Interceding in and after the Storm
By Taylor Burton-Edwards
Like the Lisbon earthquake of 1755, Hurricane (SuperStorm) Sandy raises or should raise huge theological questions.
And therefore equally huge questions about what it means to pray.
Did God send this storm? If so, why? Is it to punish The United States and Canada for something? If so, for what? Is it judgment on the rich? On the oil companies and other fossil fuel producers and users whose products contribute to global warming? If so, how could this storm be so indiscriminate in the destruction it brought? Are "Acts of God" intended to generate "collateral damage" on such a massive scale? If so, is God less just that human Just War principles?
If so, why pray or place any hope in a God so capriciously destructive?
Or maybe we believe God is not so directly involved in "natural" events. Maybe these events just happen, and whether God can or cannot do anything about them, God generally doesn't. Pace some televangelists, if the hurricane is coming, get out of the way! It's coming. No amount or type of praying will change that. If people are hungry, feed them. Don't expect God to do what you can find a way to do.
If so, why pray or even bother with a God who cannot or will not protect us?
But what if God's interest and power are not known in cataclysmic events, any more than Elijah heard the voice of God in the fire or the whirlwinds or the earthquake, but rather in the sheer silence that followed. What if God's interest and power, God's voice, is known precisely in relationship with us? What if God is Love, the face of Love, the voice of Love, the power of Love, present, abiding, waiting, always.
If so, prayer becomes a very different thing than reciting, asking or pleading for what we want or wish. Nor is prayer a kind of ritual or spiritual power-play to convince God to act. Perhaps it is more like a spiritual détente, like Job with his questions. Perhaps at times it is more like surrender. Perhaps the heart of intercession is holding what we love before the gaze of Love, sometimes daring, sometimes longing, sometimes fearing, sometimes doubting, but always expecting what Love may do.
Sometimes, as with Elijah in the sheer silence, Love asks things of us. "What are you doing here?," God asked the prophet. "There is work for you to do, too, so get about it, and do it well. You can do it. You are not alone."
Perhaps those in search and rescue, those who assess damage, those who reassure children and adults, those who care for the weak and wounded, those who bury the dead, those who make sure the funds and resources get where they need to go as efficiently as possible, those who clear roads or repair fallen power lines, those who fix what is broken, and those who build anew-- are all responding to the call of Love from the sheer silence, though not all know they do.
Sometimes, Love asks of us nothing but to hold what we love in Love's gaze. And wait. Or lift up another.
We may not know what Love may do. We may not see the life the Spirit quickens. We may not feel or perceive much of anything at all. It may just be sheer silence, truly a gift after such a storm. And in the silence the sense, "It is enough."
How will you intercede, individually and as congregations, for and with those whose lives have been marked by the SuperStorm, or any of life's storms? Words alone will fail, though we need them, too. But Love never fails.
How will your intercession today, this weekend, and in the weeks and years ahead enable you and your worshiping communities to lift up the myriad joys and sufferings of sisters, brothers, and fellow creatures before the Triune gaze of Love?