Friday, September 6, 2019

The Crucifier's Prayer

For the past week, the reports and images have come through, day after day.  It made a peculiarly appropriate backdrop to my writing lately, as I work my way through a manuscript exploring the Christian response to climate change.

What was initially forecast to be a minor tropical system, one that would dissipate after crossing the mountains of Hispaniola?  It blossomed into a monster, a beast of a storm, one bearing winds and surge that meant that once again we would be hearing the words "historic" and "catastrophic."

The forecast, twitchy and uncertain, seemed for a while to plant the storm squarely across the peninsula of Florida, as our machine-minds projected out likely scenarios, calculating and recalculating the probabilities using wildly complicated mathematical modeling.

But for all of our models, the storm did what it did, growing fiercer than we'd predicted, and lingering over a Bahamanian paradise for over a day, meting out destruction layered on top of destruction.  We who are now used to watching storm chasers stream video and locals putting up videos were left momentarily blinded, unable to peer into winds that were more than twice the power of that derecho that tore through our area a few years back.

When it finally passed, at its own monstrous leisure, it left a paradise as a ruin.

Why?  It is our human nature to wonder at the reason for things, particularly events that make us recoil in horror.  In our desire for control we want to assign blame to the suffering, or to celebrate the deliverance of the righteous, particularly if we happen to have escaped this time out.  But storms do what they do, on their scale and not ours.  God makes the rain fall on the righteous and the unrighteous alike, as Jesus reminded us in the Sermon on the Mount.  Tragedy befalls both the kind and the cruel.

Against this, we wish to have power.  We want our selves, our communities, our nation, to have power.  To prosper.  So we pray from our ego.  We pray from our desire for the integrity of our material selves.

But what are my prayers, against the storm?  What is the purpose of such a prayer?  Unlike a prayer for healing, or a prayer for a change of heart, a prayer that calls for a storm to turn from us has implications beyond ourselves.

Am I to proclaim with joy that I am certain my prayers stalled a storm elsewhere, so that I and my property might be spared while others know terror and ruin instead?  Am I to declare that the Creator of the Universe favors my safety over the life of a terrified child, torn from the arms of their father, water filling their lungs as they are swept into oblivion?

Let them suffer, that I may not, we cry to the heavens.  Take them instead, we cry. 

This is the prayer of the crucifier.  I may ask for deliverance, being a human and finite creature.  I will certainly give thanks for life and being when it comes.  But I am not the center of things.  There are times, my Master taught, when the cross will come to me, and I must take it up and bear it.  It can mean loss of everything this world offers, life included.

It seems like a thing that any disciple of Jesus would know.

What Jesus calls us to is not to live ever removed from tragedy.  What matters is how we respond to those events that shake our lives, or leave the lives of others in ruin.  For our own moments of brokenness and mortality, we're reminded to remain resilient, to place our hope and trust in a God who transcends us infinitely.  Where we see our neighbor struggling, we're called to stand fast in compassion, helping as we can, seeing their suffering as our own, remaining all the while strong in our sympathy.

No matter how often these storms rise or how they affect us, our ethical ground remains the same.

And as our world grows harsher and harder, that's a ground that will be tested.