Surviving the Hurriquake

Since my last post I have survived a 5.8 magnitude earthquake that was felt as far north as Boston, and felt the gusting fury of Hurricane Irene, which ripped up a half dozen ancient oaks on my street and left most of the city without power. 

I don’t mean to be dramatic, but as I stood in my study last Tuesday watching the light fixtures swing back and forth, as I felt the floor shaking beneath my feet and the wall trembling behind me, I remembered the prayer I used to say in Washington, DC, in those days just after 9/11: “Lord, if this is my day to die, let me do it with faith and courage.”

It wasn’t so bad during the hurricane, but at one point I looked out the window and watched as a giant tree toppled toward my side of the street, missing my daughter’s car by inches.  It made me gulp, and think about how vulnerable we are, how quickly the flame of our fragile lives can be snuffed out.  I survived the storm, but according to this morning’s newspaper at least 20 people didn’t.  What were they thinking in those last seconds of earthly life?

When the earthquake came it took me a full fifteen seconds to figure out what it was.  At first I thought someone was pushing a heavy cart across the floor above me, but as the rumble grew deeper and the building began to shake I knew that couldn’t be it.  When I saw the light fixture begin to swing back and forth I thought, “This is an earthquake!” and at first all I felt was wonder.  I’d never been in an earthquake before (“So this is what it’s like!”).  But then I realized that the floor above me could fall on top of me, crush me and kill me, and that’s when I began to pray. 

It seems to be my instinct, in such “moments of mortality,” to make my peace with God, to make sure that things are OK between us in case I should find myself suddenly standing before him.  But then, in the next second, my mind reaches out toward the people I love, toward friends and family, making sure that things are OK between us in case I should die before I have a chance to say “I’m sorry.” 

Is this why Jesus said that the greatest commandment is to love God and others?  Did he know better than most of us just how fragile life is, how quickly it can end, and how important it is to tend and nurture our most important relationships?  Because an earthquake could come, a tree could fall, and you might not have time in that “moment of mortality” to make your peace with God or say you’re sorry to others. 

Maybe that’s why it felt so right to go to church yesterday morning, after the storm—to spend some time with God and others—to make my peace and say my prayers and hug some people who are dear to me and who need to know it.  If those moments of mortality serve no other purpose they serve that one: they help us remember what matters most.  And for that, among other things, I am grateful.

It’s going to be a beautiful day today.  The forecast calls for partly cloudy skies and a high of 83 degrees. 

If I’m not careful, I’ll forget everything I learned.

3 thoughts on “Surviving the Hurriquake

  1. As I watched the Sunday, August 28th service live, via the Internet, in addition to finding being able to do that a blessing, I found your quotation of Psalm 46 and your sermon to be a blessing as well. Thank you. May God bless and protect us all! AMEN!

  2. In his blog, Jim Somerville, pastor of First Baptist Church, Richmond reflected on some of his learnings in light of the recent earthquake and hurricane. ( I liked what he wrote, but I especially liked the last sentence: “If I’m not careful, I’ll forget everything I learned.”

    I am amazed by some of the theological interpretations given to the meaning of natural disasters. These wild versions of what went wrong seem to happen every time. Jim’s learnings had more to do with being reminded of the fragility of our lives and what it is that matters most–loving God and one another. Now that makes sense to me.

    Other “interpretations” do not, especially when coming from religious spokesmen who seem to have missed the Sunday School lesson in the third grade which taught that God is not out to get us. If God gets really mad at us, and uses hurricanes and earthquakes to punish us, we’re all in trouble. Such an angry, vindictive God would make me far more nervous than the scariest weather forecast. Imagine turning on your TV to get the latest forecast and hearing: “The east coast is in danger, because God is really mad tonight!”

    How many of us would take such a forecast seriously? Yet, these post-disaster pronouncements get reported by the media as if worthy of our time.

    Hey, I’ll just say it. God does not use earthquakes and hurricanes as weapons!

    Jim is so right. If we’re not careful, we will forget everything we have learned. We can so easily forget everything we have learned about God and fall into the jaws of superstition and fear. I started to say we fall into childlike thinking, but that would be an insult to our children. They know better. Somewhere along the way, as our lives get buffeted by winds and rain, we forget what we knew.

    I cannot think of a better commercial for regular worship among a congregation that has become a community for spiritual nurture and continued learning. We need each other’s help in remembering. Worship is remembering the Goodness of God, the Love of God, the Presence of God. Worship is remembering the face of God that we see in the life of Jesus.

    Is this the face of an angry Zeus who throws thunderbolts in anger, a god who makes the earth shake just because he can?

    Goodness, no.

    God so loved the world. God so loves the world…and don’t ever forget it.

  3. Thank you, Jim, for another wonderful post. I always enjoy your insights (whether via blog or sermons) and can very much connect with this entry as I, too, experienced my first earthquake and survived the hurricane (with many prayers during a sleepless night while hearing the wind whipping & trees falling).

    While reading this particular entry (your last line especially), I was reminded of a saying (a motto of sorts) that came to mind after losing 4 people within 4 years; these people varied in age (almost 90 to just-turned 9) & cause of death (age-related, senseless murder, and sudden/unexpected heart issue). It was during this time in my life that I had one of those “morality moments” & this saying came to mind:
    “Never take for granted a person’s presence in this world…”

    It was eventually expanded to: “Never take for granted a person’s presence in this world… Tell them how much they mean to you; learn from them all you can, while you can; and in all you do keep growing, smiling, and shining, glorifying God, the Creator who gives life everlasting.”

    Now, if I’m honest with myself, I don’t live by this motto as much or as well as I should. But thank you for the reminder – because I’m often not care & do easily forget what I’ve learned.

    Blessings to you as you continue in your ministry.

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