Waiting for the Storm

“There’s a storm coming, and it’s not a storm of our making.”

— Neil Gaiman, American Gods

This morning, when I woke up, I checked the news. Hurricane Irma is pounding Key West. But the projected path of the storm has changed overnight. Now it looks it will head farther west, and when it lumbers inland and becomes a tropical storm, it probably will pass to the west of Atlanta.

Hurricane Irma, September 9, 2017. Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project
Hurricane Irma, September 9, 2017.
Credits: NASA/NOAA GOES Project

It’s bad news for my brother and sister-in-law, who live in the Tampa area — although they are far enough inland that they were not in an evacuation zone, and they’re hunkered down and should be safe. But it’s definitely good news for Atlanta.

The last time Atlanta welcomed a hurricane — I believe it was Opal, in 1995 — the storm passed through overnight, and in the morning we awoke to a city with felled trees everywhere and massive power outages. Fran, Rhiannon & I were living in an apartment at the time, and we went without electricity for almost a week.

(I am writing this blog post on Sunday, which normally I would not do so until Monday or Tuesday, just in case we end up with an outage again this time).

Losing power is a small price to pay, compared to those whose homes are flooded or destroyed by the relentless power of the storm — or who suffer even greater losses. Texas is still reeling from Hurricane Harvey, while islands in the Caribbean like Barbuda have experienced unimaginable devastation.

Yet even when what’s at stake seems relatively small, there is a humility in waiting for the storm.

Contemplation is a prayer of waiting.

“For God alone, my soul waits in silence,” remarks Psalm 62. Jesus recommended keeping vigil as an essential prayer practice, and monks have been trying to obey that directive for centuries now.

But we usually think of contemplative waiting in a happy way: waiting for God, waiting for deliverance, waiting for healing, waiting for a blessing. We wait with anticipation, like a child waits for the coming of Santa.

But life is not so tidy.

Sometimes we must wait for something dangerous, or risky, or scary. We wait for test results from the lab, or for notification from the home office about who is getting laid off. And every hurricane season, we wait for the storm, as it churns across the Atlantic or the Gulf at its maddening 4 MPH speed (if only the winds in the storm moved so slowly!).

What does it mean to pray a prayer of waiting, when what we await is not something we wish to receive?

First, comes honesty. Think of Jesus, waiting for God on that terrible Thursday night, just before he was arrested. “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me; yet not what I want but what you want” (Matthew 26:29). When we don’t want something, or don’t want to do something, what else is there but to tell God to God’s face?

Ah, but isn’t contemplation a wordless prayer? Of course it is. But offering a few words by way of introduction never hurt.

So we tell God the truth. We say if we’re scared, or if we’re angry, or anxious, or whatever might be arising. And God responds with a loving silence, which means ultimately we have to end our prayer of lament and complaint the same way Jesus ended his: “yet not what I want but what you want.”

Then comes the tricky part.

We wait. And hopefully, we find some way to trust, in the midst of the waiting.

Trusting in God won’t make the storm go away. But I think it’s a healthier way to pray than blustering about like some backwoods preacher shouting out “In the name of Jesus I command this storm to depart!” (I’m from the south. Believe me, there are people who pray like that).

Julian of Norwich reminds us in her Revelations of Divine Love that “the Lord God is the ground of our praying” — and when it comes to prayer and trust, “God wants us to be generous in both alike.” So when we’re waiting for something we don’t want to happen, let’s wait with silence, and try to be as trusting of God as we can, in the midst of the waiting.

And as for generous prayer: please join with me in praying for those whose lives have been, or are being, disrupted by any natural disaster. You can also put prayer into action by supporting the Red Cross.

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