“Why are ye so fearful?”
“From lightning and tempest; from earthquake, fire and flood; from plaque, pestilence, and famine; from battle and murder, and from sudden death, Good Lord, deliver us”. Thus prays the ancient Litany in The Book of Common Prayer. It offers a wonderful and ordered way of praying all the things that belong to prayer and that belong to our creedal identity in Christ. But do we pray it? Such petitions teach a doctrine that, I fear, we have forgotten.
In our technocratic exuberance, we sometimes think that we can control the elements. We forget that we are creatures, too, and are often subject to the brute forces of nature; we forget that nature does not simply exist for us, for our pleasures and interests. We forget that nature is affected by our disorder; in other words we find ourselves in a world of earthquake, tempest and fire, a world of woes and suffering, a world where nature, if not always “red in tooth and claw”, can be pretty foreboding and pretty threatening.
This used to be a staple of our Canadian identity, namely, the recognition of the awesome and ominous power of nature. Our literary stories are most often the stories of survival and not of conquest. The point is nicely captured in a poem by Alden Nowlan, a celebrated Canadian poet from Stanley, NS, entitled Canadian January Night, written in 1971. He was, by the way, the son of Grace Reese, a parishioner here who passed away last winter and whom I buried in Stanley.
… I, walking backwards in obedience
to the wind, am possessed
of the fearful knowledge
my compatriots share
but almost never utter:
this is a country
where a man can die
simply from being