Chapter 19- Passionate Storm

From the  journal of June 10, 2008, on the walk from D.C. to Pittsburgh while memorizing the gospel of John.

The storm has been building for several days.  The sultry heat keeps me longing for rain and looking for frequent shady places to sit for a minute and drink water.  By noon we reach Meyersdale.  In front of the town’s old railroad station, I park myself on a bench and tie Chester’s leash through its back slats.  The station has been restored and is run by the local chamber of commerce, but is closed today.  Benches, however, don’t have visiting hours, and one that is protected from the sun invites. Chester flops down on some cool bricks underneath it.  The saving grace throughout this hot day has been a breeze which  stays with us while we eat our lunch in the shade.  Then I journal while Chester naps; we both are dawdling until the sun passes its zenith.

A police officer rolls by, his elbow resting out the patrol car window, apparently checking activity along the rail trail.  He calls a greeting and we talk for a few minutes.  He wants to know if I am enjoying the trail and  tells me of plans to make it more traveler friendly.  He  hopes to have more patrols along it in this county and speaks with pride about the benches.  I resist complaining about the horrible condition of the portable toilet in the parking lot.  Instead, I listen while he tells about viaduct (bridge) we  crossed  a couple of miles back.  It spans a road, an active railroad and the growing mountain creek we have been following ever since the eastern continental divide.  Apparently, the viaduct had been an old unused railroad bridge that a rail trail enthusiast spotted and made a project.  Money was raised and it was hauled in for restoration and use on this trail.  The officer gives a wave and drives away.  We pack up and head out into the sun just as the truck comes to clean the portable toilet.  If only I had waited!

The sky is hazy with no thunderclouds yet, but I feel something coming.  In a mile we pass a farm with a series of dusty cattle paths leading to a watering hole under some trees.  One cow headed for water is followed by her calf that is limping badly.  Looking closer, I see the calf’s leg bending at the wrong angle and know it must be broken.  A woman is outside the farmhouse watering her garden.  I wave and yell about the hurt calf.  She calls back a thank you and bellows for her husband.  As Chester and I walk on, wilting in the heat and wishing I had asked her to spray us with the hose, I start worrying about the calf.  Will the calf be put down?  The young thing hardly got a chance at life.

We come to a second viaduct that is particularly impressive.  This railroad trestle bridge is the longest viaduct on the trail.  Exactly how long is it?  Well, reaching from one bluff to another, it is long enough to stretch across several farm fields, an active railroad, a wide divided highway, the Casselman River, a county road and yet another dirt road.  How high is it?  High enough to make my stomach sink as I look down, and, best of all, high enough that the breeze has become a clipping wind.  All sweat has dried by the time we are half-way across.  Standing out here, suspended above everything, I trace a line of wind turbines along the  distant ridge.

When Rick picks us up a couple of hours later, I hear about some of his adventures.  He has been exploring the wind turbine fields, finding the out-of-the-way roads that lead up this ridge and that, taking photos of these immense white cylinders with their three curved blades at the top.  Meanwhile, the clouds are piling up high as we try to find a more direct (not faster) way to the campground across another ridge with wind turbines.  The gravel road we explore climbs, turns and twists through a forest. At the top of the mountain, the trees have been cleared off, and the glistening monsters stand tall, catching the wind that is beginning to pick up.  Finally the darker thunder clouds I have watched for all day have clearly formed in the west.

But by now, a storm has already broken in the truck.  The heat, the weariness, something said the wrong way, and some frustration building too long has done its work.  I think he is being unfair.  He thinks I am being unreasonable. Chester refuses to take sides. We are party to nothing new under the sun, and we enter a stormy silence.   While he goes to grab more photos of these towering wind catchers against the powerful sky, and while I sulk in the truck, the sun disappears behind a huge thunder head and the grass bends low under strong gusts.  He returns to the truck and we bump down the mountain with flickers of lightning at our backs, leaves flying through the air, and still unresolved rumbling within.

We reach the campground with just enough time to secure our outdoor gear under the lowered awning.  The wind whips everything, making our mutual task more difficult than it already is when two people are having a hard time communicating.  We step inside the camper and shut the door just as heavy raindrops start pounding the metal roof.   I take off my dusty shoes, sit on the bed and wince at each crash of thunder that beats the air around us.  We are camping up high on the eastern divide, and, instead of lifting over us,  the storm charges directly at the mountain barrier we are huddled on. It seems determined to take us with it.  We are lost in the thunder cloud’s center; lightning strikes all around with no pause before booms shake our little trailer.  Gale winds furiously tackle the trees; there is danger every second that a limb will fall on us.  The earth under the trailer is alive with running water.  Ten long and fearsome minutes of this; then suddenly the storm pushes over the summit and spills on the valleys in the east. In its wake rivulets run through the gravel, the air is crisp, and every exposed surface is cleansed of dust and sparkles in the sun.

I am reminded of another storm in the second chapter of John:

In the temple, he saw people selling cattle, sheep and doves, and moneychangers seated at their tables.  Making a whip of cords, he drove all of them out of the temple, both sheep and cattle.  He also poured out the coins of the moneychangers and overturned their tables.  He told those that were selling the doves, “Take those things out of here.  Stop making my father’s house a marketplace.”  His disciples remembered that it was written, “Zeal for your house will consume me.”  (John 2.14-17)

Jesus came to the temple and saw all that was going on: the ordinary buying and selling of animals for temple sacrifices, the necessary exchange of money with the emperor’s image on it for temple currency more religiously acceptable.  There is no indication in the text that cheating was the problem.  What seemed to be troubling Jesus was something about  mixed up priorities, something about people being more interested in making sure the trading of animals went well than being passionate about God, something about their preconceived ideas not making room for the messiah.  Jesus stormed in and cleaned house.

Lots of storms today as I once again step outside.  What if Jesus wants to come in and clean house where my priorities are mixed up, where the daily trade of my activities consumes me, where my rigid way of doing things does not allow room for the Holy Spirit (or anyone else) to bring renewal?  What if Jesus wants to sweep out of my life those things that don’t belong there?

If so, could react in one of two ways.  I could run and grab onto my arguments and agendas, my ways of doing things and the ways I think I am right, hold on tight so that they don’t blow away with the storm of Christ’s cleansing.  Or I could be relieved as Christ cleans out the clutter that doesn’t belong in the temple of my life anymore, while he sweeps out the junk that stands in the way of good relationships, pours torrents of baptismal grace.  Zeal for the houses of our hearts did indeed consume Jesus and drove him to the cross for us.  Walking in his way, then, means watching him make an entrance into my small temple, sometimes with an entrance that has the strength and boldness of a passionate storm.

John Donne (1572-1631) wrote:
Batter my heart, three-person’d God; for, you
As yet but knock, breathe, shine, and seeke to mend;
That I may rise, and stand , o’erthrow mee,’and bend
Your force, to breake, blowe, burn and make me new….
(from “Holy Sonnets,” no.10)