When I was a young girl, my parents used to take us to visit my father’s step-sister’s cottage on the shores of Lake Erie at Point Pelee. Although my mother recalls spending a lot of time cooking and cleaning while at the cottage, I harbour many happy memories of those visits. A trip to Point Pelee was always a feast for the senses: the scent of forest, the sound of the waves gently lapping on the shore, the sting of sand on my face during a windy walk to the end of the sand spit, the beautiful surroundings of nature – water and sand, forest and open beach and the view of miles of marsh from many trips down the boardwalk. And, of course, to get there one had to travel through Leamington where the scent of tomatoes often emanated from the Heinz factory. We knew our destination was close when we could smell the tomatoes!
Our days were filled with happy summertime activity. But at night I often felt quite frightened. At night the darkness would settle in like a thick blanket. It was so much darker than in the city. When I awoke at night I would be frightened by darkness so thick that I couldn’t see my hand in front of my face. To comfort myself, I often imagined that angels were standing beside my bed. I carried on lovely conversations with those angels and I always felt at peace after my encounters with the angels.
Point Pelee was a place where thunderstorms seemed to have a particular fury. We would feel the heaviness of the air and see the looming dark clouds as we anticipated the coming storm. The winds would buffet the trees around the cottage and the waves would crash noisily on the shore. The cottage had a screened front porch. This provided a perfect vantage point – front row seats — from which you could sit and watch the spectacular unfolding of God’s fury. The thunder and lightning would be intense and I would feel the rain sift in through the screen in a fine mist that landed on my face. The porch always seemed like a safe haven from the raging storm outside. After the storm the air would smell fresh and fragrant and a sense of peace would settle over the forest surrounding us.
Our Our city-dwelling culture often leaves us with a sense of disconnectedness from nature as a way of understanding God. This loss can prevent us from experiencing a revelation of God rooted in the natural order. Scripture contains many examples of an experience of God through nature. Mark 4:35-41 describes a stormy experience the disciples had on the lake in a boat. They called out to Jesus in their fear and Jesus calmed the storm for them. There are times in our lives when we feel as though we have been caught in the midst of a great storm, buffeted by life’s unexpected turns. In her book Water, Wind, Earth and Fire: The Christian Practice of Praying with the Elements, Christine Valters Paintner reminds us that although the elements offer us much beauty to contemplate, they also offer us an opportunity to meditate on the challenges of our lives and times of suffering when the firm foundation we have come to rely upon is shaking and crumbling.
Storms are an inevitable and unavoidable part of life. Storms can cause us to question our understanding of who God is and how God works in the world. The winds that come to blow us in a new direction , Paintner says, are not always welcome. Paintner stresses that the scripture teaches us that it is important to continue to wrestle with God and to bring our pain before our Creator.
God is present in the midst of the storms of our life.
God is present in the midst of the storms of our life. We must continue to listen for the sacred presence in the midst of the whirlwind of life. Remaining attentive to our discomfort in the storms of life allows us to experience God breathing through creation and touching our pain as a gentle mist falling in the midst of storm. Be patient in the storms of your life. God will be present in the fury and in the fragrant quietness that follows.
Join us in an exploration of the Christian practice of praying with the elements and learn how this practice can enliven our spiritual lives as we cultivate a more contemplative relationship to God through the natural world, in the upcoming Growing Towards God Fall Series: Water, Wind, Earth and Fire.