Thousands of years ago, when we knew that storms were coming, we would stop our every day life. We would take some time to prepare in the physical world. We would get our stores of food ready. We would cover our windows. We would take inside anything that might get damaged outside. And then, we would wait.
There would be this buzz in the air. Adreniline would be coursing through our veins but we would have run out of places to channel it. We would have headed off to our temple. We would have worshipped in whatever way we worshipped. We would have offered sacrfices pleasing to our God(s). Reminded of our connection to something bigger than us, feeling comfortable that we’d done our duty in the hope that the God(s) would do theres, feeling some subtle sense that we can control the world, having spent some time in community, we’d return to our homes and wait out the storm.
Nothing has changed.
I live in Worcester, Massachusetts. People in my area watched the build up to Hurricane Irene with a certain ammount of baggage that the rest of the country doesn’t carry.
Two winters ago there was an ice storm. As a result of the trees and powerlines that were knocked down, tens of thousands (perhaps hundreds of thousands) went months with no electricity. People were isolated and afraid. And quite blind-sided. Nobody expected it to be that bad.
Many people like myself had minimal disruptions to our every day life. But we all saw the devestation, we all knew and tried to help people who were trying to get buy living on generators, eating off camp stoves, huddling up beneath blankets as they had no heat.
I think the hardest thing about this is what it does to your sense of security. It was so unexpected. We were so utterly powerless before that ice storm. Government and utility company response was mediocre at best. The silver linings is that some communities and people had the oppurtunity to shine. But all things considered, I think everybody would have rather not had that chance at playing the hero (or needing the heroes)
And so this whole region has a psychic scar, an issue that is mostly unresolved. I think that is part of what gave an extra kick to the buzz around Hurricane Irene. People went through material preperation. They battened down the metaphorical hatches. We were at the beach the day before it hit and watched the lifeguards pulling down signs and boarding up windows. We came home and moved patio furniture inside.
And then we waited. The adreniline still coursing through our veigns.
En masse, we went to our modern temple: The great God of retail. Our sacrificial altar was the cash register. We did our part in the transaction, sacrificing our hard-earned (or more likely too easily borrowed) funds. Our purchases deluded us into thinking that we had a sense of control over the issue. We were a gathered people and drew some comfort in the community. We have hastily painted over the lessons of the ice storm. We tell ourselves that we can buy security, peace, and happiness, just as we once told ourselves that the Gods will protect us when we do the right thing.
I know, we were told to buy certain things. And a few of those purchases made sense. I won’t deny going out myself for flashlights and water. Some of my thinking on this comes out of my experience of walking those aisles. A few pieces of evidence that countermand the idea that our purchases were entirely about our actual need:
#1) A friend who works in a grocery store, with out being prompted by me, observed that nearly all of the countless purchases being run up had nothing at all to do with storm preperation.
#2) A hurricane is coming to dump thousands of gallons of rain on us. And what do we all buy? Bottled water. Water, in the event of a hurricane seems like a pretty silly thing to buy. It’s not exactly in short supply. And seriously? How many people purchased enough water for it to make a meaningful difference? Our 2 gallons certainly would not have lasted us long.
#3) As the storm began to abate, my wife drove buy our favorite icecream place. In the middle of still-pouring rain, their sheltered eating area was overflowing. People were standing in the rain eating ice cream. This is not before the hurricane, but it speaks to the idea that in these sorts of natural disasters we have a need for gathering.
There are all sorts of implications that might be drawn from this. But mostly I’m thinking about how we’re wired for worship, and we”re aiming our worship in quite the wrong place.