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Quiet thoughts on a stormy day (Sept. 23, 2004)

Quiet thoughts on a stormy day (Sept. 23, 2004)

e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service

Quiet thoughts on a stormy day

Sept. 23, 2004    News media contact:  Michael Wacht*    
407-897-1140     Orlando  {0170}

NOTE:  A headshot of Whitaker is available at

An e-Review Commentary
By Bishop Timothy W. Whitaker**

Sunday, Sept. 5, 2004

I am writing as Hurricane Frances envelopes me in its whirling winds and silver sheets of rain. I have a door nearby that is open so that what I write is not false to what my senses perceive.

Even though I am worried about our clergy and their families, our congregations and our communities, honesty compels me to admit that I feel exhilaration in this storm. The power of a hurricane is sublime. It is one of the ways that nature gets our attention. We are reminded that we are a part of the natural world. Too much of our lives is spent inside of human environments, our air-conditioned buildings and automobiles, and we lose contact with the natural world. I am convinced that much of the discontent many people feel is the result of our isolation from our natural environment. Describing his own recovery from depression, William Wordsworth wrote:

What then remain’d in such eclipse? What light
To guide or chear? The laws of things which lie
Beyond the reach of human will or power;
The life of nature, by the God of love
Inspired, celestial presence ever pure…
(“The Prelude,” 1805 text). 

There is much that has been written about “natural evil,” which includes earthquakes, floods, hurricanes and tornadoes. This is a dubious theological concept. Evil is real, but it is more intelligible when discussing the wrong use of the moral will of humans. Nature has no will, and therefore it cannot be culpable. Ascribing evil to nature is a tendency of human beings who wish the world existed only for them. The ancient theologians like Augustine resisted this temptation to believe that natural forces should always be consistent with human wishes and declared that all facts of nature injurious or inconvenient to human purposes must be viewed as a part of a larger “harmony” that is good. So it is that this hurricane that blows over my head is a part of a natural system whereby excess heat is exhausted and transferred to the poles.

There is much suffering that can come from nature. As the 16th century English poet Edmund Spencer wrote:

For thousand perils lie in close await
About us daily to work our decay,
That none except a god—or god him guide—
May then avoid, or remedy provide (“MUIOPOTMOS”).

As I sit through this storm, I am aware of its dangers, and I pray for all our fellow Floridians whose lives are threatened and harmed. What we human creatures can do is to come together, to help one another and to bind up one another’s wounds. I am grateful for the governor, the emergency managers, the police, the emergency medical technicians and physicians and nurses, the linemen, the laborers, and the generous volunteers who will work selflessly to assist their neighbors Florida will recover from this disaster. Ours is a beautiful state with many talented people who care about one another and enjoy our way of life.

I do not know what we shall have to face when this storm has passed. Yet, I do know that as real as the rain that pours from the sky is the love of God, which “has been poured into hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:5). As Anthony Bloom wrote, “Everything can be taken away from us except love, and that is what makes love unique and something we can give. Everything else, our limbs, our intelligence, our possessions can be taken by force from us, but with regard to love, there is no means of getting it, unless we give it” (“Living Prayer”).

This commentary relates to Faith and Florida Conference Disaster Response.

*Wacht is director of Florida United Methodist Communications and managing editor
of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**Whitaker is bishop of the Florida Conference.