By Kevin Collison
Thou rushing wind that art so strong,
Ye clouds that sail in heav’n along,
O praise Him! Alleluia!
Hurricane Irma left a gallon of water in my bedroom, blown through an older aluminum window through the night, and some downed limbs in my yard. I don’t have a chainsaw, but a handsaw was all I needed to deal with the largest of them. The luck of my draw has me giving thanks and plotting blessing.
I plot blessing because I don’t believe in the lazy kind of blessing that sits back and says God calmed the storm and spared me. Such a twisted view of God’s providence implies the blessing offered me is denied those around me. I have neighbors, near and far, to whom Irma has not been kind. Harvey before Irma. Many others before them. So I plot.
God is a plotter. And God is a blesser. God’s been in the blessing business longer than anyone and knows how to go about it better than most. There are fantastic organizations working to rescue and redeem right now. I think even they—or especially they—would tell you what makes the difference is people. People giving, people volunteering, people rescuing, people serving. The divine story unfolding from the Jewish and Christian Scriptures shows this is God’s strategy, for better or worse: plotting blessing through people.
“Now the Lord said to Abram, ‘Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing.’“ (Genesis 12:1-2, CEB)
As far as strategies go, the one revealed here strikes us as incredibly naive. No destination, no map, no processes in place, no partnerships along the way. Just people, and some animals, going from one place to another. And a promise. I’ll bless you… and you’ll bless others. The plot of Genesis privileges this promise as the greatest power in people’s lives. The disruptive promise of God brings blessing to people, not our Babel-building fantasies of stability and safety.
I felt a sense of blessing as I was carting those wind-blown limbs across my yard and tossing them into a pile. My phone was still inside. For a pastor after a disaster, this realization prompted an immediate urge to go and fetch it, in case it was ringing with need. But then a sabbath moment dawned. I pushed back the urge to be needed by my phone, and understood that I was needed by my yard at the moment. The Garden of Eden it ain’t, but I am it’s caretaker. This is part of my calling, too. The air was cool; the birds were singing. I found blessing in the work.
That’s when the bells started ringing, from St. Catherine’s down the road. They pealed out “All Creatures of Our God and King.” I thought how, not so long ago, the church was the center of a community, and the church told people what time it was. Then that job fell to governments (think Big Ben), then to banks (clocks on Main Street), then to pocket watches (I can tell the time fine by myself, thank you) and now to phones like the one I had left inside. It’s easy to think that I’m an individual in our world today.
Until a hurricane comes and reminds us: we are all creatures of our God and King. We cannot shelter ourselves in our own little kingdoms, nor can we build a kingdom separate and safe from the ravages of nature (search “Richard Branson Hurricane Irma” if you have doubts). We are all creatures—created in the image of a God whose kingdom does not come through wealth, technology, engineering, insurance, or evacuation to other planets. We are here together. We might want to think together about what living here really requires of us.
St. Francis believed deeply in the creatureliness of human beings, and this was no insult, because he also believed in the sacredness of all creaturely life. He even called the rushing winds to join the songs of heaven! Hurricanes and other natural disasters serve as terrible reminders that none of us are the gods we imagine ourselves to be. We do not have the power to avert disaster. We may indeed now possess the power to amplify such disasters, through fueling our own needs and ignoring the planet we share with so much life. This is all under debate, I understand. It seems that is a debate we should resolve together, and soon.
Meanwhile, we plot blessing. We go to those in need and offer our help. Sure, some sit on the sidelines and say little more than, “should have had flood insurance!” or “that’s what red states deserve!” But God is stirring so many compassionate hearts to help. We saw it in Texas. We’re seeing it in Florida, too. I get excited as a pastor, because some people don’t even know it’s God doing the stirring. There are holy conversations to be had in the midst of suffering.
So we go. Blessed to be a blessing. Along the way, here and there a spectacular song comes into earshot, sung by a groaning creation. I’ve heard it. It begins with “All creatures of our God and King…” But wait until you hear how it ends. You’ve never heard an “Alleluia” quite like it.
Kevin Collison serves as the pastor of Island View Baptist Church in Orange Park, Fla.