Multifaith Mashup: Storms

by Vicki Garlock on June 4, 2014


Storm in the South Pacific
Wikimedia Commons: Fanny Schertzer

Apparently, Americans are uniquely obsessed with the weather. The National Weather Service has 121,000 Twitter followers and a web site that offers weather information — past, present, and future. The Weather Channel broadcasts weather-related stories 24/7, and AccuWeather will launch its own 24/7 programming later this year. We can check radar images on our smartphones any time we like, and we can now make plans based on 30-day and 45-day forecasts. In fact, we receive forecasts 3.8 times a day on average, which extrapolates to about 300 billion forecasts annually for the American population.

However, I’m not convinced that this fair-weather fascination is a purely American phenomenon or that our preoccupation with polar vortices is all that recent in terms of human history. Most indigenous cultures predicted the weather using evidence from the trees, animals, wind, and sky, and the ancient pagan holiday of Candlemas/Imbolc clearly involved forecasting the extent of winter. According to that tradition, if the weather was fair and bright on Candlemas, then winter would continue to offer its icy blasts. If the weather was cloudy, winter days were soon to end. Nowadays, we refer to that bit of prognostication as Groundhog Day, letting the shadow of Punxsutawney Phil prophesy for us.

My daughter’s elementary school bus driver, who grew up here in the Appalachian Mountains, once told me that a pink sunrise meant snow later in the day. My pagan/wiccan priestess friend, also from an old-time local family, told me that a pink sunrise means, more generally, a weather change. Even Jesus mentioned the predictive power of red skies, although the passage is not really about the weather, per se.

[Jesus] answered them, “When it is evening, you say, ‘It will be fair weather, for the sky is red.’ And in the morning, ‘It will be stormy today, for the sky is red and threatening.’ You know how to interpret the appearance of the sky, but you cannot interpret the signs of the times….” (Matthew 16:2-3)

Since weather is a rather ubiquitous phenomenon, I checked into a few weather references in the ancient texts. For this post, I specifically focused on storms. We’ll start with one of the more well-known weather-related stories from the New Testament: Jesus Stills a Storm. The story shows up in three of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Here’s the version from Mark.

On that day, when evening had come, [Jesus] said to them, “Let us go across to the other side.” And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. But [Jesus] was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. He said to them, “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?” And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (Mark 4:35-41)

I have no idea if Jesus was actually able to alter atmospheric conditions, and one can always take “the storm” as a metaphor for difficult times in life, but I suspect that something meaningful happened that day on that boat for those passengers.

The Qur’an also suggests that Allah can offer aid during a storm.

It is [Allah] who enables you to travel on land and sea until, when you are in ships and they sail with them by a good wind and they rejoice therein, there comes a storm wind and the waves come upon them from everywhere and they assume that they are surrounded, supplicating Allah, sincere to Him in religion, “If You should save us from this, we will surely be among the thankful.” (Qur’an 10:22)

It turns out that they have storms in Asia, too, which means storms also show up in the Buddhist tradition. The point is the same – staying calm and finding comfort in the storm. However, there is no external God in the Buddhist tradition, so finding peace in the midst of a storm is viewed differently than in the monotheistic traditions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). In the Buddhist tradition, security is found within – through meditation. This poem, “No Greater Contentment,” was written by the monk Bhuta Thera. As you will see, Buddha-like contentment looks the same whether there is a storm raging around you or a winding river flowing peacefully beside you. The poem contains five stanzas; three are shown below.

When the thundering storm cloud roars out in the mist,

And torrents of rain fill the paths of the birds,

Nestled in a mountain cave, the monk meditates.

— No greater contentment than this can be found.

When along the rivers the tumbling flowers bloom

In winding wreaths adorned with verdant color,

Seated on the bank, glad-minded, he meditates.

— No greater contentment than this can be found.

When in the depths of night, in a lonely forest,

The rain-deva drizzles and the fanged beasts cry,

Nestled in a mountain cave, the monk meditates.

— No greater contentment than this can be found.

The great 13th century Sufi poet, Rumi offered yet another take on storms. In the previous passages, we are urged to find peace, gratitude, and contentment amidst the storm. Rumi, in his poem “Search the Darkness,” suggests that we should avoid becoming the storm, which represents disorder and confusion. When darkness enters our lives, he recommends that we “go into” the darkness, avoiding storm-like chaos and seeking the light.

Sit with your friends, don’t go back to sleep.

Don’t sink like a fish to the bottom of the sea.

Surge like an ocean, don’t scatter yourself like a storm.

Life’s waters flow from darkness. Search the darkness, don’t run from it.

Night travelers are full of light, and you are too: don’t leave this companionship.

Be a wakeful candle in a golden dish, don’t slip into the dirt like quicksilver.

The moon appears for night travelers, be watchful when the moon is full.

Storms are inevitable. For the literal ones, we can use our favorite web sites, smartphone apps., and cable channels. For the metaphorical ones, other strategies are in order. It is simply not enough to raise our kids to be happy. They will not always be happy. Cloudy skies and thunderous storms are unavoidable. Better to prepare them well to weather those storms. Luckily, the ancient texts provide us – and them – with a variety of options.

[The Bible Unbound is a regular column connecting Biblical themes, passages, and stories with ancient texts from other religions/traditions. It is representative of our middle school Sunday School curriculum, and to a certain extent, our upper elementary Sunday School curriculum.]

Citations for Text Passages

Helminski, K. ed., The Pocket Rumi. Trans. Boston/London: Shambhala, 2008. Print.

Holy Bible: New Revised Standard Version. San Francisco, CA: HarperOne, 2007. Print.

Olendzki, A. Bhuta Thera: No Greater Contentment (Thag 9). Trans. Access to Insight, 2005. Web. 04 June, 2014. < thag/thag.09.00x.olen.html>

Sahih International. The Qur’an. Trans. Qur’an. Web. 04 June, 2014. <>

Web Sources

National Weather Service

Americans Love Weather Forecasts

One example of Research on Indigenous Weather Forecasting

[In our Multifaith Mashup columns, we explore a topic from a variety of faith traditions and sacred texts. To see other columns, search our blog using the Multifaith Mashup tag. These columns are representative of the middle school Sunday School curriculum, and to a certain extent, the upper elementary Sunday School curriculum we developed at Jubilee! Community Church in Asheville, NC.]

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