A Post-Hurricane Prayer

WIND AND WAVE: A view from the Jersey Shore in the midst of Irene. Photo by Christine A. Scheller.

What does one pray after a hurricane? After calamity, perhaps especially after calamity, we can pray as Jesus taught us. The Lord’s Prayer, which Jesus handed down to the disciples, is traditionally divided into seven petitions. We’ll take our cue from the church mothers and fathers, musing upon each petition in relation to Hurricane Irene.

 Hallowed be thy name

One wonders, agonizingly, where was God when Irene struck? Was God sleeping like a tired air traffic controller? Who, precisely, do we take God to be in such pervasive tragedy? As the questions fester, let us recall Psalm 88 — that roughhewn intonation of faith — begins by invoking God’s name, but concludes where many are now: “Trouble surrounds me and darkness is my only companion.”

Thy kingdom come

Irene strikes. Anxiety ensues. We await the arrival of the Red Cross. City agencies and civil sector groups provide support services with incomparable scale. We rightly await their coming. In another sense, however, we long for more. The brute fact of natural disasters compels us to moan — to groan with all of creation — sorrowfully anticipating God’s return, the parousia of Jesus our Christ.

Thy will be done

Most theologians draw some sort of distinction between God’s inviolable will and a more contingent plan. We ask — we plead even — that God’s perfect will be done. With the indignant spirit of Abraham we ask: will not the Judge of All Heaven and Earth do what is right? And with the simple profundity of a country Baptist preacher, we pray the Master’s “Peace be still” in the midst of the storm.

Give us this day our daily bread

We beseech God for daily bread, understanding that God beseeches us — summons us –to provide daily bread for our neighbors in need. Whether the medium is individual charity, congregational and institutional giving, or the public disbursement of disaster assistance, our prayer is same: may the post-Irene provision of bread be proportionate to the need.

Forgive us our sins, as we forgive

One temptation in every storm is to condemn those who stay behind. In our rush to impose conceptual order, we often obscure social disparities—forgetting that some citizens depend on public transportation, that the elderly need assistance, and that inmates, too, need an evacuation plan. Far be it from us to shrug our moral shoulders at those who either cannot or will not adhere to what they hear. If the moral life partly concerns the formation of good habits, and if we, in moments of lesser consequence, have failed to heed a clear summons or two, then we do well to extend the same grace to others. But for the grace of God, there go I.

Lead Us Not into Temptation

Temptation, in part, is the struggle to remember. In lack, to recall God’s provision. In Canaan, to remember Egypt. As the waters of Irene slowly recede, the cares of life set in, and, gradually, what was urgent becomes less important. May we remember the togetherness of strangers serving one another, and hold fast to images of first responders’ sacrificial service. May our memories, upon fingering the jagged edge of Irene, lead us to serve in times of natural disaster.

Deliver Us from Evil

Rev. William Sloane Coffin once remarked, “It is common to say that religion is a crutch. I always respond, ‘What makes you think you don’t have a limp?’ ” With his characteristic wit, Coffin suggests that our human condition is characterized by fragility. When we seek divine deliverance, we shatter the illusion that we are deliverers, that we can extricate ourselves from suffering altogether. Only the man of sorrows, who was tested at every point as we are, yet without sin, can do that. Once the mist of arrogance is removed from our eyes, a newfound freedom emerges to redeem the pain of misfortune and disaster.

Where Was God in Hurricane Irene?


A message for Hurricane Irene in Point Pleasant Beach, NJ

“Our storms have not yet been tamed. But our God has,” said Boston University Religion scholar Stephen Prothero at CNN’s Belief blog as Hurricane Irene made her way up the East Coast over the weekend.

“When the Great Colonial Hurricane raced up the east coast and lashed New England in August 1635, its 130 mph winds and 21-foot storm surge were almost universally viewed in supernatural rather than natural terms—as a judgment of God on the unfaithful,” he said.

Now, we generally view those (like Pat Robertson) who express such views as “cranks and outliers-relics of a bygone age” because the language of science has largely “routed” the language of theology when it comes to earthquakes and hurricanes, said Prothero.

As if right on cue, a campaign spokesperson for presidential candidate Michele Bachmann claimed her boss was joking Sunday when she suggested that Irene was sent to deliver a political punch. “I don’t know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians,” said Bachmann. “We’ve had an earthquake; we’ve had a hurricane. He said, ‘Are you going to start listening to me here?'”

“Video of Bachmann’s appearance in Florida shows that her remarks were delivered in at least something of a lighthearted way. If the campaign says she meant it as a joke, it’s a believable explanation. That does, though, raise the question of whether it’s appropriate for a presidential candidate and member of Congress to be joking about a major weather event that has already resulted in fatalities and extensive property damage, and isn’t over yet,” Politico’s Alexander Burns chided.

His is a good question six years after Hurricane Katrina unfurled her wrath on the Gulf Coast. The devestated Ninth Ward of New Orleans “still looks like a ghost town,” the Associated Press reported. “Redevelopment has been slow in coming, and the neighborhood has just 5,500 residents — one-third its pre-Katrina population.”

Nevertheless, there is citywide reason to celebrate.

“Entrepreneurship and civic engagement is up, city schools have shown test-score gains and the middle class is growing, according to a new report by the Greater New Orleans Community Data Center, a group tracking the city’s recovery. Even crime — still nearly twice the national average — is being held in check and falling, the report said. Meanwhile, the Army Corps of Engineers is getting closer to finishing $14 billion in work to better shield the city from future hurricanes.”

The world God created, loves, and is working to redeem and restore is a place of beauty and fecundity and of arbitrary brutality and terror,” said West Virginia Wesleyan College Assistant Professor of Religion Debra Dean Murphy at Sojourners’ God’s Politics blog. “We’ve been wounded by organized religion, perhaps, disgusted by its hierarchies and hypocrisies” and decide we can worship God on a mountaintop or a golf course, until an earthquake or hurricane “spoils the romance,” she said.

“The cruel caprice leaves us in stunned silence. But being the chatterers most of us are, we rush to fill the silence, to explain the unexplainable, often with well-worn pieties (‘God has a purpose in all of this’) that can be as cruel as the destruction they mean to rationalize. The biblical tradition asks us to wrestle our whole lives with this paradox.”

As a lifelong Jersey Shore resident I’ve not only wrestled, but have learned to hold these truths in tension. I revel in God’s handiwork and respect it, but worship him alone.