After Hurricane Irma swept across the Southeast last week, I found myself reflecting on what I should thank God for and what I was praying for as the storm rampaged across Florida.
There were moments when I caught myself praying as Irma gathered strength that God would not send the storm toward Hilton Head Island, which has had two hurricane evacuations in as many years. I remember thinking for a brief moment that God should send Irma along the west coast of Florida. I prayed that the storm would diminish by the time it hit the Florida Panhandle and Georgia. There I was, conjuring up these prayers as if God was actually going to heed my request. What hutzpah!
Maybe I shouldn’t be so hard on myself, I thought. I have a mother, sibling, aunts and uncles on the east coast of Florida. I also have dear friends who live on the west coast. So what was I supposed to do? Pray that friends on one coast suffer while relatives on the other are spared?
Admittedly, when Irma followed the westerly direction, I was relieved. Of course, in the flash of a moment, I realized how inappropriate it was to pray to God that this hurricane should crash into someone else’s domain, causing chaos, endangering life and limb, and damaging someone else’s property rather hitting us on Hilton Head or my loved ones on the east coast of Florida. That kind of emotion was understandable but not fitting for the prayer I should have been asking of God.
I thanked God not because I thought God decided to spare me the deep sadness of seeing a tree breaking through my roof again or a flood rising inside my house. At this joyous moment, my private prayer was about asking God for strength and to remember how often we take life for granted.
This week, the Jewish world celebrates and observes the High Holy Days where, in ten days beginning Wednesday night through Sept. 30, God commands each of us examine our deeds and actions over the course of the year and make amends to those whom we have offended. God also commands that we extend forgiveness to those who ask it sincerely from us and to make things right between each of us and God. Irma could not have come at a more opportune moment from a Jewish perspective. This is the prime time to address life priorities and chip away at those long-time animosities and personal issues inside us.
We have a prayer which we recite from our liturgy that says in referring to God, the arbiter of life, “Who shall live and who shall die. Who shall die by water and who by fire.” The list goes on to number the ways, through accident and means of nature, that in God’s world we are all vulnerable in a given moment to life and death. The prayer ends by saying, “Only repentance, prayer and charity can temper judgment’s severe decree.”
Isn’t it not only important to give thanks to God for surviving and for not having damage, but also to acknowledge before the God that we are humble in God’s presence because life is unpredictable? As much as we human beings strive to be masters of our destiny, sometimes it is not our call. That, too, is one of the important lessons which we can all reflect on over the course of these post- Irma days. Maybe a petitionary prayer to God to help us to remember who we are as mortals in this world is equally appropriate.
I can think of another prayer in the aftermath of Irma for those of us who are blessed to live in the Lowcountry.
Can we beseech God to bestow upon us the motivation and passion to help those in need of more than our prayers at this critical juncture in their lives? Surely we can muster up a personal prayer to God to imbue us with the dedication to raise money and volunteer our time — to do whatever it takes for however how long it takes to relieve the suffering of our fellow citizens in Florida and in Texas.
Could we pray to God to keep us from returning to our normal life routines and forgetting about the elderly who are without homes and power, the children who wait to return to their homes and the folks who prayed just as hard as we did but are now left with devastation and destruction?
Can we pray to God not just for God to take action but for us to take the action? There is an old maxim which says, “Remember, pray as if everything depended upon God. Act as if everything depended on you.”
The Book of Ecclesiastes says:
“There is a time for everything,
and a season for every activity under the heavens:
a time to be born and a time to die,
a time to plant and a time to uproot,
a time to kill and a time to heal,
a time to tear down and a time to build”
Let’s make one final prayer to God to inspire us to tear down the sorrow and the pain of broken walls and homes so we can usher in a new time to heal and rebuild a future for those who are struggling to survive each day.