When I was young, when we still lived in Colorado, our house was in the middle of a pretty wide, pretty flat area, and being pretty close to the Rockies, we would get massive thunderstorms that would sweep down from the mountains. I remember sitting in our house with my dad, lights all turned out, sky black as tar, with occasional brilliant blue flashes of light splitting the air. Every time lightning flashed, we’d make explode-y noises with our lips, and proclaim in a loud, triumphant voice, “Lightning struck the ground!” I loved it.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was learning something. I was learning how to not be scared of the storms, and instead revel in their beauty. I learned that storms weren’t something to be avoided, but something to be eagerly anticipated. They were exciting, and powerful, and they spoke to me. I remember one time when the sky turned all green and weird, and we had to go down into our crawlspace. The crawlspace was tiny and gross, and I didn’t understand why we were there. I just wanted to go watch the storm, and instead I was stuck in a nasty room with dust and spiderwebs everywhere.
As I got older, it became a family tradition to go watch disaster movies for Father’s Day. There was a series of years where a new disaster movie came out every Father’s Day like clockwork. There were a couple of volcano movies, an earthquake movie (that one scared me badly enough that my dad had to explain that the buildings weren’t real, and they build miniature sets that somebody knocked down with their fist when the “earthquake” struck), some asteroids-hitting-the-earth-and-killing-all-life movies, and so on. But my favorite of these was a movie called Twister.
I remember watching this movie (naturally, about a giant tornado that destroys half the country, or something ridiculous like that) in awe of the tremendous tornadoes it depicted. I remember reading an article about how they produced the movie. They apparently combined the sound of a lion’s roar, a semi truck, and some other stuff to create the tornado sound effects. It was amazing, and I wanted to just hop in the car with these complete idiots that were running around chasing the twisters (for science!).
There’s something about thunderstorms that evokes a feeling of wonder and awe unlike almost anything else I’ve experienced on this planet. There’s only one other place I can think of that even comes close — the ocean. I love sitting on the beach, watching the powerful waves crash and break on the rocks, and looking out to the horizon. It’s just so huge! And it might look peaceful, but it can turn dangerous fast if you’re not careful. I’m not a particularly great swimmer, so it sometimes makes me nervous to be out very far, but at the same time, when that wave that’s towering above you crashes down around you and pummels you down, there’s a feeling of might and majesty that’s unmistakable.
When I was in college, I took a study of religion course, and one of the ideas that came up frequently in the course was neumos. I can’t remember who we were reading, but it was a very pretentious philosopher type, and I’m sure he made up most of the words he used, but the neumos struck me. It’s this wholly mysterious, otherworldly experience that you find in the core of Christianity. It’s an unreal, transcendental feeling of awe and wonder and not-understanding-ness. It’s like being in a cathedral with the sounds of a Latin choir echoing off the walls and up to the heavens (by the way, I love cathedrals; I love the tradition, and the mystery that they embody. There’s lots of ways to do church, and I’ve been to lots of them, but I don’t know that I’ll ever like any of them as much as the feeling of being in a Cathedral, with all of the weight and power that accompanies it). In Christian circles, the neumos is often called holiness.
And I think that’s why I like thunderstorms, and sitting on the beach listening to the ocean. They remind me of the neumos. They remind me of God, and of life. They remind me that life — the very act of living, of being alive and experiencing — is a deeply holy, neumos experience, and that if I’m not diving in headlong and living to the fullest, I’m missing out on a sacred journey.
I hear pastors make analogies to storms quite frequently. Life is full of them, they say, and if you’re not going through one now, you will be soon. They make it sound like storms are bad. And I get that. Bad things happen. But the analogy always breaks down for me, because I still love storms. As I’ve gotten older (and as I’ve moved into a region that gets tornadoes not infrequently), I’ve grown a little bit of fear of storms, but I still find them irresistible. I can’t stop watching them.
In truth, they remind me of God, a God that is so powerful that, frankly, he’s a little frightening sometimes. A God that is so much bigger than anything I can even imagine that it’s kind of overwhelming. A God whose actions are so earth-shattering that they appear as giant, unstoppable waves and loud peals of lightning and thunder to me, and yet who loves me so wholly and completely that even when the entire earth is falling apart around me, I know that I’m safe.
And I wonder if that’s how I should be with life’s storms. I wonder if I’m supposed to not be afraid of the damage, the hurt, the pain that they cause, but rather if I’m supposed to eagerly anticipate the next big adventure that life is going to take me on. I wonder if I’m supposed to be excited by life’s storms, because they’re so powerful and beyond my control. I’m not very good at that. I like to control things.
But I can’t control the storms.