Had things gone according to plan, I would have written a column about last week’s Yom Kippur services at my congregation and described the meaning of the Day of Atonement, Judaism’s holiest day of the year.
Instead, on Yom Kippur, I was leading a service for 15 co-religionists from Hilton Head’s Tide Pointe Community, which relocated its residents to the Ramada Inn in downtown Augusta, Ga. The rest of my synagogue were in different congregations from Charlotte to Atlanta.
We all have so many stories to tell about what happened to us in the days leading up to, during and after Hurricane Matthew. Most of us in the Lowcountry experienced that unsettling feeling of not being in charge of our destiny. Our lives turned upside down and, oh, how our priorities changed in a heartbeat. How ironic it is that normally we tend to be so precise about what we do hour by hour and plan our lives in such a methodical way. Yet when the hurricane approached, and our lives and property were threatened, I remembered an old Yiddish proverb: “Man makes plans and God laughs.”
Were we in charge of our lives during those harrowing days? As Hurricane Matthew approached, did we come to grips — albeit begrudgingly — with the fact that leaving our cherished homes and communities behind could and did strip us of the normal life we used to live? The new normal was now living as an evacuee from our homes and community.
Was our faith challenged as well? As we became evacuees in towns and communities throughout the region, did we pray? How did we cope when we became a new diaspora community of Lowcountry residents? Was God’s name on our lips and in our minds and hearts as we communed with friends and relatives or sat in hotels and motels? We watched The Weather Channel every minute and prayed that the hurricane would brush by us. Nothing of the sort this time. We faced the harsh reality that we were not in control anymore.
Isn’t that when religion works best?
Now we have returned and, with eyes wide open, we behold with a degree of wonder and awe the damage to our homes and to our communities, with downed trees lining the roadways or leaning against or puncturing through our homes. For some, the water damage seeped through our doors and foundation, too. We shed tears and felt the onslaught of the malaise of what to do now?
Acknowledging that we are not always in control of our lives is a humbling experience.
Yet there is another adage which may inspire us: “Pray as if everything depended on God. Act as if everything depended on you.” I remembered that expression when I saw the three trees lying atop of my house, on the ground in the backyard and leaning on the house of my neighbor. Is this the time to blame God? Or is this the time we need faith the most, to keep it all together each day? Is this the time when the spirit of faith in God may be the only means to face the daily challenges of making plans and quick decisions to recover and rebuild? Can we think of more maxims like this one to summon up from inside of us the determination and will to prevail through the recovery period?
We have a ways to go in our rebuilding. We also have an opportunity to grow closer to each other because a strong community where we pull together — to help each other out even in small ways — makes all the difference in the world. There are lots of religious institutions offering their help, whether it is providing free food or going to homes and simply helping to saw trees up and clear brush. Is this not God’s work as well? Is this not the time for hope and healing? Is this not the time to fashion a resilience in the human spirit? Is our need to call upon ourselves to act for all just as important as reaching out in prayer to the Eternal One? Are they not both critical components towards finding the fortitude to carry on in life?
Psalm 33 says, “We put our hope in the Eternal One.
“God is our Protector and our help.
“May Your constant love be with us, O Eternal One
“As we put our trust in You.”
Hurricane Matthew proved several things about life and why religion is so important at these times.
First, we are not always in control of what happens to us.
Second, when people focus on faith and love in each other, we can achieve God like goodness for humanity.
Finally, organizations like our religious institutions and secular organizations the like the Community Foundation of the Lowcountry, on whose board I sit, make a critical difference in people’s lives. They prove the belief, “Pray as if everything depended on God. Act as if everything depended on you,” is true.
I am so proud of this community as it rises to the moral and spiritual high ground.
May we go from strength to strength.