Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bugs Should Be Kept Out of the Wilderness Area

It snowed this week. And it snowed. And it snowed. And it snowed.

And we didn't even get half of what some of the areas around us got. As has been true all winter long, the path of the storm went south of us, so we were on the edge of it. But even so, it was the biggest storm of this winter, and it was wet and heavy. Mike, our groundsman, worked all day long for several days, and often into the night as well, just keeping our driveway clear so that guests could come and go.

And it is very beautiful. It is majestic. Looking out of the refectory at the River, and the hills, and the mountains beyond, all covered in deep snow and muffled from sound by the depth of the snowpack is breathtaking. And as always, when I am presented with the majesty of our surroundings my sense of awe and wonder is awakened, and because that sense is so involved in spiritual response, my prayer leaps up easily and naturally as I watch this wondrous sight.

But all this happens with some sense of ambiguity. I am captivated. But I am also aware that tens of thousands of people not far from here have no electricity and no heat and some of them are suffering bitterly from the cold. Because of our work in some of the local shelters members of the community know personally several people who sleep under bridges, and it's hard for me to even imagine what these nights have been like for them. And the storm has inconvenienced and endangered countless people in all kinds of ways. The power of nature is a two-edged sword. I'm very aware that I view the beauty of the storm through a nicely tinted plate glass window. And I'm warm.

Nature is often admired most by people who are most protected from it. The reality that stalking and killing are the primary fabric of most of the life around me is something I think of only intermittently. Violence and destruction of life are a daily ho-hum part of the forest that stretches up and down the riverside. I took the title of this post from a story of one of the wilderness areas maintained by the United States Forest Service. At the exit from the area there are pamphlets and maps and some forms where people can write down their comments and suggestions. One of the suggestions received not too long ago read: "Bugs should be kept out of the Wilderness Area." We like our wilderness without wildness. Or inconvenience. Or scratching. It is more beautiful that way.

More importantly, these reflections come at the time when a lot of the world's attention is fixed on Haiti and Chile. What do we have to say about the natural forces that produced the destruction of earthquakes? And what do we have to say about our sense of God in the midst of destruction?

One very common reaction is that such events are evidence that there is no God. "I could run the world better than this". Countless church programs in the days immediately after the quake in Haiti took the topic: "Where is God in what happened in Haiti?", as though our religious beliefs have no place for God in a world where earthquakes happen.

Well, it's a complicated issue, and I won't pretend otherwise. But I will just point out that our Scriptures are a bit more encompassing than we often are. They tend to make room for the human sense of awe in the worst of disasters. Take Psalm 29 for instance. The Psalm pictures God as riding "on the wings of the storm." It describes a great storm sweeping over the Mediterranean area and pounding its way ashore, crashing over the mountains and beating down the forests. The storm roars with thunder and lightning, which the Psalmist describes as "The Voice of the Lord", when he says: "The voice of the Lord is a powerful voice; the voice of the Lord is a voice of splendor." And at the end of the Psalm he wraps things up after all this power and destruction by saying: "And in the temple of the Lord all are crying, 'Glory.'" And if "all" are crying glory, that has to include the people who suffered destruction and loss in the storm that this Psalm describes.

Is there any room in us for crying 'Glory' in the face of Chile and Haiti?

It's a big question for people of our century. But the people who lived in the days in which our scriptures were written were no less sensible of the destruction and havoc caused by natural forces than we are. That's clear if you read the verses of lament and the questionings of faith that the Psalms present over and over. They had all the questions that we have. But they seem also to have had a larger capacity than we do for a sense of awe at the display of nature's raw power.

It's part of our way of looking at things that we expect that raw power to be muted and we expect to be protected from it. That's what the world means to us, and our building codes and our public services are all mobilized in harmony with these expectations. And it effects our view of God, too. We expect God to be the ultimate protector. And we wonder if there could be a God if we're not protected.

But it's an embarrassing reality that whatever our ideas and our systems may be, God is always going to be greater than our ideas. That's what it means to be finite and to have an infinite God, after all. Whatever we think things SHOULD be like, God is always acting in ways that transcend our expectations. We often find this incomprehensible. Sometimes we find it hurtful.

I also think we need to make room for crying 'Glory' in the face of a God we periodically cannot understand. I try to practice it when the lightning strikes on the hillside between us and the river. That's raw power - having a lightening bolt in your back yard - and we get them on a regular basis. My natural reaction is always alarm and fear, and sometimes anger or even terror. But I also try, as soon as my body has settled the least bit, to turn and inwardly cry 'Glory'.

This doesn't make me any less sensible of the damage that lightning inflicts, nor does it tame my sense of grief and outrage and compassion for the people of Haiti and Chile, nor my need to reach out in whatever way I can. Far from it. But it does keep me in touch with the reality that, as God says in the Book of the Prophet Isaih: "My ways are not your ways, and my thoughts are not your thoughts."

God can be my Comforter, my Consoler, my Companion and my Friend. God is all these things to me. God is also my Challenger, and the one who regularly calls me to outrageous things completely our of my expectations.

God is now, and always will be, totally beyond my ideas of who God is. My life proves that.


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