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Midtown Manhattan in the dark on Tuesday morning
Associated Press/Photo by Photo by Charles Sykes
Midtown Manhattan in the dark on Tuesday morning

21st century hurricane, 17th century ballad

Faith & Inspiration

Walter Russell Mead is a brilliant guy I’ve never interviewed but want to. Next best thing is reading his blog, Via Meadia—and I like his post yesterday on Hurricane Sandy and how we “were reminded just how fragile the busy world we humans build around us really is.”

Mead described how salt water sweeping across Manhattan and transformers exploding taught New Yorkers how “we live in a world shaped by forces that are bigger than we are.” He saw Sandy as real but also symbolic: “The day is coming for all of us when a storm enters our happy, busy lives and throws them into utter disarray. … For each one of us, the waters will someday rise, the winds spin out of control, the roof will come off the house, and the power will go out for good.”

Yes, Mead is referring to death: “The best doctors cannot protect us from that final encounter with the force that made and will someday unmake us. Coming to terms with that reality is the most important thing that any of us can do. … If we are wise, we will take advantage of this smaller, passing storm to think seriously about the greater storm that is coming for us all.”

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That was exactly the purpose of 17th century journalism. Before regular newspapers came news ballads such as “Sad News from Salisbury,” which reported on a blizzard. Printed on a sheet of paper and sold for a penny in 1684, the news ballad described how “As Passengers along the Rode did go / The Northeast wind most bitterly did blow, / And flakes of Snow did from the Heavens fall, / As if it meant destruction unto all.”

The ballad then gave details on the 40 or so who died, along with a moral similar to (a bit more explicit than) the one offered by Mead: “Lord grant that it is to us a warning be / And teach us how to shun iniquitie … / O grant that we our sinful lives may mend, / That we may live with thee when life doth end.”

Or, to quote Mead’s exhortation, “Open your eyes to the fragility of life and to our dependence on that which is infinitely greater than ourselves … the same force that sends these storms into our lives offers a peace and security that no storm can destroy. As … one of the psalms puts it, ‘Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.’”

Marvin Olasky
Marvin Olasky

Marvin is editor in chief of WORLD News Group and the author of more than 20 books, including The Tragedy of American Compassion. Follow Marvin on Twitter @MarvinOlasky.

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