God in the Whirlwind

Ernesto has hit the East Coast and is currently plowing its way through the Southern Chesapeake. As it happens I live in the Southern Chesapeake. Of course, Ernesto hasn’t been a hurricane for some time, but it is still a big storm. I drive to work along the Colonial Parkway, which takes me for several miles along the shores of the James River and then across the creek bottoms of the lower Penisula to Williamsburg.

Today, the road was littered with branches and a downed tree or two, but much more dramatic was the river. Between rain and storm tide, the James is many feet above its normal level. Beaches are underwater. Trees that normally look down from high banks onto the river now poke their trunks above the waves. The creek bottoms, which normally present a picture of small rivers lazily trolling through expanses of meadows are now simply rain-lashed lakes.

On my way to work, I stopped where College Creek dumps into the James and looked south toward the Bay. The water was roiled by the contest between the wind pushing up waves and the sheets of rain hammering them down. The normal shoreline was gone. The sky was an unbroken ceiling of dark clouds dumping enormous amounts of rain. Normally, the Parkway is fairly empty before 9pm or so. The tourists generally aren’t on the road earlier than that, and Williamsburg is too small for their to be much in the way of commuter traffic. Yet this morning at the mouth of College Creek, there were half a dozen cars pulled up watching the storm.

Elijah insisted that God was not in the whirlwind, but I have my doubts. Ernesto is not the wrath of God, but in my mind there is something deeply religious about big storms. They give us a sense of scale. Standing on the banks of the James, I looked up at a storm that stretched back to South Carolina and was dumping oceans of water that it had carried from as far away as the seas south of Cuba. It altered — at least temporarily — the geography of my world with impunity. In short, it is very big and I am very small. Moses, upon awakening from his vision of God and his creations, said “Now I know that man is nothing.” Storms give you the same sense of scale.

You are small and God is big.

3 comments for “God in the Whirlwind

  1. DKL
    September 1, 2006 at 10:06 am

    Nice post. Change the venue to New York City, and this might have been written by Woody Allen (except the scriptural references).

  2. Lamonte
    September 1, 2006 at 1:07 pm

    Nate – thanks for your impressions of Ernesto. I’m a little further up stream in Fairfax County and waiting for the worst of it to hit us. Ernesto has already changed our plans for an overnight trip to the Tidewater area – maybe we’ll go on another weekend this fall.

    I also appreciate your “.,..man is nothing” reference. I always like to consider the great paradox between scriptures like that and the 8th Psalm, “What is aman, that thou art mindful of him? And the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels, and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet” I’m not sure which one is the most humbling and sobering.

  3. Coventry
    September 2, 2006 at 12:17 am

    Not so much Woody Allen as NPR slice of life stuff. I can hear the hokey classical guitar start playing at “In short, it is very big…”

    But yeah, the big things are humbling. I remember feeling the same breathless wonder and “spirit” the first time I encountered Einstein’s theory of general relativity that I did the first time I read the story of Ammon. Ernestito had peetered out too much by the time it got to me to inspire much humility, but I think I know what you mean.

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