In Times of Flood and other natural disasters . . .
As I write this, the sun is shining, the humidity has dropped, the temperatures are moderate, the birds are singing, there is a gentle breeze. That is quite a contrast to our most recent experience with over 10 inches of rain falling on already saturated soil and full rivers.
The result of those storms was severe flooding. Lives were lost. Livelihoods were threatened. The power, and yes the beauty, of the rushing waters brought our busy schedules to a momentary pause. They also allow us to connect our most recent experience to our spiritual lives.
Photo sharing through social media allowed us to see what was happening. That photography served as a deterrent warning us os where not to drive. They also were a stark reminder that the flooding was no respecter of persons, class, economic standing, religious beliefs. The water just rose and our human response was empathy for those in the flooding’s path.
I wonder why it takes trouble for us to get beyond our firmly held prejudices (of all kinds) and see people are in need. We didn’t have time for hate or judgment because we were filling that space with compassion. The word “compassion” has as its root the meaning “suffer with”. The dictionary definition reads compassion: sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others. We have just had an experience where we exercised our capacity for compassion.
The choice now becomes do we put our ability to be compassionate on the shelf in favor of our propensity to be judgmental, vindictive, cruel, or dismissive of huge swaths of the world’s population? Do we return to a box where we claim our own superiority over others? Do we build a wall of exclusion and say “so what?” to everyone else? (And no, I’m not even talking about our southern border. We build walls of exclusion right in our own communities.)
The other choice is to claim our ability to be compassionate and live that quality out in our lives. Of course that choice is also choosing to live by the example set by Jesus. Discipleship by its very nature means learning to live the compassionate life. Living the compassionate life includes our attentiveness to all those places where others suffer. We should not be able to hear the news reports of children being separated from their parents without feeling pain in our hearts and a desire to stand up for the children. We should not be able to hear of children being gunned down in their schools without feeling pain in our heart over their vulnerability. We should not be able to hear of people of color being targeted because of the color of their skin without feeling a pain in our hearts. We should not be able to hear of women being exploited without feeling a pain in our hearts.
To live a compassionate life is to feel pain for the sufferings of others.
Our response to the pain is not to ignore it, or cover it with our favorite “tonic”. Our response is to pray, yes, but prayer always involves us. God doesn’t just wave magic wands. God touches our hearts and our minds with ways we can be part of the solution.
We just experienced some severe flooding. Now those prayers become action as we alleviate the immediate needs of those caught in the rush of waters. Then our prayers become action as we look at zoning and development and the impact on the earth. We look at proposals for pipelines that promise to deliver economic benefits at the expense of environmental integrity. Our prayers become actions when we see those who suffered in the flooding as companions on our journey in life.
I don’t believe God gave us the flooding to teach us a lesson. But I do know that we can learn from experiences such as the flooded waters of the Potomac, Shenandoah, and Rappahannock. We can learn to set aside our self-driven lives and take on the cloak of compassion. And when we do, we will discover we are walking in the footsteps of Jesus.
Grace and Peace,