Spirituality of Extreme Weather

I grew up in New England where extreme weather is the norm. We can have hot humid summers that rival an Ecuadorian rainforest. Heavy rains can so soak the earth that water seeps from basement walls and rises from basement floors.

Winter however is where New England often smacks you upside the head. I remember the blizzard of 1978 but nothing prepared us in the greater Boston area for 9 feet plus of snow, that accumulated from a series of blizzards in February and March of this year. It was epic and brutal.

Blizzard of 1978

I grew up in New England but for twenty years lived in the Willamette Valley of Oregon. The Willamette offers a generally moderate climate with occasional moments of weather related drama. For the most part it is a pleasant climate where the finicky Pinot Noir grape flourishes and flowers emerge in late winter. In the valley there are generally two seasons, wet and dry.

Over a year ago I returned to New England and have lived through a full cycle of the four distinct seasons. For me this cycle has been a spiritual journey. There’s something about living through an extreme winter that encourages one to appreciate the spring and savor the summer even with its humidity. There’s something about being smacked upside the head by 6″ of water in my basement last October, that invites me to savor the warm, dry and beautiful days that accompany these initial days of Autumn.

While I will always love the beauty of Oregon I find that New England has attuned me to the weather and my surroundings in a deeper way. I find that a change in the weather is also bringing about a change in me.

I am more aware of the birds migrating south for the winter, more dialed in to the tides and the wind as I regularly launch my kayak in the ocean. Today I went for a long run because it was sunny and dry and I know the opportunity to do so is fleeting.

Monks and mystics teach that being awake is essential to be awakened by that great mystery we call God/Creator/Spirit. Being awake physically, emotionally and spiritually opens one up to lessons and gifts that otherwise might be missed.

Thich Nhat Hahn the Vietnamese Buddhist invites us to practice mindfulness. He offers a lovely mantra to be in the moment: ‘Breathing in I calm my spirit; breathing out I smile. (Inhale) Living in the moment; (exhale) this is the only moment.’

Living in New England helps me to live in the moment. Partly because I don’t know what the next moment (weather wise) will be. And, as I live in the moment I find there is much to be aware of and thankful for.

If I forget and begin to live in the past or the future, a Nor’easter storm off the ocean, a blizzard or a breathtakingly beautiful morning (as it was this morning) will grab me by the lapels and say ‘listen up and look around!’

3000 years ago a Hebrew prophet named Isaiah said, ‘Listen and your soul will love’. New England weather requires that we keep attuned to what is going on around us. And, if we are attuned enough, we may very well discover that something new and life-giving is being awakened within.

Getting Ready for the Big Storm

People are fascinated by talk of a BIG STORM. The weather professionals heighten our anticipation giving us a step by step breakdown of the storms impending arrival. We rush to the store for milk, bread and batteries. Those of us with miles on our odometer hearken back to the Great New England Blizzard of 1978. Anyone who lived through it has a story to tell.

Blizzard of 1978

Storms have a way of bringing people together. In many ways it brings out the best in us. We tend to check in on our neighbors. My Mom age 92 lives in Rhode Island and looks forward to a storm because she knows her neighbors will look out for her. Today I asked: ‘Mom what will you do if the lights or heat go out?’ She said: “Paul and Sue down the street have a generator, they said I could stay with them.”

Storms also have a way of highlighting the precariousness of our neighbors who live on the streets. In the city I live efforts are being made to let people know that an emergency shelter is available. I think back to another community I lived in where a homeless friend named Rusty died of exposure.

On this eve of the storm we offer a prayer for city workers who plow our streets and first responders who do their best to keep us safe. And we offer a prayer for those of us who are most vulnerable.

Tonight weather experts tell us the BIG STORM will come. They think it may even be bigger than the Great Blizzard of 1978. My hope is that we will take good care of each other and afterwards have only good stories to tell.