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The Hurricane Story:

The Presence of God in the Struggle

 

By Kevin LaNave

 

It was about midway through a semester-long course I was teaching on issues of justice and peace. I believe that such courses should not just be a constant study of stories and information -- that people need to pause periodically to listen to what’s happening within each of us as we travel the journey.  So I set aside a class period for reflection, prayer and sharing about “how this journey is currently affecting you.”  At the end of the period, a student handed me the following note:

“This course has made me feel like I’m on a beach, and there is a hurricane pouring at me, and all I’m able to do is breathe a little bit into it.”

 

I was stunned -- for while I had frequently heard people express a strong sense of being overwhelmed by the reality, extensiveness, and complexity of injustice, and a sense of personal powerlessness in the face of it, I had never before heard it expressed so deeply, and poetically.  I knew I had to respond, but wasn’t sure what to say.  If you had been in my shoes, what message would you offer to the student?

 

I decided to begin by affirming his sharing -- that I deeply appreciated his openness, honesty, and depth.  I’ve learned that communicating a sense of ‘being heard’ is vital.  But I’ve also learned that he needed more than that from me.

 

When I reflect on my own journey, as an educator on justice and peace and as a person dealing with the call to live justly in my own life, I remember a time when my anthem was “You can make a difference!”  But I knew that if I just wrote this to him, he could just write back, “Didn’t you listen?  All I can do is breathe a little bit into it.”

 

I remembered how that “individualistic message” has given way in my journey to a sense of “communal response-ability”.  So I decided to write instead, “What happens when you reflect on the fact that you are not alone on the beach -- that there are others, countless others, who are standing there with you, breathing in the same direction?”  As I wrote, I thought of experiences that have shown me how powerful communal activity and life for justice can be, and how inspired I’ve been when I’ve considered how such communities can stretch beyond space and time, including those who have ‘gone before us, marked with the sign of faith in justice.’

 

I sensed that image could be helpful to him; but I also sensed that even this alternative anthem of “We can make a difference!” was insufficient.  What if he wrote back to me, “Think about it.  A hurricane can destroy all of us.”?  I struggled to search deeper -- and I began to notice some messages I had heard, but in a different way than I had thought of them before:

  • I thought of the following quote from Martin Luther King, Jr:  “Let us believe that we have cosmic companionship -- that the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice. . . .  Truth, crushed to earth, will rise again.  No lie can live forever.”
     

  • I thought of the following words spoken by the character of Mahatma Gandhi in the GANDHI video:  “When I despair, I remember that, all through history, the way of peace and love has always won.  There have been tyrants, and for a time they can seem invincible; but in the end, they always fall.  Think of that – often - whenever you are in doubt that the way of peace and love is God’s way, the way the world is meant to be.  Then try to do it God’s way.”
     

  • I thought of the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  I have been raised in and nourished by the Christian tradition; yet the story of Jesus gained a new meaning as I wrote, “What happens if you consider the possibility that God is standing with you/us on the beach -- breathing into the hurricane, and yearning to breathe in and through us?”

When I shared this image with a group of students a couple of years later, one student responded, “You could get crucified doing that.”  I paused, then smiled, and said, “You’re right.”  In the face of the hurricane of injustice, I have come to believe that deeper than the message of “I can make a difference” and “we can make a difference” is the message that “there is a reality greater than ourselves that is making a difference” -- and that this reality invites us to say “yes”, to “participate” in the process.

 

 

 

For Reflection/Discussion

  • Could you identify with the student’s image of trying to breathe in the face of a hurricane?  What do you usually do when you feel this way?
     

  • Which of the quotations or points spoke to you?  How?  Where is God in all this for you?

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