I don’t think we can truly take in, even with the extensive and powerful media coverage, the devastating impact of the flooding following the path of hurricane Ian unless we have personally experienced flooding first hand. The visuals of several feet of water in your living room, the mud filled basements, and the wasteland of a flooded landscape cannot begin to convey the sense of loss and desolation as people grasp the heartsickness the catastrophe has imposed on them.
I know a little about flooding from my involvement in recovery efforts following a major flood in central Maine a number of years ago as I participated in coordinating relief services from various denominational offices and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). I watched the rolling waves of a surging river sweep over its banks and attack all in its path. And later I met with people as they revisited their homes to witness the damage and the sludge and grime that had invaded their lives and severely compromised their homes. As with all natural disasters (and human induced ones such as war), there is a sense of helplessness in the face of the chaos of an overwhelming pervasive power. Our hearts, prayers, and perhaps some financial support goes out to those dealing with how they are now to live.
Flooding is a very muscular force of nature. It impacts us so directly, personally, sensually, indiscreetly. Floods are experienced as a powerful reminder, perhaps, of the vulnerability of not only humanity but of nature and all in its path. We can try to contain it with dikes and levees, but as with Ian the waters humble us and have the final say.
It is understandable, then, that throughout recorded history, stories, including a Babylonian flood myth and the biblical account of Noah’s ark,* cite the iconic power of a flood to mark a major historical event that includes judgment and condemnation and then, interestingly, these stories also include the creation of a renaissance of promise and hope as depicted by the rainbow that signals a renewal of covenant in the Noah’s ark story.
I think about the flood stories applied to our current moment. Commentary now is about the relationship between hurricanes, flooding and climate change. Perhaps the catastrophic and widespread impact of Ian will further signal that our treatment of the earth cannot and will not tolerate its current abuse. And the result can be, as in the Noah’s ark story, humanity will accept the responsibility of a new covenant that also offers a rainbow of hope. Discussions about the relevance of climate change are so easily sidelined into thinking the problems are too far in the future, or too vague to demand immediate attention. The immediacy of millions of people surrounded by waist high water and a flood-flattened landscape should further emphasize a sense of urgency that the ongoing impact of climate disruption is now firmly part of our lives.
In the meantime millions are suffering the devastating loss of life, property, and sense of security as a result of Ian. I would like to believe the humbling experience will evoke a new resolve not only to offer as much aid as we can to those affected, but we will also find resolve, as a government and as a people, that if there are ways we can prevent this level of tragedy in the future, we will be willing to support those efforts. May we muster the will to do so.
*The Noah’s ark story is told in Genesis, chapters 6-11. In summary, God commanded Noah to build an ark (a large, rudderless ship) and to take his wife, three sons, and three daughters-in-law into it, along with a pair of each of the Earth's animals. When Noah had done so, God sent forty days and forty nights of rain, until the entire globe was flooded and all living creatures were drowned. When the rain ended, Noah released a dove from the ark. When it returned with an olive branch in its beak, Noah knew that the waters had receded and that he and his family could begin a new life. After the ark came to rest on Mount Ararat, and Noah and the other people and animals left it, God set a rainbow in the heavens as a sign that he would never again destroy the world by flood.