Tuesday, July 1, 2014


Eastern Sunset, Chicago, IL
Storm Cloud, Chicago, IL
Light Show, Chicago, IL

I’ve observed that life in the Carolinas doesn’t normally involve the excitable anticipation of violent storms like those I’ve experienced in the Midwest. The more prevalent ice storms that wreak havoc on trees and electrical lines cause a lot of damage and inconvenience, but they arrive as a slow layering of light frozen rain. Watching an approaching bank of storm clouds over Lake Michigan near Chicago rekindled my memories of those nights of imminent danger, as threatening bands of thunderstorms spawning destructive tornados moved through my homeland in Kansas. It was always an adventure to count the seconds between a jagged lightning strike and the deep rolling thunder that followed to count the dwindling number of miles that separated us from the approaching menace of nature’s wrath.

The storm moving over Lake Michigan reminded me of the 1975 wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald on Lake Superior, or as the native Chippewa called it, Gitche Gumee. Strong winds and waves were said to have capsized the ship as all twenty nine hands on board perished that fateful night. The disaster inspired Gordon Lightfoot to write one of the most famous story songs ever recorded. And the echoes of those lyrics reminded me of the Gospel story of Jesus calming the storm on the Sea of Galilee or Lake Gennesaret.

James Martin, a Franciscan priest, spent the majority of his life as a spiritual director. As he stands on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, he recalls that “this story of the stilling of the storm is by far the most helpful for people going through difficult times”. Jesus had been preaching all day from a fishing boat to better reach the crowds on the shoreline. He was exhausted and asks his disciples to sail the boat to ‘the other side’. Evening was approaching on the lake when the conditions were ripe for storms. Martin mentions that the dramatic difference in temperatures between the shoreline at 680 feet below sea level and the surrounding hills which can reach 2,000 feet generate strong winds funneling through the hills, whipping up high waves in the relatively shallow waters of only 200 feet.

The disciples find they are caught in the middle of a dark storm at sea and are understandably afraid, while Jesus lies on a cushion in the stern of the boat engaged in untroubled sleep. They wake him up and ask “do you not care that we are perishing”? Jesus rises, rebukes the wind and says to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” A great calm instantly falls over the lake, as even the wind and the sea obeyed him. Martin concludes that “everyone faces stormy times, when God’s presence is hard to perceive. One of the most common struggles in the spiritual life is a feeling of God’s absence in painful times…Perhaps because when we are struggling, we tend to focus on the area of pain”.

When the lightning flashes, the thunder rolls across the land, the winds howl through the bending trees and the waves break over the ship’s bow, we can still be assured of calm seas as we seek the safety of the other side. Because all we ever need to focus on is His ultimate authority over all creation and His promise to be with us always.

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