Cataclysm and storm sometimes bring about needed change. Watching the dispatches from Houston and now Florida, the Southeast, and the Caribbean, one has to be moved by the images of rescue and saving acts. The breaking down of barriers (socio-economic, race, cultural) and the destruction of our fear of one another happens with as much immediacy as the great leveling wrought by a storm.
When Katrina hit the Gulf Coast in 2005, I was standing before a Wednesday night supper crowd at my place of ministry, when doors to the fellowship hall were flung open. A family seeking refuge from their long trek from Louisiana was standing in our midst. The stir created by their presence was much welcomed since on a typical Wednesday night most of our energy was consumed by dissatisfaction with the menu. I watched as the family were seated at a table and people began to serve them at the table and welcome them.
Bishop William Willimon in his book Fear of The Other wisely confesses, “What I have learned from Jesus is that we are not here by chance, left to fend for ourselves, a war of all against all, them or us, powerless in the face of my evil or theirs, victim of either my history or biology. God has created us to live with God and created us for communion with each other. God’s work with us and with God’s world is not done. … We are destined for communion.”
When the doors of that fellowship hall were flung open that evening, the storm had come to the front steps of Christ’s Church. Hearts were opened and lives changed as we began to seek how we could open our lives to those who became displaced by Katrina. Makeshift apartments were set up in a vacated school building adjacent to the church property. Volunteers prepared meals, provided furniture, clothing, and needed items as well as serving as hosts for the individuals.
Barriers and walls that had separated even those who were a part of the church family fell away. Those who came to sojourn with us brought their stories of loss, abuse and addiction with them and their stories became our stories. Storms are messy and unsettling, you see, and lives are often rebuilt out of the rubble. When the levees broke in New Orleans something necessarily needed to break in all of us.
Among those who sojourned with us was a woman of childlike qualities that spoke to all our hearts. She told us that when the floodwaters began to rise around her mobile home, she placed her little dog on the roof so that those on rescue missions in their helicopters would take note when they heard her dog barking. She clung to her little dog while she worshiped with us.
Her only family was a brother who was on the list of the missing and presumed dead from the flood waters. Raised in an orphanage with her brother, her life was marked by loss, abuse and addiction. But her spirit and humor were sources of delight. That fall, when she brought her dog forward for the Blessing of the Animals service, everyone there knew her story of how that little dog had helped pack a punch against the storm.
The ups and downs of our friend’s life were reminders to us all that the storms of life continue to rage for many of us. When many months later I stood by her bed in the ICU of a local hospital, I knew why the storm had come to the church’s doors – we were destined for communion.
At her passing, her service of Resurrection was a celebration of what the mightiest of storms could not wash away … World without end, Amen!
The Rev. Bernard Mason is pastor of Mann-Mize Memorial United Methodist Church and chaplain for Heartland Hospice.