By Barb Arland-Fye
A siren droned faintly in the pitch-black night, so my son and I — preparing for his English class book review — paused to check TV and Internet weather alerts. Radar images of yellow masses with red blobs in the center appeared to be heading our way May 22.
“We better go to the basement,” 16-year-old Patrick said. We gathered a laptop, books and index note cards and headed to the basement. He rehearsed his presentation for the book review, but I’m sure both of us were a bit preoccupied with the weather at home and across Iowa because my husband Steve was driving a train to Missouri Valley.
I prayed silently that we would be spared from the kind of storms that have chewed up the South and spit it out. But I should have been praying harder for others to be spared. An especially furious tornado dismantled the city of Joplin, Mo. — population 50,000 — and the death toll in its aftermath is rising well beyond 100 people.
The story I read in the local newspaper was heart-breaking. Two Eagle Scouts rushed through their neighborhood to try to be of help and returned home carrying deceased children in their arms, the Scouts’ mother said. The Associated Press reported that the Joplin tornado was the deadliest single tornado in 60 years.
Just this past weekend, our diocese organized a collection for the victims of recent tornados and floods that have spawned misery throughout the last month.
My intention for this week’s column was to reflect on feeling closer to God during springtime because I am so appreciative of the aroma of lilacs, the sounds of birds singing, the rising sun and the budding flowers and trees.
I don’t believe God inflicts natural disasters on anyone, but for people who have just suffered devastating losses — reveling in the beauty of God’s creation may be at least difficult.
The Celtic tradition teaches that creation is essentially “an utterance of God” and that although “life is streaked through with all sorts of distortion and suffering at its very center is the Word,” Celtic scholar J. Philip Newell observes in “The Book of Creation, an Introduction to Celtic Spirituality.”
The Celtic peoples were keenly attuned to the rhythms of nature: the rising and setting of the sun, phases of the moon, storms, rainfall, plants and animals, trees and soil. Theologian Thomas O’Loughlin observes that the early medieval Celtic people “lived closer to famine through just a single, localized crop failure than we can imagine … It is from within that perspective we have to hear of the blessings of the fields, and crops and livestock. It is with such fears in mind we have to hear of people reciting the litanies as they walked around the fields and prayed for God’s protection and a good harvest,” O’Loughlin says in “Journeys on the Edges, The Celtic Tradition.”
Who knows why the threat of a tornado didn’t amount to anything worse in my community? The realization I take away from this weather-related tragedy in Joplin is that we are not in control of the universe, and so the gifts of spring truly are worth savoring.