Due to deadlines, I write this column while it is still August, and more importantly while the terrible images of the devastation of Hurricane Harvey are still fresh in my mind. While the rain has finally ceased in Houston, rescues continue, refugees still huddle in makeshift shelters, and the sad work of tolling up the destruction and the cost in lives, trauma and dollars has yet even to begin.
How to react to such an exceptional, unprecedented disaster? First of all, our hearts and prayers go out to all along the Gulf Coast and in the City of Houston and the surrounding areas, who lost so much: loved ones, their homes and pets, their places of business and their schools, their churches, communities, and their livelihoods. We pray that they may not lose hope.
We know that the suffering will continue for some time and that rebuilding will be arduous and long. All of us must help to the extent that we can: by our donations, our expertise, sometimes our labor, and certainly our prayers. This disaster affects us all.
Beyond that, taking a longer view, this disaster confronts us with our own limitations as human beings. While we have phenomenal accomplishments, we are not masters of our environment and our own lives. It is all still gift.
Since I came here to Austin seven years ago, most of the time we have been facing unprecedented drought. For four long, dry years, we have watched the creeks dry up, then the rivers. We saw the fields turn brown and all the landscape wither and burn. We prayed for relief in the form of rain. And finally the rains came and the drought ended.
Now we have Hurricane Harvey and way too much rain. We have either too little or way too much, demonstrating conclusively and unavoidably how little control we actually have. We are totally dependent on, and at the mercy of, the weather.
Out of this experience, I hope we learn a little more humility. We depend on the caprice of the weather for either too little water, or too much water, or just the right amount.
Out of this experience, I hope we learn a little more respect for the environment. Global warming makes the storms we suffer worse. Paving over more and more ground makes the run off of storms more destructive. We must live in harmony with the environment, for we are not in control.
Out of this experience, I hope we will come to a greater sense of solidarity and of how much we really depend on each other. So many of the rescues during the storm were accomplished by strangers. People who put their effort, time and even their lives on the line for people they had never met and did not know. People who responded simply because other people needed them.
Water is one of the most wonderful of creations. We ourselves are largely water. We need water to live. Too little or too much threatens our very lives. And by the waters of Baptism, we are reborn to new life as the children of God.
Let us be grateful to God for the gift of water. Let us pray for the water we need. And let us learn to help those who suffer from too much or too little of this most precious gift.