This afternoon at services, the fellow who gave the sermonette talked about his trip to Ocean City, Maryland, with the glorious view of the Atlantic, the threat of hurricanes and the presence of Nor’easters, and the unpleasant experience of being woken up in the middle of the night and interrupted during services by the sound of a fire alarm going off because of a malfunctioning pressure release valve. Some of his experiences, like the threat of a hurricane and the Nor’easter, reminded me of my experience in Wildwood, New Jersey in 2005, one of the more odd feasts in my own memory, and it reminded our current pastor of the great hurricane of 1966 when Jekyll Island, Georgia was menaced by a hurricane that ended up going back and forth over Cuba until the Feast was over. His point, and it was a sound one, was that in the storms of our lives, we must remember that God is in control, and sometimes the storms will change their path according to the will of God and the fervent prayers of believers. Sometimes, of course, the storm is meant to come and it continues, though.
Hurricanes are very strange phenomenon, full of great paradox. On the one hand, they are fierce storms that can cause billions of dollars of damage and kill many thousands of people with storm surge, flooding, tornadoes generated by the storm, and by the wind ripping the roofs of of houses and other structures, or landslides induced by the rains they bring. On the other hand, they are incredibly sensitive to the larger wind patterns and can be pulled in dramatic and unexpected directions by factors that are difficult to understand. Likewise, even if one is outside of the directed path of the storm, there is often a long period of strong rains and winds and squall lines from the radiating arms of the storm as it travels. Yet there are three different calms that are present even in a direct hit from a hurricane. The first is the calm before the storm, since a hurricane tends to suck up all of the stormy weather for many hundreds of miles, making itself the center of attention and leaving no room for more mundane thunderstorms of the kind that are common to areas like the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts of the United States, in competition with it. The second calm is the calm after the storm, when one looks around at the damage and counts the losses and tries to rebuild. The third calm is the calm in the eye of the storm when trouble is literally surrounding your small pocket of peace and quiet, when you have been blasted before and are soon to be blasted again on the other side.
If one is used to storms, and is in a calm period, the natural question is to wonder what sort of period one is in. Can one see the eyewall all around? If so, the calm will not last long at all. Is this a calm because all of the normal low-grade storms are being pulled into something far greater and far more ominous, or is it the calm after the storm when the damage can be tabulated and one can begin to rebuild? The experiences of life help us to determine which storms are which, at least metaphorically speaking. One of my favorite books of the Bible is the book of Amos , which is one of the books (Hosea is another) that were written in an interesting time period. Israel and Judah were allied, with Israel being the dominant partner, and together the two countries had nearly the boundaries that they had during the golden age of the Israelite mini-empire of David and Solomon. Yet Amos details an age of gross sexual immorality, massive social injustice where the wealthy were exploiting the poor, and where people gave lip service to faith that was entirely lacking in genuine spirituality. To be blunt, the social conditions of Amos, where the righteous were sold for a pair of shoes and where the fat cows of Bashan were building paneled houses and exploiting the common Israelite, sound awfully similar to our own times. Amos and Hoshea warned Israel, accurately, that the calm and prosperity that they enjoyed was clearly the calm before the storm, and that things would become very grim, as indeed they did once the dynasty of Jehu was overthrown and a resurgent Assyria overwhelmed Syria, Israel, and most of the minor states of the Levant.
In the fall of 2004, my parents had gone off to Southeast Asia before the feast, and it was a Friday afternoon, and the Day of Atonement was approaching. I had looked at the weather and been warned that a hurricane that had looped around the Atlantic was on its way to hit Florida and move up through the middle of the state, so I brought in our belongings that were on the porch and prepared as best as I could for the coming storm before grabbing some food before the fast. When the fast ended, I managed to eat dinner at Olive Garden with a friend of mine and his wife as the storm bore down on us. For the rest of the time before I was to head off to France for the Feast of Tabernacles, the power was off at my parents’ place and I had to deal with a lack of running water as a result of this. Needless to say, it was not an enjoyable way to prepare for that sort of travel, nor was it fun to have to throw out all of the food that spoiled in the fridge and freezer as a result of several days without power. Yet the damage was minimal because I had taken the warning seriously and acted on it. Sometimes, when it comes to the storms of life, we are prone not to heed those warnings we hear, and we confuse the calm before the storm with a lasting break from life’s troubles. Sometimes, the only breaks are a temporary respite to prepare for the next storm.
 See, for example: