Tag Archives: Hurricane Sandy

What Is a Saint?

With his usual penchant for humor, my husband reminded me on the way home from church that he is named for a saint, Matthew, and that I—well—am not. I didn’t need his reminder that I’m not a saint, but since I tend to be terminally serious, I do need him to remind me to laugh and enjoy this beautiful life I’ve been given.

Today is All Saints Sunday. Our church explains the service in this way:

All Saints celebrates the baptized people of God, living and dead, who make up the body of Christ. Today, many congregations will remember the faithful who have died during the past year. Our worship abounds with references to the saints and our continual relationship with them. Today and this week, we reflect on the lives of people – both the living and the dead – who have moved and supported others by their lives of faith.

I went into the service thinking of my friend Jane Ann, who died in September, leaving behind a 15-year-old daughter, a 90-year-old father, and scores of friends who miss her every day. Jane Ann would not have thought of herself as a saint, nor would she want her daughter or her loved ones to remember her as perfect. But she was, more than almost anyone I know, perfectly and gloriously human, and as her fourth grade teacher wrote on her Facebook page, her legacy is that she always, always reached out to help others. But she never forgot the healing power of a great big belly laugh.

Most of us don’t think of ourselves as saints, but my pastor reminded me this morning that even those we do consider the saints of the church weren’t perfect. But they were people who, like Jane Ann, never lost the optimism that their lives could make a difference in the world. I loved the way my pastor closed the service.  I’m paraphrasing here because I can’t remember her exact words:

On this post-hurricane, pre-election, All Saints, communion Sunday, we need to remember that ours is a God of justice, freedom, and forgiveness….a God who is enough for us all—enough for you, enough for me.

I needed this reminder, too. I beat myself up sometimes for spending more time thinking about helping people than actually helping people. The magnitude of the need in our world sometimes overwhelms me. I’m reminded of a character in Sue Monk Kidd’s The Secret Life of Bees, who wrote about the sorrows of others and put the papers into the cracks between the rocks in the wall that lined her property. After a time, she became so overwhelmed with the agony of others that she went to the river and lay down, a rock on her chest, and drowned herself in others’ sorrows.

In the wake of Hurricane Sandy, we all know how easy it is to be swept away in the raging currents. But this morning at church we were asked, if we could, to fill up a five-gallon bucket with cleaning supplies and tools to send to the victims of the hurricane.

We are little good to ourselves or others if we take on too much of the pain and anguish of a world where the needs are so great. We do need time to lay our burdens down and gaze in wonder at the blue sky and the gentle roll of the mountains in the distance.

But I wonder what would happen if every single person who was able would fill up just one bucket and carry a little bit of the burden. What a difference that might make in our world!

What Do Disasters Tell Me?

What do disasters tell us?  I woke up wondering about that this morning as I sat in my comfortable home where the electricity flickered but never stayed off for more than a couple of minutes.  Then I watched news video of the fire in Queens and the devastation all around me and gave thanks that most of us have made it through this latest disaster alive.

 
And then I read the news reports and the editorials where both liberal and conservative journalists began the blame game while the two presidential candidates tried to look like the leaders they both so desperately want to be.
 
And I realized I was asking the wrong question.  I started to wrestle with the gnawing realization that’s been trying to creep into my brain for weeks now as I’ve been thinking over the elections of my lifetime, where I’ve occasionally voted against party lines and have never felt the excitement that some Boomers older than I felt when they voted for the Kennedys.
 
When George W. Bush took office, I refused for months to address him asPresident Bush.  Like millions of Americans, I didn’t think he’d been elected.  And after the Supreme Court sided with him, I was indignant.  I wanted him to fail.
 
Then came 9/11.  And while there would later be plenty of blame to go around, for the most part, the nation came together, and our devastating loss brought out the best in us.  Though I still didn’t agree with his decisions, I finally began to pray for him and to speak the phrase President Bush, but I also prayed for a successor who would care for the poor and bring out the best in us.
 
