Every now and then we witness a mighty upheaval of the forces of nature causing tremendous destruction of lives and property. We were confronted a few years ago by televised scenes of the flood of the century, flowing along the path of the mighty Mississippi. Empathy and sympathy have filled our hearts for those courageous souls affected by this catastrophic force of nature. Almost to the person, I heard many people complaining about our 100-degree temperatures and rainless days, but then the comment, “It could be a flood instead of the dry weather.”
I have tried to place myself in their situation as they watched their homes, cars, furniture, priceless mementos, farm lands and livestock all under water and not even sure what will be there when the waters recede. And there is a positive in the midst of so many negatives, and that is in realizing that human life is so precious and irreplaceable.
I was impressed by these people in the various cities, towns and communities along the route of the Mississippi, who thought of others, who volunteered in their boats to rescue those stranded or in need of levees or those who have prepared food for thousands. That cooperative spirit from people who must be so anxious, tired and unsure of their own future is a spirit we have all seen whether in the aftermath of Hurricane Hugo or Katrina or in the Gulf crisis or to those starving in Africa.
This spirit is so American and would be emulated by our fellow citizens all across our land. But it is also a God-given trait shown by persons all over the world who have hearts that are touched and burdened or assisting and helping those in need.
In the award-winning movie “Chariots of Fire” the Scottish runner, Eric Liddle, asks the question, “From where do we get the strength to run to the finish?” He answers, “It comes from within.” I hope our community will find ways of responding to the special needs that will arise in the mid-western states so devastated by this flood and I pledge my efforts and those of our church to this end.
Soren Kierkegaard has written that to live in this world means to be tested. We acknowledge this to be so. Life without testing is like playing tennis with the net down. One who knew the meaning of testing so well was Flannery O’Connor, the distinguished Catholic novelist who died in 1964 at the age of 39. From the age of 25 she lived with the fact that she had a terminal disease, not to mention her sufferings from bone disintegration, shingles, anemia, and a tumor.
Yet it was during 14 years of sickness and suffering that she produced her greatest works of literary art. She was a passionate and devout Christian whose strong faith enabled her to say: “I have never been anywhere but sick. In a sense sickness is a place, more instructive than a long trip to Europe. Sickness before death is a very appropriate thing and I think those who don’t have it miss one of God’s mercies ...” (from “The Habit of Being” by Flannery O’Connor). There will be countless stories of heroism and strength realized during this crisis.
In one of his last public addresses Winston Churchill spoke to a graduation class. He said solemnly, “Never give up.” After a long pause, he continued, “Never give up.” The class anxiously waited for him to go on. Finally, after another long pause he said, “Never give up.” With that he walked away from the podium. To our friends in these flooded areas whose endurance and staying power have been most noticeable, we offer this words of encouragement: “Never give up!”
May the prayer offered by Adlai Stevenson to his friends on his 1962 Christmas cards, and during the Cuban Missile Crisis, be the prayer for these days: “Give us grace and strength to endure. Give us courage and gaiety and the quite mind. Give us strength to encounter that which is to come, that we may be brave in peril, constant in tribulation, temperate in wrath, and in changes of fortune, and down to the gates of death loyal and loving to one another.”
Rev. Dr. Fred Andrea is Aiken’s First Baptist Church’s pastor.