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