On Rainbows and Floods: The Flood of 2015 Through a Catholic Kaleidoscope

Written by Elise G.

Do you remember kaleidoscopes being popular when you were a kid? Perhaps it was only in my little corner or the world, but for a short period they seemed to be at the height of fashion. Do you remember how different the world looked through one? Whatever you looked at was transformed and recreated again and again in a swirl of color and shapes. Everything looked different through a kaleidoscope, and this changing perspective was appealing to me as a child. Even now, as an adult, perspectives have never lost their intrigue.

One perspective that may be of interest on this blog is the Catholic perspective. Like a kaleidoscope, it changes the way everything looks. The world is an infinitely more colorful place through its lenses, and as the author Paul Weigel describes it, the Catholic sees life, “not as one damn thing after another but as the dramatic arena of creation, sin, redemption, and sanctification” (Letters to a Young Catholic, p. 12). The world is seen as transcending the three-dimensional limits of our vision and is steeped in layer upon layer of depth – depth that cannot be seen, but intuited.  If I may, I would like to take you on a short walk through this Catholic prism by way of a recent historical event: the Midwestern flood of 2015. 

A short while ago, on the day after Christmas 2015, it began to rain over Missouri. It did not stop raining for 48 hours, dumping ten inches of rain on my hometown of Eureka, MO. The ground, already saturated from previous rains, could not absorb any moisture, and torrents of water dug gullies into the hills in their race towards the rivers. Then the rivers swelled and spilled over. It happened quickly, and within a day after the rains, the little cluster of hills my family lived on had become an island. Looking back at this event, I am still amazed by the sheer magnitude and power of nature that was unleashed at this time. Houses were tossed off their foundations, trees uprooted and transplanted to new shores downstream, and the the world I knew was rendered silent. This silence was the most impressive effect of the floodwaters. Sitting with my neighbors on their porch on the first evening of our isolation, we could not hear any sounds. Not only had all animal life fallen silent, but there were no trains, no cars, no sirens - no sounds at all came from the valley below, and yet its whole landscape was being transformed.

There is something indescribable about being in the middle of unstoppable forces and silence. At the heart of life, both in its creation and its unraveling, one finds the silent presence of God. Looking from the Catholic perspective, we see that the powers of nature are not the sole elements at work. Rather, we see God reach into the world and interact with it, and in doing so, its forces of nature are not negated, but elevated. Through this silent movement, the created world itself becomes an agent in the act of creation. The effect of this perspective is mesmerizing, and is made even more so by the realization that we too are a part of this created world. We too are actors in the interplay between the silent movement of God and the forces of created nature, and our actions in the midst of these forces are also of great value, though at times they seem insignificant.

In fact, it was this human action that broke the silence that evening. As we sat on the porch late into the night, we saw a helicopter fly down towards the valley with its spotlight and begin to circle. As it circled over and over, and deeper and deeper into the night, there was no escaping the realization that much of the life may have been there was probably lost. Furthermore, we were well aware that at the end of this event our town would look different.  Life would be permanently changed for many. You do not just start fresh after a flood; all of the scattered debris and loss must be accounted for first. This clean-up, rebuilding, and reassessment were all to be a part of our ongoing involvement, but a different kind of involvement was required as well.

I believe our greatest interaction with this event, or with any event with these kinds of forces involved, is our openness to mercy. Though it took several days, the floodwaters finally did recede. Homes had been destroyed, businesses closed, and lives had been lost, and yet there was still a kind of clemency within the event.  This mercy was that we found ourselves thankful amidst the debris: thankful for life, for family, and for incredible neighbors and strong communities. While there was sadness over what was lost, there was also gratitude for what was found. Not least among these discoveries was that, despite the freezing cold, the darkness, and the unstoppable waters in the valley below my home, a man had clung to life on the roof of his house. What had seemed to be a hopeless search the night before ended when he and his dog were picked up the following morning by rescue crews. Even as our town picked up its life again and moved on, the silent movement and searching of God was and is still present among the chatter. In cooperation with this mercy, our little human actions, even in the face of unstoppable natural forces, became far more relevant.

As Catholics, we are exuberant for having been found and engaged in God’s constant presence. Through events such as the flood of 2015, we are made acutely aware of the incredible forces of nature, and can easily find ourselves lost in such situations. Though intimidating, there is comfort in the idea that we are not so much saved by our own doing and seeking, but through the action of a God who seeks us in silence. Through the lens of faith, the silent presence of God is made visible, and in this realization and surrender, we are swept away in the flood of His mercy. Finally, as we find ourselves in this mesmerizing presence, we are invited once again to be actors in God’s creation. As we look at the world through our little kaleidoscope of color, we find our God reaching through, constantly and silently, to pull us in.