I live in tornado alley. I was born and raised in this place where we measure the time with the change in seasons. Often times our elders will refer to the past as the winter we had that terrible snow storm or the spring all of town flooded or the summer it hit 100 degrees every day in the month of July. No weather is as severe or as worthy of respect, fear and awe as the tornado. My childhood is marked with evenings spent in the musty, damp air of the basement, fear and nervous excitement in the air, huddled with my family around the battery-powered radio. The weatherman’s voice was like some distant and wise patriarch; familiar, knowledgable and firm. Protecting us from danger and bringing news of safety.
Every year a community near me is completely destroyed. This year, there have been several but the big story was Joplin, Missouri. It’s almost like a sacred and horrible ritual we’ve all been through countless times. Watching the images of devastation roll into our living rooms, the shock and grief, the powerlessness, and then the outpouring of support and charity. We all breath a sigh of relief it wasn’t us, and live with the knowledge that next time it might be. The difference in this ritual these days is that everyone has cell phones and much of the experience is now caught on video.
Last night and today, as the ritual continued into my children’s generation, I watched in fascination as one particular clip struck me to the core. When the tornado hit, several people found themselves trapped in a convenience store and took shelter in a cooler. Of course someone switched on their cell phone. All was black but you could hear every word that was uttered underneath the roar of the tornado that destroyed everything around them. One young man could be heard telling his friends he loved them, another man kept uttering, “we’re going to make it, we’re going to be ok.” You could hear what sounded like young children screaming. And throughout it all, a woman chanting, “Jesus, Jesus. Heavenly father. Jesus, Jesus.” Over and over again.
While I’m not a huge fan of religion these days and I have plenty of criticisms of the institution, I cannot deny the role it plays in people’s lives. It is a comfort to so many. And while I don’t believe Jesus saved that woman yesterday, she very well might believe this. And one thing is almost certain, in her reality Jesus absolutely got her through those couple of minutes that must have been the most terrifying of her life.
We really are such frail creatures and life is so tenuous. Is it any wonder we reach for God when we are desperate, when catastrophe rips through the sky above us, black and deafening.
Even if I could get rid of religion, I couldn’t bear to take it away from those who need it the most–other human beings just like myself.