I have lots of favorite hymns but few of them have ever “come to life” for me like the Mosie Lister classic ‘Til the Storm Passes By did last year. It was a year ago this week that Hurricane Irma tore through my part of the world, and the words of that hymn, particularly the first verse and the chorus, capture exactly what I was thinking and feeling at that time.
“…keep me safe ‘til the storm passes by…”
Having spent most of my life in the hinterlands of the landlocked Midwest, I had zero experience with hurricanes; when the local weather guru started talking about Irma and where she might or might not be headed, I wasn’t surprised to feel some “fear of the unknown”. But I was totally unprepared for the “wheels within wheels” way other experiences compounded that fear. The two other times in my life I’d faced something as big and scary as Irma were the morning of September 11, 2001 when I sat at my breakfast table and watched airplanes crash into the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the countryside near Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and the day we sat in that consult room at Barnes Hospital after Bill’s biopsy and heard those words “grade 4 Multiforme Glioblastoma”. The minute it became clear that Irma was indeed headed our way all those feelings of being overwhelmed, helpless and totally out of control came flooding back.
I knew (intellectually) that worrying and obsessing over things I don’t have the power to change doesn’t help. We’d farmed for thirty years, so I was also intimately acquainted with the fact that there was nothing I could do about the weather, but I was on emotional overload. I tried to intentionally channel it into the one thing I could do that was more positive and productive than hand-wringing and whining – prayer - but I couldn’t always keep my mind from running amok down rabbit holes of “what ifs”. What helped me “reel myself back in” was that hymn. Barricaded in my walk-in closet the night of September 10, the power already off, and 75-100 mile per hour wind gusts roaring through my back yard, it became my mantra. “…keep me safe ‘til the storm passes by…”
When we woke up the next morning the entire county (and much of the state) looked like a war zone. There were downed trees and power lines; impassable streets; we spent several days with no electricity and empty grocery store shelves. But things could have been so much worse; we were safe and we were together (once they got enough of the trees moved so Lisa and Chuck and Molly could get out of their neighborhood and into ours). Matt had his dad’s Green Egg grill and charcoal, so we were able to use up the food in our fridges and freezers and have real meals, not just peanut butter sandwiches, the kitchen table once again becoming an altar of grace for us.
Now that I’ve been through a hurricane I know how to prepare and what to expect, which mitigates much of the fear. Having said that, I also have to say this: it is not a cure-all or a “Magic Eraser” that wipes away all concern simply because I have “been there and done that” once. I have cherished friends and family from Hilton Head to the Maryland shore who are (or will be) impacted by Hurricane Florence and I’m feeling deep concern for their safety and well-being tonight. So I’m lifting them in prayer and offering Mosie’s words on their behalf with just a bit of a twist. “…keep them safe ‘til the storm passes by…”
Do you have a favorite hymn or song that calms your spirit, brings peace to your soul, and draws you to the Holy?
What is it about that song or those particular words that speaks so clearly to you?
Whatever you are facing this day, be it clear skies or stormy weather, may the Holy One bless and keep you.