In the Wake of A Storm, Some Lasting Wisdom

Here in Washington DC, the storm known as “Sandy” has passed. About 8 inches of rain, and winds near 70 mph. But damage, though local and severe for the victims, was not widespread. Further north and east into Jersey and New York City, damage was significant, especially along the shore. I was moved at Governor Christie’s personal sense of loss as he saw some childhood memories swept away.

Life in this world is both precious and passing, fantastic and fragile, resilient and yet easily ravaged. We may have many questions for God, all summarized in one word, “Why?!” God knows, but often is not telling, and if we hear at all, it is only thunder. Meanwhile we discover new life, even in what ends, blessings even in what burdens.

An old hymn says,

When peace like a river attendeth my soul
Or sorrows, like sea billows roll.
Whatever my lot, Thou has taught me to say,
It is well with my soul, it is well

Somehow a word from an old Rabbi of the mid 18th Century comes to mind.  The Jewish people have well known suffering and this wisdom was spoken one day by the Rabbi to his students:

Everyone must have two pockets, so that he can reach into one or the other, according to his needs. In his right pocket are to be the words, ‘For my sake the world was made.’ And in his left pocket these words: ‘I am earth and ashes.’ (Rabbi Simcha Bunim Bonhart of Peshischa (Przysucha), in Poland. Quoted in Newman’s Hasidic Anthology, p. 167)

Yes, we are precious, but passing, and so is everything in this world. Somehow storms remind of us of this. Every life that was lost, precious. Yet none of us linger here long, and the world as we know it is passing away.

As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; the wind blows and he is gone, and his place sees him no more. But from everlasting to everlasting is the Lord’s love is with those who fear him (Psalm 103:15-17)

Hard lessons, the lessons of a storm. Yet blessed and freeing lessons too. As the old Rabbi said, we are precious and all is for us. Yet our truest blessings are not here, and only when this world and we ourselves are tuned to ashes, do we discover our truest and lasting blessings. To gain true life we must first lose this one (cf Luke 9:24).

Yes, hard wisdom, but true and ancient wisdom, the wisdom of a storm.

This song comes from an African American people who have also known collective suffering and speaks of a day when storms will end and says:

Take courage my soul and let us journey on,
though the night is dark and I’m still far from home;
praise be to God, the morning light appears….
The storm is passing over, hallelujah

15 Replies to “In the Wake of A Storm, Some Lasting Wisdom”

  1. Dear Monsignor Pope,

    I received a message from a common friend of ours on Facebook, and he asked me to communicate with you about the cover photo of your reflection. I found out from that it is a fake. Unfortunately, I had already posted it on Facebook, and our friend saw it and re-posted it to you. I regret any problems my posted photo may have caused. Here is the link:

      1. Indeed – I saw the item as an artistic rendering, not as an actual photo of a hurricane. I saw it as symbolic of a storm which appeared focused on a specific territory for an unknown reason.

  2. Wonderful reflection, esp. at a time when our thoughts are turning towards the four last things. Thank you.

  3. Neat song and performance. Recently, I wish I had saved the link, the Pope said, if I recall, that we pray the liturgy because that is how God taught us that God wants to be praised. I don’t think I could have come up with the liturgy on my own. The way people are praising God in the video is pretty good, imo, not the liturgy, though. Could the performance be part of the liturgy without detracting from it? I don’t know. In the O.T. way of praising God, there is a sacrifice, but I don’t know what significance the Jews placed on the eating of the sacrifice, if any. Also, the liturgy is distinct from the O.T. sacrifice because in the liturgy there is both Sacrifice and Resurrection of the Sacrifice.

  4. Pray for this poor woman. I came upon the scene yesterday, not knowing then why all the police were there and only reading later about what happened. It is very tragic when people reach such depths of despair that they would think that this is the answer.

  5. Storms and events like hurricane Ivan with its 119 tornadoes (Sept 2004), the great Indonesian tsunami (26 Dec 2004), hurricane Katrina (2005), NYC Snow Storm of 2006, Virginia Earthquake of 2011 (5.8 magnitude), 1704 confirmed tornadoes in the US (2011), Hurricane Irene (Aug 2011), 2011 Halloween Nor-easter Snow Storm (29-31 Oct 2011), 831 confirmed tornadoes in the US (2012), and Hurricane Sandy (2012) tend to remind humanity, in its pride, of its powerlessness to control what it did not create and its inordinate love of wealth, property and possessions instead of the creation and Creator Who makes possible all that is good.

    God split the Red Sea so that the Jews, those who would be His prized possession, could cross to safety; then He let the waters return when the Egyptians followed. God manipulated nature to safeguard the Jews who believed in Him and with whom He would make a convenant.

    I wonder whether we do or would see fewer storms and earthquakes if humanity was more in love with God than with possessions and personal prosperity. I suppose that these are necessary to get out attention.

    1. And so I agree with you, Msgr, and the Rabbi, that storms help us understand where we are going and what we must leave behind which might be hindering many of us from looking forward to where we are going.

    2. I know a man who lost his home in a hurricane. I don’t believe that God creates storms to get our attention, but I do believe that those who are impacted turn to and often find God after they had forgotten Him.

    3. Finally, those who trust in the Lord are blessed. He listens to and answers their prayers. Knowing and following the Way of the Lord provides for a saving grace which leads man away from the path of destruction to a safer place.

  6. At a time like this our second pocket needs to be filled with empathy and courage that is the fruit of the Spirit.

  7. This recent storm reflects how my own life, the few months have been, illness, grief, and dealing with a mother advanced in age, with her own heath issues now in a rehab place.

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