One Week After Sandy: A New Kind of Power

Donna Schaper is a friend of mine who I met when I was far too young to understand her brilliance. Sometimes, I worry that I am still too young to understand her brilliance.

She is a pastor at Judson Memorial Church on Washington Square in New York City. Recently Donna has been posting updates about her experiences in the first several hours after Sandy. You may read them here.

The other day, after leading a community vigil, Donna shared these thoughts.

Hear the brilliance in the grief and hope she shares:

Many Different Kinds of Power

Last night at Judson about 20 of us gathered, along with one dog, to light candles, sing a few songs and say a few prayers. We also walked the giant canvas labyrinth, which was easy to put out in the dark. It has white stripes. We observed what our hearts know: there are many different kinds of power. Too many people are saying they are “out of power,” or “powerless.” More precisely, we are without electrical power.

Last Sunday I innocently preached about the need for new folkways, new rituals, and new ways of being. I actually said, “For most of us, the major ritual of our lives is to remember to plug in our cell phones.” I pontified, “Wouldn’t it be great if we kept a good Sabbath with such rigor or also prayed intentionally before we ate or before we slept? Not to mention how great a Jubilee, an automatic normalized forgiveness of debts, would mark our political economy?” Well. Since Sandy hit, we have been wandering around with cell cords in hand in lower Manhattan, looking for a plug that had power. No lights, no traffic lights, no hot water, and no working plugs: that is the reality post Sandy. It is dark outside and sometimes also dark inside.

To keep from being a complete fibber, we just had to do a service. We had to remind ourselves that there are different kinds of power than the kind we don’t have. There is people power and candlepower, physical power (you can’t volunteer for the Red Cross if you can’t lift 50 pounds or stay for 12 hours), magical power, the kind that makes you think the A train will be humming again soon. There is the power to hear words anew: infrastructure, nature, air, wind, fire. There is the power to recognize, as the labyrinth shows, that in every end there is a beginning. New York will never be the same. We know that. Worship helps us say what we know out loud. The word Katrina came to mind. We have known for a long time about climate change and aging infrastructure. Now we know that we know, in a different kind of power, the kind that moves people to change.

As we went back to our dark homes and our meager food, we didn’t forget to give thanks for the Sabbath we had just had because nature had demonstrated astonishing infrastructural failure.