Suffice it to say that people down here in the fifth or sixth ring of Florida are not laughing at the moment. Hurricane Jeanne has turned straight toward us and may hit as a Category 4. I think I read somewhere that Texas was hit by four hurricanes in 1886 or something like that. This will be number four for Florida. One more and we can chant: We're number one. We're number one.
Therefore, it's time to start asking ultimate questions, such as: Are we absolutely positive that the governor of this state's name is Jeb and not Job?
Here is the end of one of the waves of Hurricane Jeanne stories down here:
"After this I don't want to hear the word hurricane ever again," said Anna Faustini of Port St. Lucie, who lost her rental home to Frances and fears Jeanne will finish off her worldly possessions. "I stacked all my stuff that wasn't ruined in the driest part of the house, the garage, and covered it with a tarp, but I don't have anywhere to move it to.
"If I can't find another house I can afford in St. Lucie County, my daughter will miss out on her senior year at Westwood and our lives will be destroyed," said a teary Faustini, who is living with friends in Lake Worth. "I've called everywhere, and no one has anything for $650 a month. It's in God's hands now."
God shows up in quite a few of the news stories during hurricane season, but, so far, no one has put in print the question that you actually hear down here on the sidewalks and in the pews. The question is simple: Why is this happening? Close behind that question is this one: Why is God doing this to us? And then this one: Was it something we did? Why is Pat Robertson mad at us this time?
I would try to write that column myself, but I don't think that I'll have power much longer. In Hurricane Frances, I sent out some emails linked to a question I asked here at GetReligion: For what should people pray when in the path of a storm? That turned into a Scripps Howard column a few days later -- just in time for Hurricane Ivan. Here is some commentary on some of these issues from Father Joseph Wilson of St. Luke's Catholic Church in Whitestone, N.Y.
Roman Catholics have long wrestled with these issues in liturgies, he said. The altar missal includes a rich variety of "Masses for Various Needs," including prayers about the weather and harvests. The "Procession for Averting Tempest" begins with church bells, a litany of the saints and the following:
"Almighty and ever living God, spare us in our anxiety and take pity on us in our abasement, so that after the lightning in the skies and the force of the storm have calmed, even the very threat of tempest may be an occasion for us to offer You praise. Lord Jesus, Who uttered a word of command to the raging tempest of wind and sea and there came a great calm: hear the prayers of Your family."
Finally, the priest makes the sign of the cross and sprinkles the surroundings with holy water. At that point, quipped Wilson, "I guess everyone assumes the crash position."
OK, that's kind of funny.
But the whole point is that these issues are timeless. Believers who ask these questions are in good company. The question I want to ask is more mundane: Is this a story? Should reporters down here be interviewing sacred and secular thinkers and putting this issue in the headlines?
UPDATE: The fine religion writer Ann Rodgers of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette was hit with hurricane-related stress all the way up north. She has posted an interesting reflection on religion news and disasters on the blog she does for the Religion Newswriters Association. Check it out.