Sturm und Drang

I came across a “prayer against storms” the other day — not from medieval or scriptural time but one composed very recently by a well-meaning common person. It was an inadvertent admission of very unfortunate sentiments.

No one welcomes personal or property damage from a storm, of course, but we must nevertheless recognize that someone will suffer from it given population patterns, geography, or just plain statistics. To pray for one’s protection, then, while an honest desire to escape injury, can be an inadvertent wish that someone else suffer instead of or other than oneself. Perhaps silence and self-sufficiency should be our quiet response, with hearts extended to those who may suffer.

Then, too, this prayer calls the storm “evil” and “malevolent.” If the storm averts the petitioner, then presumably this confirms moral superiority. If the storm strikes someone (anyone), then it is due to sinfulness or inferiority. We can be glad to be spared a storm, but to petition for exceptions rather than watch for the patterns of nature and prepare for them as best one can seems sufficient. Let’s add tsunamis, earthquakes, fires, mudslides, and other natural disasters to the list. Soon, however, we must wonder whether human-made conditions through environmental degradation or living in precarious places contribute to our uneasiness on the planet. Science can inform us but also free us from cultural bias, the implicit premise of such a form of prayer.

Worse than a myopic view of nature, such a form of petition can be extrapolated to human events, justifying all kinds of actions based on averting “evil” or “malevolent” people, cultures, and events. Or when they happen, this mindset leads to the intention to strike back with equal malevolence, like a curse against God and fortune played out with vengeance. Like meteorology, there is a science of human affairs that will point out the causes and conditions that give rise to human “Sturm und Drang.”

We need to view nature as a context, not an object, as a setting, not a prop. Likewise we must view other people, cultures, and events as part of our context as beings on the same planet. Our status as recollected and thoughtful individuals — which ought to be the lot of the solitary — should give us a reflective and desireless heart. We are intrinsically within a context or setting as animate players on a grand and complex stage.