains. The sea and the dry land belong to God who made them.” (Ps 95: 3-5)

The second lesson comes from watching how good and courageous people can be in helping others during and after a natural disaster. You’ve seen the images – first responders wading into dangerous waters to carry a toddler out of a flooded house; good neighbors lending their boats to float a family to safety; volunteers disrupting their own routines and plans to help out in emergency shelters; and even youngsters setting-up lemonade stands to raise a few dollars for hurricane relief.

The care and compassion evident in these tragedies is truly inspiring and helps restore our faith in the intrinsic goodness of the human person. Even the few scattered reports of miscreants looting the disaster sites aren’t enough to erase all the good going on.

But isn’t it too bad that it takes a major disaster for us to come together, to set aside our divisions, prejudices and political squabbles to work for the common good and help one another? It’s natural, but regrettable, that the human spirit flourishes in the throes of headline grabbing tragedies far more than it does in the midst of everyday, commonplace struggles.

Finally, the recent storms should remind us of our foolishness in pursuing and accumulating material goods.

It was heartbreaking to watch people leaving their homes behind knowing, perhaps, that they’d never see them again. It was so sad seeing folks carrying all their earthly possessions in a single garbage bag. But there’s a lasting lesson in those tragic images.

You’re probably familiar with the television show, “Hoarders,” that depicts troubled individuals paralyzed by a psychological condition that prompts them to collect and store way-too-many material things. But in fact, many of us are hoarders to a lesser degree – we collect and save so much “stuff” that we really don’t need and seldom use – clothes, shoes, souvenirs, books, magazines, and newspapers, for example.

A good friend recently described me as a “minimalist,” meaning that my lifestyle is simple, that I don’t clutter my life with lots of “stuff.” It’s true, and it’s a badge of honor that I wear proudly. It’s also a virtue we should all cultivate.

Natural disasters that wreak havoc on some should be a wake-up call for the rest of us that we don’t really need all that “stuff,” we’ve collected in our lives, that we should seek to simplify and, then, share more with others. Perhaps God sends the storms to prune our lavish lifestyles and to correct our profligate consumerism. Job got it right: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return.” (Job 1: 21)

So, just a little food for thought in the midst of the recent storms. Let’s continue to pray for and assist those in need.