I watch the horizon, its leaden sky blustering and building, rolling into a blackish bank of twisting clouds. The wall climbs across futile sunrays, its deep greys pierced by lightning and its cumulus bulges trembled with thunder. Silver maples rustle, sense the oncoming fury and relax into a bending acceptance of rushing gusts and bursts of energy. Rain sheets into my garage outpost, my “stand guard” spot to defend against such storms that come with spring humidity and finicky changes. I quickly chase an escaping recycle bin, grudgingly refresh in the drench as I shove it inside and out of the squall. Newly grown leaves whirl to distant lawns, a branch or two crack and fall, small mementos of this spewing outburst. A chipmunk darts into the wide crack of the stoop – and the winds and rains die away. In this 15 minute demonstration of nature, I recognize the place faith holds in my life. Powerless, completely in God’s hands as I view this amazing spectacle, a question emerges. From where does such “faith” come?
I think of foundations, the introduction to this God I love, to His son Who saves me, and to a Holy Spirit that muses my life. The Sunday school lessons, simple at first with messages of love and joy, then more serious looks at commandments and Luther’s Small Catechism. I recall the simple message repeated in 7th and 8th grade, the “SOS” of the BIBLE. The Old Testament “Shows Our Sin.” The New Testament “Shows Our Savior.” The one thing missed for me in those days was the shift from old to new. I lived in fear of an angry God – those youthful storms on the farm, the wondrous splays of rain, lightning, and thunder across the Arlington Prairie, were harbingers of God’s wrath over sin. Spontaneous combustion fires in barn lofts after first crop hay harvest, though they brought neighbors together in fighting to save animals and equipment, demonstrated God’s power. Fear denied faith growth for me. I feared my God, wanted to find ways to please Him when no human has that ability to be perfectly good. I donated my piggy bank savings one Sunday, “that’ll make Him happy!” And I felt no relief in this attempted purchase. After confirmation, I think I gave up. I drifted, dabbled in attendance, found life easier if I didn’t face the Sunday guilt trip.
From where came the change, the shift in outlook from sin to accepting forgiveness earned by Jesus and the cross, to knowing the resurrection and ascension gives me life and hope? Early education and family life truly did create my solid foundation. What I built on it proved pretty weak-stick shaky over time. I have to say troubles hold the answer. A young life of good times, self-gratifying choices, fast lane frolic and success in many areas did not buttress against the greys that surely came. Lost marriages, health issues, fleeting friends – my secure, fun little world cracked leaving only clinging memories soon blown to distant yards, soon strewn on lawns browned and dying. The Son piercing the gloom came, bloomed through the cumulus menagerie of woes in a weekend spent walking with Jesus and feeling the Holy Spirit in Stoughton. Jesus smiles. His hand holds mine, His other stretches to God Who welcomes me as a prodigal son. At Via de Cristo I realized Jesus and His spirit walk with me every moment I live.
I reopen a couple windows to smell the fresh generated by these torrents spewed across the neighborhood. I inhale deeply, the sky now deepening with eventide. Nature does its damage, yet in the doing generates things new. As Alan Jackson sang in the aftermath of 9/11, “Faith, hope and love are some good things He gave us/and the greatest is love.” Faith comes in recognizing and accepting God is Good, all the time.