It takes about an hour for me to drive from my home in North Plainfield to Hamilton Square. On one of these drives I was listening to the news on NPR and I couldn’t take it anymore. I shut the radio off and asked the Lord, “How do you deal with this on a daily basis?”
It is 10:46 AM of Monday, October 29, 2012, as I begin to write this post in between phone calls as I join Dr. Spitzer and Rev. Mattson in calling our coastal churches for ongoing updates. At midnight tonight, Hurricane Sandy will make landfall on our shores over Atlantic City. We have an ABCNJ church right in the path of the storm's eye, Seaview Baptist Church in Linwood, where Rev. Dr. Frank Reeder is pastor. We in the region staff are very concerned as we think especially of all our coastal churches and congregations in harm's way. In the 25 plus years that I now have lived in the Philadelphia/NJ areas, I could not recall our region being hit directly by a hurricane - ever. As a serious photography hobbyist, I grabbed my camera gear when I got home after my Sunday assignment yesterday,and drove around my neighborhood in the Florence-Hedding area to capture what I think would be the last visible colors of autumn, mindful that Hurricane Sandy will strip bare all of the trees in the state by Wednesday. I placed that photo album on my FLICKR account which you can access by clicking on the link below, and I named it "Autumn Before the Tempest", a thought and feeling of seeming contradiction that came upon me as I was taking the photos at that moment - here i was, marveling at the beauty of God's creation in the colors of autumn and at the same time, in a matter of hours, knowing it will all be stripped bare by one of nature's most awesome displays of power. You can see more images on my flickr stream.
One of the existential spaces where I find myself dwelling constantly with great curiosity and wonder is right at the intersection of science and faith. Many of us know that hurricanes (cyclones and typhoons in other oceanic venues) are enormous atmospheric heat engines that generate energy on a massive scale. They are fed by warm, moist ocean air and release their staggering load of moisture through thunderstorms and wind. Yet science tells us that these storms have a necessary purpose in our ecosystem, restoring balance in our dynamic atmosphere. Even in the destruction it wreaks in its path, nature is regenerated.
Then humans happen to be in the way! It is hard to make sense of this when it is seen in the context of potential harm that nature's displays of power can do to persons. How do we reconcile the innate, generative purpose of storms and tempests to the balance of nature, with the destruction and loss of lives that take place in their wake? Could it be an anthropological inevitability of survival that human civilization has naturally concentrated along our coastal shores which are the natural doorways of storms and tempests?
Now we have satellite eyes that give us a view of these storms from space. Just look at the incredible photo of Hurricane Ivan on the left provided by NASA. With this fantastic advance in science, we have unprecedented information to warn and alert us to seek safety before the storms hit, and to prepare, and to get out of the way and let nature do what it is meant to do. We need to do our part, heed the emergency instructions that our disaster responders are giving so that we can minimize damage to life and property.
And then those of us who believe that God is the God of the cosmos, and that Jesus in whom the fullness of God is pleased to dwell, is the one who stills the storms - with this appreciation of the wonder, beauty and symmetry of nature, I can - still - embrace the audacious proclamation of that great hymn, "Summer and winter, and springtime and harvest; sun, moon and stars in their courses above, join with all nature in manifold witness to thy great faithfulness, mercy and love!"