And the Waters Washed Down

by Rev. Judith Coates

March 2006

“Save me, God, for the water has risen to my neck.
I sink in muddy depths where there is no foothold;
I have come into deep water,
And the flood sweeps me away.”
(Psalm 69)

To those who experienced Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, it must have seemed as though God had forgotten the covenant made with Noah: “Never again will there be a flood to lay waste the earth.”

The rain fell, the water rose, on everyone—rich and poor, black and white and brown, just and unjust alike. Yet what was revealed, when the TV cameras began showing us those left behind, was the broken covenant of America. We saw people, desperately poor and almost all black, for whom the promise of equality has never been fulfilled. We were shocked and ashamed. We said, “This isn’t America!” Unfortunately, it is.

I grew up in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in a world where black people were mostly out of sight, except when they worked for white families. Behind the Catholic grade school I attended, there was a small area of poor black homes. When I asked one of the nuns why the black kids I could see peeping through the fence at us didn’t come to our school, I was told, “They’re more comfortable with their own kind, dear.”

Much has changed in the last 50 years. And yet, much has not changed. Katrina showed us the best and worst of us: our compassion, our greed, our fear and resentment. As I watched people doing their best to care for themselves and their loved ones under conditions that would try anyone’s humanity, I was amazed that they were as restrained, as patient, as tender with each other as they were.

So what do we do with this opportunity?

If this, too, is for the good, where is God in it?

That which was hidden in the shadows is revealed. This is good—God is in our awakening.

We learned lessons, shown in the preparations for Hurricane Rita. This is good—God is in our remorse, our resolve to do better.

Thoughtful questions are being asked about how to rebuild. And this is good—God is in our longing for justice.

Once again, as in Genesis, “The spirit of God hovers over the water.” But this time God waits to see what we will create.

Beloved, our hearts have been broken by the suffering of our people. Help us to stand in this holy place of brokenness and compassion, to know that we are truly one, to begin the work of healing and redemption that is Tikkun Olam. Amen