By Rev. Joan Kessler
The image we chose for this Sunday’s storm theme is a magnificent one. It is a satellite view of a hurricane churning its way over the ocean, making its way towards the continent. A storm such as this comes to be over the warm ocean waters combining with moist, humid air. When this air flows upwards and encounters an area of low pressure, the water is released from the air forming clouds. As the rising takes place, the storm begins to rotate. The faster the windspeed, the greater the chance a storm evolves from a tropical cyclone into a full-blown hurricane. I suspect some of you here this morning have been on the ground in places where hurricanes have occurred.
When I was studying in Halifax in the summer of 2014, a weakened Hurricane Arthur made its way through Nova Scotia as a post-tropical depression. I was relieved and disappointed all at the same time. As a prairie girl, I was excited and terrified to consider the experience of such a storm. Student friends and I were out for our regular Saturday morning breakfast that day in early July and the rain came down in massive sheets and the wind began to pick up. Our college’s dormitory where we lived lost power and tree branches littered the property. Even though I didn’t get my hurricane experience I did have a new appreciation for these forces of nature, of living next to the ocean. And my classmates and I were just grateful for the community we shared and that we could weather the storm together. But I am sad to say that Storm chips had not yet been invented. ☹
Climate change is being cited as the reason hurricanes have become more intense. And we don’t have to live in the Atlantic region to know that storms are becoming more volatile. We can vividly recall last November’s flooding and landslides and highway closures that the communities of Hope and Chilliwack and Abbotsford experienced. The total price tag of the cleanup from that storm came in around $9 billion dollars. We learned the new weather term atmospheric river and the sustained periods of heavy rain this would bring. People travelling the between the interior and the coast found themselves stranded alongside highways and in communities along the way because of road closures. It was an intense time to be in BC those days following the storm. Grocery store shelves began to empty and gas was rationed in some communities. Construction crews worked 24/7 to get the Coquihalla reopened. These new storms are becoming an expensive way of life, from both an environmental and humanitarian standpoint. In Canada alone, extreme weather events are projected to cost the economy $139 billion over the next 30 years.
This morning’s short story from Luke’s gospel is all about a storm. One day Jesus got into a boat with his disciples and said, “Let’s cross over to the other side of the lake.” Nothing out of the ordinary here, they were fishermen after all, and were experienced navigators on the water. But this ordinary outing had life threatening consequences. A storm came over them, the boat was tossed about, the disciples and feared they would be swept away. Jesus, asleep, was seemingly unaware of the storm’s unfolding. The disciples woke him up and Peter chastised Jesus that he didn’t seem to care that they were perishing… “come on Jesus, we need your help here!” The only words Jesus shares in this story are, “Where is your faith?” The winds die down, the rains stop, the sea returns to calm once again.
I do not hear Jesus’ question as a criticism… that Peter is lacking in something. No. I think Jesus was asking Peter to look within himself and reminds him that he is enough. By asking “Why are you so afraid?”, Jesus wants his disciples to explore their own minds and notice the causes and origins of their fear. He wanted them to separate out the fear of the natural effects of the stormy seas from their spiritual beings. To draw on trust; to remember that they are not alone in the boat.
What resonated with me this week as I heard Peter demand of Jesus his care and attention to their peril, was that Peter wanted someone to notice his fear and his suffering. Sometimes, we just want somebody to notice us. That is nothing to feel ashamed of or be chastised for. Jesus wants Peter to recognize that he is not in the boat alone. He has the strength of others to draw upon. He has a resiliency about himself that will take him to the other side, to find peace in the midst of turmoil. Crossing over to something that transforms us can be a scary prospect indeed.
I have been reflecting this week on how gathered life is weathering some choppy seas as we determine what to do about the pandemic we have experienced and how to come across to the other side of it. It can feel at times like we are a bit stuck between coming back together as we once did and honoring our sacrifices that we have made to keep one another safe and healthy. I listened to a podcast the other day with Priya Parker, an author, conflict resolution facilitator and community gatherer. She spoke of going to an annual event, or annual in the times before COVID, and described the attempt of the hosts to use the same template as in years previous.
Parker noticed that the old way of gathering didn’t acknowledge the different place the world has become the past two years. We doubt, we second-guess, we cancel, we reschedule. What are the expectations around wearing masks? Do we mandate them? Do we provide choice? And this just sort of summed up my week as we discern what to do about our gathered life, the value we place on the Zoom but also the quality of a worshipful, spiritual experience and our longing to be together as one body again.
Priya Parker observed that gathering together is just a bit of a mess at the moment. And rather than pretending it is not a mess and being far from your community and your people, community is actually opening up and saying “what a mess” and “welcome to this mess” and “I want to be in this mess with you”. Because naming the mess honors our transformation of coming through the storms of the past two years… storms of illness, storms of senseless violence, storms of economic uncertainty. And yet, these events change us. Storms challenge the status quo. Storms reveal what is most important to us. Storms draw us together as community. They shouldn’t pull us apart.
Mary Oliver’s poem Hurricane which Adam shared with us earlier, speaks to noticing the effects of the storm. The leaves giving up and falling back into the earth… but with a little time, something begins to happen. As the summer wore on, the damaged trees now push new leaves from their stubbed limbs. Regrowth, regeneration happened with a little time and putting aside assumptions about how things are supposed to happen and in the right season. There are no wrong seasons for growth, and this is what Oliver dreams for herself as she recovers from a particular stormy period of her own life. That whatever life hands her, she leans into these resurrection moments of transformation and rebirth. She waits and she watches and she notices.
We must not trivialize the moments and sometimes long seasons of personal strife and tumult that we all experience living a life. What Jesus’ example teaches us is that we are not alone. That it is all right to ask for help, to want our storm to be noticed. As a gathered community discerning what life together looks like having come through isolation and illness and mandates, as a community that is living in more than one space, what does it mean to live into this story? What does it mean to notice those who are struggling? What calm can we bring? What stories do we need to share and talk about how we have been changed. I look forward to this boat ride and conversation together with you. May peace find you this day and always. Amen.