10 Minutes in a Hurricane

Posted on January 29, 2012


My second son loves factoids. Any time I’m still, as in fixing a meal, he reads me any that he finds interesting. He has an app for that.

“Wow,” he said, then shared his newest discovery with me. “Ten minutes in a hurricane releases as much energy as would the detonation of all the world’s nuclear reserves combined.” I pondered on that as he continued reading trivia and I continued making lunch.

Today I taught a lesson in Sunday School about surrendering power to God. We discussed a vision a prophet had in which he watched as his posterity fought and warred, fell away, came back, saw Jesus Christ, lived in happiness, fell away again, saw Jesus Christ again. It was epic and awe-inspiring, unfolding the mystery of who God is, how he feels, and what he does by demonstrating the longevity of his relationship with humankind.

The vision talks of the vanities of trusting anything but him, and I think for the first time in my life, I got it. I’ve had it intellectually, touched the edges of the truth before, even tried to teach it to others, but today I felt it, breathed it, lived it, and saw it. It was a transformative experience that I think would have been impossible without the past year’s searching and experience. I’m grateful for that.

So I thought about ten minutes in a hurricane. I’m from tornado country. I’ve seen their force, their incredible destructive power, felt the air change and watched the sky turn from blue to orange to green as the funnel formed. I’ve felt the force of the wave front, driven through the back end of the wall cloud where the rain sheets down relentlessly, huddled as huge hail pummeled the house or the car, watching it strip leaves and branches from trees with unyielding violence. I’ve experienced the nebular environment of tornado breeding grounds as the electricity surged through the air, searching for some excuse to begin swirling, consolidating all that unfocused energy. It’s indescribably powerful, and … indescribable.

Yet tornadoes usually last less than ten minutes. They are usually less than a mile or so wide. Hurricanes can last for hours or days, pounding a path hundreds of miles wide. Huge regions of sky convulse to unleash power many, many times greater than a tornado. It’s an awe-inspiring thought what power a hurricane consolidates, and to realize simultaneously how little we know about them, and how little we can do about them but monitor and huddle and wait.

Nuclear warheads are similarly frightening. I grew up at the tail end of the Cold War and I remember. The destructive power, whether you measure it in kilojoules or watts or lives taken, that we have amassed through our scientific and military expansion is sobering. Yet all of our puny human strivings, even at destruction, are expended in the first ten minutes of a hurricane. It sounded accurate, but I wanted to be sure, so I read an expert’s word here and an evaluation of his expert word here. Interesting.

The phrase “vanities of mankind” comes to mind.

I thought about a year of striving to do what I could to help him with his work, and suddenly understood the importance of consistently hitting brick walls. If we have any misunderstanding, hidden in the deepest recesses of our ego, that we are executing our plan for his work, we need to be set straight. In the quiet of consistent failure comes the crucial truth: it is his plan, and ready as we may be to help, it will be done his way. When we know that, hold that truth in our hands and feel the weight of it, and have the right kind of pocket to carry it close, we will be ready.

I heard a young woman today give a profound definition of meekness. She said it was the sure knowledge of the length and breadth of one’s power, combined with the discretion to know when and how it should be used. I thought, it is the ability to not. To not speak when we know the answer, to not help when we can save another, to not make the thing, whatever it is we’re in, about us. It is the ability to yield timing and method and control to the one who can stir hurricanes and make them subside. I thought, how true that Moses was described as “the most meek of all men.”

I’ve had my own hurricanes and after each one I’ve known more surely where I can place my trust. If that’s God’s way of crafting a meek person, I guess I won’t pray so hard for my ten minutes to pass.

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