Devotion: Psalms for a Pilgrim People
Listen to the wind whip. A storm is brewing. A storm like a sea creature, with tentacles latching hold of the soft, tactile waters of the swimming pool, the palms and patio furniture. The gray sky swirls, churning and crashing surf; the golf course turns ashen beneath its half-crescent light. A hurricane.
A beautiful sunset yields to the cinder of dusk, and everything is dark. I read a poem slowly, the prayer below:
To and fro, back and forth
on the twists of the journey.
courage moves me onward,
faith trusts in the future;
wisdom makes me pause,
I rest by the stream;
taking time to delve deep,
I listen for the Voice.
--- Jim Cotter, Psalms 121
Psalms For A Pilgrim People
Outside the window is a deluge of heavy rain. It pours over the ceiling rails onto the tile, into the pool, watering the flower-jardinieres. Acute weather reminds me of my childhood. The heat in combat with the hurricane: monster storms that use warm, moist air as fuel, forming on the ocean to cyclone on the land.
For many years, my family spent Christmas on the beach. We collected sea-shells: chestnut turbans, moon snails, buttercup lucines, spotted slippers, boring turrets, ladder horns, flyspeck ceriths. We walked the shoreline with sandals in hand and watched piperlings run in and out from the foamy rim yyy of the sea; their stick thin legs marring the walkway yyy.
Although we do not experience the seasons' change in FL, we are intimate with change. Weather-patterns shift with the unexpected arrival of an undertow, waterspout, hurricane, cyclone and lightening shower. Our humid, subtropical climate creates an ideal breeding ground for extreme conditions.
Tropical cyclones, or hurricanes, are like giant engines revved above the equator. When warm air moves up and away from the surface of the sea, an area of low air pressure cumulates below in a cumulonimbus cloud. Air from surrounding areas of higher pressure push against and filter into the lower pressure. The newly arrived air becomes warm and rises, too, and as it continues to rise, the surrounding air swirls in to take its place below. As the warmed air rises and begins to cool, the water drawn up in its movement forms a cloud. The whole system of clouds and wind spin to grow, fed by the ocean's heat and evaporation.
Storms that form North of the equator spin counterclockwise. Storms south of the equator spin clockwise. The Earth's rotation on an axis.
When the storm rotates with accelerating speed, an eye forms in the centre. It is calm and clear in the eye, with low air pressures. High pressure air from above flows down into the eye.
Four days ago, the weather channel and meteorologists in South Florida urged residents to prepare for wind gusts of up to 65 miles-per-hours, localised flooding and downbursts. The city of Coral Springs declared a state of emergency, effective 12pm, closing services at 3 pm until further notice. The meteorologists predicted Storm Eta's wind-speed and power, but it was impossible to fully estimate her time of arrival because she swam circles the sky. Like a little child on the shore, Eta approached the rim of our city again and again; every other hour, moving back and forth on the shoal.
The left side of our house is dark. The windows that once overlooked the front driveway and its greenery are boarded shut. The entrance doors are closed and locked. The office is alight with candles and lamps. Crosslegged on the patio furniture, I watch the storm butterfly towards us with both arms simultaneously: a world centered beneath the Eta eye.
Autumn is the season when leaves fall from the trees and the days grow steadily shorter. It's also shorter, colder days when people gather for Thanksgiving, Christmas and other reunion holidays. Autumn has always been a season of activity for me - the weeks and months leading to Advent are filled with deadlines, applications and final edits. With gatherings, dinner parties and goodbyes. It is a time for wrapping gifts and sending well-wishes. It is a time when the cold sweeps in and all warmth is found inside.
I have always loved the change of seasons. Maybe it is because they promise a transformation that is temporary - comfortable, routine and safe. The change of colours, a commonplace occurrence. Arriving annually, the seasons move forward without finality.
I am sitting on the patio in summer pajamas with my ankles submerged in our pool when I realise the reason why I feel so unsettled by the Eta's eye. It is as though the great, wondrous storm is in waiting. I want it to arrive because I know, only then, will its shadow pass us by.
The lack of waylaid, fluttering leaves and warm summery breeze make me feel as though a cloud of finality is preventing autumn's arrival. Time moves, but there is no sign of its movement. I look at my wrist; watchless, the glass shattered when the strap slipped and broke. Autumn, like many of the 2020 seasons before, feels like a season stuck pre-transition. I wonder if the lack of small, visible signs of autumn reminds me of how often I wept over 2020 - how cemented its almostness feels.
I wonder if my inability to see the seasonal change of autumn underscores a deeper panic: how long will transition linger? Will it wait until I forget how precious and natural change can be.
I want Eta to return because I know what comes after. The aftermath feels safer than the calm of her eye. In the aftermath, we are allowed to grieve.
It is hard to grieve in times of transition because we don't know what things will be lost in the change. We understand that there is a season for "every matter under heaven: a time to be born, to die, to plant, to harvest, to kill, to heal, to break down and build up. A time to weep, to laugh and dance. To cast away, find and form into an altar of repentence, recognition and return."
Even and especially when "it is not for [us] to know the times or seasons that the Father fixed by his authority," may we "be ready in and out of season, with complete patience and teaching."
Acts 1:7; 2 Tim 4:2.
May we "sow righteousness; reap steadfast love; break the fallow ground. It is time to seek the Lord," who "makes everything beautiful in its time. He planted eternity into the heart of man to protect the mysterious divinity of what He has and continues to do from beginning to the end."
Hosea 10:12; Eccles 3:11.
In Acts 14, Paul spoke to the crowds in humility: "Friends, why are you doing this? We, too, are human. We bring good news: turn from your worthless things to the living God who formed the heavens and the earth and the sea and everything within. In the past, he let all nations go their own way. Yet he has not left himself without witness. He gave you rain from heaven and fruit in season so that your heart might be full with remembrance and joy.
In her beloved short story collection, The World and Other Places, English novelist Jeanette Winterson wrote this quote:
Live in the space between chaos and shape.
In the space between chaos and shape something profound takes place. The amorphous you was anointed before given body and form. As it is written in Jeremiah 1:5: Before I formed you in the womb I knew you. Before you were born I set you apart; I anointed you as a prophet to the nations," as a witness to things I have made known.
"I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times to what will come," says the Lord.
Before birth, our lives were becoming instruments of testimony and truth. Not by our own accord, but in the one who established our steps pre-breath. We must become before we can begin walking in the purpose and plans predestined for us from the beginning of our time. This becoming is not our own, but gifted to us in the resurrection of Christ, who, "in order that in the coming ages He might display the surpassing riches of His sacrifice and grace, demonstrated His kindness to us. For it is by grace we have been saved, through faith."
In Malachi 3:16-17, those who feared the Lord spoke to one another and wrote a book in remembrance of all God had done for them in the past. The Lord of hosts heard them: 'They will be Mine.'
We are the workmanship of Christ Jesus, created for good things. Walking in what has been preordained.
The rest of Winterson's quote reads:
I walk the line that continually threatens to lost its tautness under me, dropping me into the dark pit where there is no meaning. At other times, the line is so wired that it lights up the soles of my feet, gradually my whole body, until I am my own beacon, and I see then the beauty of newly created worlds, a form that is not random. A new beginning.'
God's plans for us, especially the seasons of transition (the seasons of becoming), are not random. Breathed with purpose, each season is an invitation to enter into newness, a renewedness, established in the mysterious peace of Omniscient, Omnipresent grace.
May we, like Paul in Acts 14, remember that we are His witness. We were given rain from heaven in time of drought and fruit in seasons of need.