But before people knew that, before they knew that the movement of the earth and the energy of the sun affect the earth, people personified that natural phenomenon. Zeus, Thor, Indra – these were gods of the storm. Thunder was the sound of Thor’s chariot wheels; Lightning was thrown from the sky, and for the Canaanites, whose storm god Baal was also the god of fertility, the rain was seen as seed fertilizing the female Earth.
The Hebrews, our ancestors, believed that God was made known through nature – and any of us who has been out in a storm might believe that they may have been on to something. A thunderstorm is a popular image to reveal God, in part because it makes use of many senses – our eyes, our ears, even our sense of fear. In today’s Psalm, the G of Israel’s History, of the Exodus, of their Freedom, is seen in the power of a storm coming across the desert.
Fertility, blessing, wrath, unrest. Even today, people make lots of associations with the weather.
Some of them are primitive: some saying publicly that Hurricane Katrina was punishment to the people of New Orleans for the way they live. Or the people sitting next to me at the Churchwide Assembly of 2009 in MPLS, where they suggested that the tornado that hit the building was a result of the vote on . . . . .
Some point out the dynamic role between weather and life. The civil war in Syria may have its roots in a drought in that country. Could we be witnessing the first war caused by climate change?
Still, some of us see the majesty of God in a storm moving across desert.
Ecologists tell us that storms are necessary for the renewal and refreshment of the Earth: ecosystems are nourished, life is sustained, the Earth is regenerated. But, if we presume that Jesus is not aiming to calm majesty and refreshment and regeneration, then we need another image to discern what’s going on in today’s Gospel text.
Controlling Nature is a funny idea to me. It’s not so funny that we don’t talk about it, but just funny enough ath it sounds odd to me. I’ve been noticing the language used when talking about the floods in Colorado and the fires in Yosemite and on Mt Diablo. Words like control and contain. It’s as if we try to separate ourselves from the Earth, putting ourselves over the creation.
But we aren’t separate. We are linked/connected/dependent. There are things we can control – our habits, our use of the Earth’s resources, our CO2 footprint. And there are things we can’t control. And storms can be a symbol for those things – the things we find overwhelming. In today’s Gospel, a squall comes, the boat is swamped, the disciples are overwhelmed, and Jesus is awakened because his followers are afraid.
What are our Storms? The storm for a couple I met last Friday was where to live while the husband is on dialysis. For some people, it’s being unemployed. For some, it’s being overemployed – occupied by more things than we actually have time for. For some, it’s our family. For some it is a constant feeling of inadequacy, and the attendant fear and anxiety. Today’s gospel reminds us of the power of God to quiet storms, and there’s something remarkable in how.
On Sept 11th, Death Certificate #1 in NYC went to a Franciscan priest named Michael Judge, a chaplain with the FDNY. With rescuers who were responding that morning, he went into the storm that was the North Tower – he went into the storm.
Jesus’ calming of the storm is the preface to three healing stories, and all four of these are prelude to Jesus’ commissioning of the twelve. Could it be that this is the ministry Jesus is calling them, and us, into? To be woken up, to heal the world, to protect the Creation, to serve the neighbor.
But, note that Jesus first ministers to the 12 himself. Jesus, too, has entered into the Storm, he sees it from the inside, from our side. And not just the squall on Galilee’s lake that day; Jesus enters into life, into the world, into the storm of what it is to be a human being. And, from there, the sea is quieted, the destruction is forestalled, by the power of his word, bringing the Reign of God.
While storms in nature may inspire us by their beauty and majesty, let us remember that they can be destructive, like those that rage around and within us. The nature of the God revealed in Jesus, the power of Jesus’ presence in the world, is to calm the storms of injustice and desperation and death. Jesus speaks a word of life and of peace, calming Anxiety, reversing Injustice, bringing the healing of God, who brought order to the chaos, hovering over the waters at creation, and who comes to us and to all amid the storm.