The occasional, often ill-considered thoughts of a Roman Catholic permanent deacon who is ever grateful to God for his existence. Despite the strangeness we encounter in this life, all the suffering we witness and endure, being is good, so good I am sometimes unable to contain my joy. Deo gratias!

The thoughts expressed here are my personal thoughts and sometimes reflect my political views. As a private citizen I have every right to express these views.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Musing on Thunderstorms

I just came in from talking the dog for her evening walk, in this instance a stroll abbreviated by a fast-moving thunderstorm roaring in from the west. Fortunately little Maddie accomplished her mission before the rains and lightning arrived, so we hustled back home and avoided both a drenching and an electrocution. At the moment it's wet, windy and wild out there which makes one especially grateful for mankind's most advantageous invention: indoor plumbing.

Here in central Florida we're frequented by afternoon thunderstorms, especially during these summer months. This year we seem to be experiencing more than our usual share of these boomers. Indeed, Dear Diane was saying this just the other day, as we watched a seemingly endless succession of lightning bolts streak through the late afternoon sky. The wall-shaking crashes of thunder followed all too soon. It was quite a storm: lightning, thunder and torrents of rain. The only thing missing was hail. As it moved off to attack others, we agreed it was among the strongest storms we had experienced in our ten years here. 

When I was a child in suburban New York and there was the threat of a thunderstorm, I would often sit in one of the big wooden rocking chairs on our neighbor's front porch. Old Mr. Dolan, his grandson, Teddy, and I would rock away, listen to the rain pounding on the porch roof, smell the ozone, watch the lightning, and revel in the thunder crashing around us. It was all very exciting and I don't recall ever being afraid. Perhaps I should have been, but in those days, before instant TV news and YouTube and a thousand Internet sites reporting every odd event on the globe, we just didn't hear much about lightning strikes.

Then, one day, my mother told me of the time -- a few years before I was born -- a bolt of lightning zapped through the open kitchen window of our family's rural Connecticut home and melted the ceiling light fixture above her head. That sure made a believer out of her. What really changed my mind was going through Navy flight training in Pensacola, Florida. It was there that I experienced first-hand the power of these Florida thunderstorms that roll in off the Gulf. I quickly learned to avoid them when flying my trusty T-28 on those steamy summer afternoons. I also lost a friend and fellow flight student who was struck by lightning while walking along the  beach. 
A trusty Navy T-28 Trainer

Recalling that long-ago tragedy reminds me of the late great General Norman Schwarzkopf's comment:

"Unfortunately, if you've ever been in southern Georgia on the beaches in a lightning storm, if you're out there, you're in great, great danger, and you can be killed very, very quickly." 

It's pretty much the same in Florida, General. During our most recent big storm here in The Villages, one home, just a few short blocks away, suffered a lightning strike and the resultant fire caused considerable damage. Fortunately, no one was injured. 
Lightning on the Beach (not a good place to be)

And yet, despite the damage they can inflict, thunderstorms are possessed of a certain beauty. But to appreciate their beauty in its fullness, you must view them from afar. Head west into the wide, open spaces of the plains, or go to sea aboard a ship, and enjoy an unobstructed view all the way to the horizon. Watching these storms race across the landscape (or seascape) as they emit rapid-fire bolts of lightning is spellbinding, a truly amazing sight.

But to experience such storms, up close and personal, is more than humbling. They bring with them a sense of helplessness, a realization that, despite all the precautions one takes, these powerful storms are uncontrollable and largely unpredictable, striking their targets randomly. Before them, our science and technology can do little more than warn us and offer us some level of protective shelter. 
Heavenly Fireworks

From a theological perspective, thunderstorms, along with their far more destructive meteorological cousins, tornadoes and hurricanes, are simply another effect of original sin. With the fall of humanity the preternatural gifts that protected our first parents from illness and death were withdrawn and nature's laws were given free rein, leaving us open to their deadly consequences [Gen 3:16-19]. 

The present storm, raging here and now, is a reminder of our own frailty in the face of God's creation. Yes, we can send men to the moon -- well, okay, at one time we could -- but a well-placed bolt of lightning can destroy the rocket before it even lifts off the pad. God allows these spectacular displays of natural power to let us know that He remains in charge, that you and I are creatures, not the Creator. But like the pharaoh's heart in Exodus, the hearts of modern man are too often hardened by their own perceived power despite the obvious manifestation of God's omnipotence:

He gave them hail for rain, and lightning that flashed through their land [Ps 105:32]. The clouds poured out water; the skies gave forth thunder; thy arrows flashed on every side. The crash of thy thunder was in the whirlwind; thy lightnings lighted up the world; the earth trembled and shook [Ps 77:17-18].




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