Sunday, May 25, 2008

Up all night

Add to the list of recent natural disasters the tornado that destroyed a section of Hugo MN, killing one child (as of 7pm tonight) and seriously wounding dozens more people. Homes reduced to piles of kindling, pushed into nearby lakes, cars on their sides. We always monitor severe weather on TV, though the majority of it thankfully tends to push to the north or south of us, situated where we are near the Minneapolis downtown area. We looked on as brightly colored radar maps, blobs of data sectioned into cones and stripes by National Weather Service projections, showed the probable location of the Hugo tornado and its path. It was confirmed on the ground in Coon Rapids by professional spotters, only reported by locals in Hugo; but the latter took the brunt of it.

Today's sermon at church was titled "What, me worry?" and encapsulated the usual list of human anxieties, from bad weather to avian flu to losing a job or a home. The lesson and the gospel was "take no thought for tomorrow," for tomorrow brings its own troubles. Consider the birds of the air, the lilies of the field. No birds or lillies in Hugo, at least not around 195th Street, and my husband watching the news tonight grabbed my hand and said "See why I worry?" He's the designated worrier in our family, always anticipating with alarm the worst in ever scenario. I can only be grateful that his fears don't materialize. But we have to take care of each other -- those churches near Hugo, and perhaps ours down here, will need to pitch in now to provide for those harmed and homeless.

The story airing on NPR's "This American Life" tonight was about proms, and a portion of the program was spent on a tornado that interrupted one senior prom in a Kansas town. They cut in and out with local updates on the Hugo scene, from MPR. None of the reporters mentioned the irony.

I'm reading a book called "The Undertaking," by Thomas Lynch, a poet and long-time funeral director. It's fascinating and lyrical, and the sort of thing I gravitate toward these days -- insightful and spiritual but easy to read, easy to move in and out of as need be. And, yes, a little grim but that's life --- life, and death too. Death ritual and funerals have always had an attraction-repulsion power over me; normal folks mainly don't go in for funerals, and for years I lived in fear of the next one I'd have to attend, but since coming to faith I've found there is such a thing as a "good funeral" and I've had occasion to attend a couple of these. Sadly, yes, but upliftingly as well. It's a simple service to your neighbors, really, providing care and necessary arrangements during a time of grief and loss. Like chaplain work in some ways, which is another occupation that interests me -- not necessarily to perform, but certainly to understand.

Two of the clergy I'm familiar with were called to seminary at or in proximity to the death of loved ones, and the funerals. The subject of "calling" still gives me a little trouble, but I'm living in a different faith context than were these two -- my first "call" was a loud one, and more basic. The direction I'm being led in remains to be seen. It's not a mystery what I'm doing, only whether it's where I'm headed. I'm torn; I want a clear direction, but don't want to feel I'm settling in to do the same thing for the rest of my life. I'm still locating the big "purpose" or "vision" for my work.

I do a great deal with art and outreach through the church, and certainly the ministry of basic needs assistance requires no further justification -- the poor are always with us. But the arts activities cause me to doubt in light of the loss of a child, such that those victims in Hugo sustained. Hanging shows isn't like feeding people -- or at least, it requires more faith in the unseen to believe it so. The substance of something hoped for -- that beauty and aesthetic dialogue CAN uplift, significantly, transformatively and for the greater good. Maybe even in Hugo. How does this all relate?

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