Archives, Biography, Ithaca, Songs of Assent

High Storms

“If we would rise to life’s worst storms, the formation will not begin in the gale, but
in the small puddles that splash at our feet when no one is looking.”(Songs of Assent, “Buoyancy,”167)

When I was in graduate school my husband and I spent a glorious season exploring the pristine “finger lakes” that fill the valleys amidst the rolling hills of upstate New York. We spent many a Saturday navigating around those lakes-skinny enough to see clearly through to the other shore, long enough to need a full day to make our way around the largest of them.

One afternoon we were driving up the east side of Seneca Lake as the sky grew black from beyond the western shore. We pulled our car into one of the many state parks that line the lakeshore, and spent the next two hours in the storm. We watched it creep over lake toward us-and then we were in it: rain, wind, lightning, thunder-a violent glory.

Sometimes we are fortunate enough to see the storm coming over a skinny little lake toward us, and sometime it just comes upon us. Perhaps we are just out for a bit of a ride on the lake, and find ourselves surprised by the storm. We’d like to reach our car, but we feel about as equipped as sitting in an old canoe-we’re not too far from shore, but too far to make it back in the midst of the intense elements.

Maybe it’s our health-we had thought we would be well-and, it would appear, we are going to have live with our infirmity instead. Or perhaps it’s our finances-we thought we could see our way-and then the lightning strikes over our heads and we find ourselves spinning, holding on as we seek to stay afloat for one more day. Or perhaps we were working-planning the next project, doing the next thing–and the winds of layoffs have blown us to a place on the shore where there is nowhere to dock, and so we ride the storm’s aftermath along familiar shoreline, but have no idea where we are going and how to get there. And in these moments, when wind and water weather our hulls-not even on high seas-but simply by a high storm on a familiar lake, we need a mariner’s tune for these words:

“Bless our God, you peoples; and make the voice of his praise to be heard; Who holds our souls in life, and will not allow our feet to slip.” (Psalm 66:7-8)

I heard the dim echoes of a jaunty tune this morning from a woman whose canoe is pitching violently-but not as violently as this time last year. At the end of the conversation she grabbed her paddle and got back to work. For that is the grace of a long, skinny, familiar lake. When the storm is over-or even during its lulls-we can find a place to wade to shore, there is work to be done, and if the Spirit will grace us with yet another melody in our hearts, we will find the footing we need for the next couple of good, firm steps.

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