Today the theme of “storm” occupies our attention in our observance of Season of Creation. If you consider “storm” in the context of wild weather and changing climate, there’s a lot to contemplate. Last week our deacon Michael Van Dusen gave a powerful homily on the theme of “ocean.” He made the point that as ocean temperatures rise, the frequency of storms like hurricanes increases. A few days ago, Hurricane Fiona ravaged Puerto Rico. Halfway around the world, severe monsoon rains have brought deadly flooding to Pakistan. That country has a Minister of Climate Change—why doesn’t Canada have that?—who last month declared that one-third of all of Pakistan is under water. Other kinds of wild weather—storms of heat—are plaguing parts of the earth. California continues to be afflicted with severe heat and drought. The news agency Reuters recently reported that, just a couple of weeks ago, half the electricity generated by the California power grid was dependent on natural gas. Utterly unsustainable.
There are other kinds of storms that may not involve weather. Some of us are wearing orange shirts, which is a reminder of the enduring storm of the legacy of Indian Residential Schools. This coming Friday is the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, a dedicated time to consider our relationship to this land and to Indigenous peoples who have called this land home, long before any European “discovered” it. National Day for Truth and Reconciliation is also called Orange Shirt Day. We wear orange shirts to remember the story of Phyllis Webstad, a First Nations woman from British Columbia. In 1973, on her first day at a residential school near Williams Lake, she wore a shiny new orange shirt that her grandmother had bought for her. But the school officials immediately stripped her of the shirt and forced her into the school uniform. The orange shirt, which was a special gift from her grandmother, was never returned. This story is symbolic of the many ways that Indigenous children were stripped of their language, culture, spirituality and, indeed, their very lives. It’s a storm that has wreaked destruction, and Indigenous survivors continue to deal with the impact. The orange shirts that we’re wearing are a visible sign of our solidarity with all Indigenous people and a celebration of their reclamation of all that has been stolen from them.
There are other storms, too, that each of us faces—storms in our personal lives that are often not widely known. Storms in the workplace—difficult coworkers, an inflexible boss. Storms of burnout, or perhaps a sense of deep unfulfillment. There may be storms close to home in our families, such as spousal conflicts. Just in the last week my wife Alison and I learned that two different couples we’re close to are separating. I know of other families who are in turmoil because children and parents have come to see the world very differently, and they can no longer relate to each other. There are other storms around money and debt—too many bills to pay and not enough leftover. I should also mention storms of addiction, which often get covered and hidden so that no one else can know how bad things really are. And then there are storms of faith—doubt, spiritual apathy, disappointment with the church and its leaders. Or perhaps some of us are spiritually restless, desiring a more serious and engaged faith but not knowing how to explore that longing.
In today’s Gospel, we encounter Jesus and his followers in a vicious storm on the Sea of Galilee. Everyone is freaking out, fearing for their lives, anticipating their boat to capsize—except Jesus, who is quietly asleep in the lower part of the boat. I think there’s a lesson in that about the first stage of response to a storm. Yes, Jesus does eventually get up and confront the storm directly. But his first relationship to the storm is that of stillness and quietness. That’s how we, too, can discern how to face our storms; it’s also where we gather the strength to find our way through it all.
I want to do something a little different and give us all an opportunity to embrace silence by undertaking an examen as we consider the theme of “storm.” An examen is a form of prayer that Jesuits often use. It’s a quiet review of what is happening in our lives and a contemplation of how we might respond to what is happening. I have a singing bowl that I’m going to ring three different times to mark three moments of silence. Take the first moment to sit up straight, to breathe deeply, and to relish the stillness and quietness that is God’s peace. Then in the second moment of silence, acknowledge and name silently whatever storms you are facing. Finally, in the third moment of silence, consider how God might be leading you to take a risk, to trust more deeply, to walk more boldly through the storm. I will offer a collect after this third moment of silence.
[Three moments of silence.]
Let us pray:
Through the storms of life, O God, you walk in and among your people. Calm our fears and strengthen our faith that we may never doubt your presence. Give us grace that we may rest assured on your Son Jesus Christ’s promise that he is with us always, even to the end. Amen.