Monday, September 1, 2008

HURRICANES

I don’t know whether the anxiety and concern about a hurricane hitting my home town of New Iberia, LA is greater as I observe the storm from this safe distance of TN or I would be more distraught from actually being at home, waiting it out with beloved family members and other New Iberians. I have been through many hurricanes, the worst being Andrew, the eye of which hovered over New Iberia forever, it seems, and then Katrina when refugees fled the storm from New Orleans and other parishes to several shelters in New Iberia. For six weeks following both Katrina and Rita, volunteers and I worked at Solomon House Outreach Center, where I was Executive Director, culling, folding and distributing clothing and food, diapers, water, bed linens, to those who had escaped the storm. It was an unforgettable experience showing the bravery and endurance of the refugees who streamed into Solomon House during those six weeks.

Now, my home parish faces the possibility of taking another “hit” from a major hurricane, and I’ve asked the Sisters of St. Mary’s, Sewanee, to send up miraculous prayers for the safety of the town and all those who remained there, including my daughter and her husband, and dozens of friends who decided to stay on their properties. I have been awake since daybreak listening to the reports, sending up prayer arrows and meditating on past natural disasters. Here at Sewanee, we’re experiencing gentle breezes and enjoying 72 degree temperatures. Light floods my study where I am writing this. It’s difficult to conceive that blustery winds and heavy rain are haunting Teche country, yet I concede that bad weather is almost a way of life. Hurricanes must be a way of life, judging from my own writings, for big winds have appeared in at least three of the children’s books I’ve written – two published ones: THE KAJUN KWEEN, and FLOOD ON THE RIO TECHE, and the most descriptive hurricane appears in MARTIN FINDS HIS TOTEM, a children’s sequel to MARTIN’S QUEST, yet unpublished. A few moments ago I unearthed a poem from RESURRECTION OF THE WORD which was derived from a sermon I preached during the aftermath of Katrina (also unpublished):

HURRICANE KATRINA

We told refugees from the storm:
“He will transform the bonds

of your humiliation
to the body of his glory.”

We said this so easily
to those who had been on rooftops

watching water rise,
sleeping under Interstate bridges,

wading in polluted waters,
starving, only the clothes on their backs,

having more needs
than we had hands to help them:

a woman who had 100 shoes in her closet
and could not rid her mind

of those handsome leather pieces
floating in polluted water –

the bonds of her humiliation –
and we gave her shoes;

the man from Buras
who waded in toxic water

fleeing to us with swollen feet,
reeking of alcohol, trying to self medicate

the bonds of his humiliation,
and we bathed his feet with peroxide;

pants, shirts, socks, food, water, diapers,
we gave all this away

through the transparency of Christ’s hands
until we were swept up

into the humiliation of disaster.

Yet, these poor and dispossessed believed
the God of the Old Testament,

the God of the New Testament,
would speak on behalf

of those whose condition
deprived them of power

to change their lives,
the awful body of the humiliated

on our doorstep, to whom we said
“And he will transform

the body of your humiliation,”
these victims of inundation

driven not by realism
but by vision of redeemed future,

the miracle of faith
that God would help them survive.

We clothed a young evacuee from New Orleans
and he returned in his used outfit,

parachute pants, a striped polo shirt,
mimed a fashion model for us,

called his outfit
“the new Solomon House line,”

sashayed through the outreach center,
consoling us with his wonderful humor,

in the midst of his agony
revealed God’s humor.

By their humiliation they told us
Christ said not to worry,

that he would give us peace, light
and we just had to reflect it back,

to those who surrounded us,
be ignited with the glory of the God

who had chosen us to be a light
for the flooded world,

here and now.
And so, with them, we were transformed,

“conformed to the body of his glory.”
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