Eight years later I watched as much of the nation felt the same about President Obama as I had felt about his predecessor.  From the day he took office, people questioned the legitimacy of his presidency, too, and shortly into his first term, Mitch McConnell, then minority leader of the Senate, said, “The single most important thing we want to achieve is for President Obama to be a one-term president….I don’t want the president to fail; I want him to change.”
 
So I woke up this morning and finally acknowledged that I seldom pray for wisdom for the president I don’t support, except in times of crisis.  I suspect I’m not the only one who prays instead for God to deliver us and send us a leader who will bring out the best in us four years down the road.
 
As I listen to the pundits and the speeches and the spin Sandy has left in her wake, I’ve finally admitted to myself this morning my fear that we’re getting exactly what we’ve prayed for–a leader who can do little except try to survive the opposition well enough to get a second term.  Because as long as we’re just lining up on opposite sides and praying for the other person to lose, we’re going to get exactly that answer to our prayers.  And it won’t matter which man wins next week.
 
And so I realize, yet again, why Jesus commanded us to love and pray for our enemies–and, of course, he didn’t just mean that we should pray for their defeat.  As he said with a wisdom that has caused his words to ring true 2000 years after he spoke, it’s easy to pray for someone you love.  Anyone can do that.  But to pray for the one you want to lose…not so much.
 
This won’t be easy for me, but now that I’ve had this insight into myself, I’m going to try to pray for wisdom for our leaders–by name–even for those I detest.
 
So what does this latest disaster have to say to you?

Surrounded By the Flood?

Rain in Front Yard

Surrounded by the flood?  Not yet.  But the electricity just flickered for the first time…and when an official from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says that we’re about to see a storm we’ve never seen before–a “billion dollar storm”–we pay attention.  So here’s the view from my front porch, and I’m wondering how many of those leaves–and those azalea flowers, which aren’t even supposed to be blooming at this time of year–will be left by this time tomorrow.
 
“Yeah, yeah,” you say, “you and everyone else in the path of Sandy are blogging about it while you still have electricity.”  And you’re probably right.  But I wonder how many of the people who’ll blog about this storm will read the Common Lectionary for the day and tilt their heads at the coincidence.
 
Here’s the thing:  I follow my church’s Common Lectionary to center myself at the beginning of each day.  (And I’ve recently started exploring the holy texts of some other faiths as well, and it’s surprising how often our texts tell similar stories or say the same thing in truly poetic ways.)  The Common Lectionary readings are chosen by leaders of a number of denominations as a two-year cycle of readings for personal reflection.  And the Old Testament reading today–chosen long ago as part of a two-year cycle–is from the Book of Jonah, and it says, in part:
 

“You cast me into the deep, into the heart of the seas, and the flood surrounded me; all your waves and your billows passed over me….The waters closed in over me; the deep surrounded me; weeds were wrapped around my head at the roots of the mountains.” (Jonah 2: 3, 5-6)

 
Now I don’t believe that God is some master puppeteer who is up in the ether pulling the marionette strings and watching us dance.  But that coincidence does make me tilt my head and go, Hmmm.  It makes for interesting conversation with my friends who are thinking evangelicals…and even my friends who are deeply reflective atheists.
 
One of my friends texted this to me recently after reading an earlier post:  “I still don’t know the who or even if I believe the ‘is’ of God, but I do know that my life is enriched by your existence in it.”  And I feel the very same way about her.  And I find that sort of honesty much more rational and logical than the false prophets who’ve been warning us for thousands of years that earthquakes and hurricanes and tsunamis are God’s punishment for our transgressions.
 
And so, my friends, at the end of this storm may we all find that the great is has kept us through the storm and that, as Jonah was spewed out onto dry land in today’s reading, so may we find ourselves–safe and dry.  And if we are not, may we dismiss those voices who point accusing fingers and arm ourselves with compassion and courage to face the aftermath of the flood.