I wish I were profound enough to say something meaningful about Hurricane Sandy. I’m not, but it does remind me of a storm-related story which I think tells me something about ancient myths and conceptions of gods. You are familiar, of course, with images of angry gods in the clouds, white-bearded and toga-clad, issuing thunderbolts to earth from their finger tips. Where might such images come from? Why explain lightening in just that way? Years ago, when my son was in high school, his science teacher, a man much loved by his students and who died much too young, related an incident in which he and a friend or a brother, I don’t remember which, were on a mountain in the Shenandoah when they became aware of an incoming storm. As others departed to avoid the coming wind and rain, they, being scientists to the core, remained behind to get the full experience of a thunderstorm on a mountain top. As the storm approached and before it actually hit, they became aware of the buildup of static electricity around them, and as the storm was almost upon them, one of them, either knowing what to expect or maybe just curious, stuck his hand up in the air. And sparks went skyward from his fingertips!!! They decided then that it was foolhardy to stay any longer and skedaddled for lower ground as the lightening began to crash down where they had been. I’ve often thought that their experience was probably not uncommon to most of mankind centuries ago when we lived closer to nature and without the benefit of weather satellites to keep us from being caught out in such storms. And how natural to project that human experience to that of a much more powerful being, call it god, to explain the even more powerful lightening. In similar vein I’ve wondered how many perfectly good objects have been destroyed because they were possessed by demons and ‘bit’ someone when what was really happening was just a discharge of static electricity such as we all experience in the winter when touching a door knob or another person after walking across a carpet. Witches might have been burned in Salem because of such ignorance. Man, it would seem, cannot stand not having explanations for every experience, and in the absence of scientific knowledge will seize upon anything to be freed from the uncertainty of not knowing, even if the “anything” is dreadfully, and perhaps tragically, wrong. So let’s hear it for being able to live knowing there are things we don’t know, even as we strive to really know. Hmm, I hadn’t realized when I started this that I was going to wind up describing a characteristic of people drawn to the Anglican way – a high tolerance for ambiguity. But there it is.
Ron Hicks, Parish Verger, St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Washington DC.
Ron: I like all of your daily posts, but this one really hit home. I remember our conversation months ago and hope we can share ideas again. As a former diplomat I often relied on
“creative ambiguity” in negotiating. Now I wiil celebrate “Anglican ambiguity”! Elinor
Ron – I was once hiking by myself near the Thornton Gap stop on the Skyline Drive when I heard thunder, etc. In a minute or two a large herd of deer came charging up the mountain right by me – I hid behind a tree. Only a fawn paused to look at me. It was an unforgettable experience, Sandi O’Neill