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WHEN LIGHTNING STRIKES: A DENSE ATMOSPHERE LEADS TO QUESTIONS ON WHAT, PRAY TELL, WILL NOW FLASH AROUND US

It was several years ago, in 2011, that an earthquake rocked the Eastern seaboard, causing damage even, and perhaps meaningfully, to the Washington Monument in D.C.

The epicenter was near Richmond, Virginia, as we will discuss at a retreat there this weekend. It was the strongest quake to occur east of the Rockies (along with one on the Canadian border during the Forties) since 1897.

And peculiar it was: the big crack this rattling caused, from afar (ninety-eight miles), in the august D.C. monument, which resulted in its closing for many months -- such a symbol of America!

Before that, the blasts at the World Trade Center and subsequent collapse of those towers sent a seismic pulse that cracked the very foundation of  Federal Hall at nearby 26 Wall Street (the nation's first capitol -- where George Washington took his oath of office, and where the first Congress met).

We also have in very recent years lay eye to Hurricane Sandy -- which caused closure of the Statue of Liberty.

Pretty interesting, these landmarks, and their damage, by storm, by quake, all coming in such a short span. The Statue of Liberty. The first Capitol. The Washington Monument. Are there any larger symbols of America? Now, an exceptional winter finally draws -- but for one more week of icy weather? -- toward a conclusion. Records everywhere. Damage to trees up and down I-95. Ice on the Great Lakes that will probably still be teetering over Niagara Falls into the start of summer.

Winter ends, soon, hopefully after next week (more snow will fall before spring is sprung), and then there will be the sparks from cumulus. Will it perhaps be the year of lightning?

Let us hope not hurricanes.

Much commotion occurs when there is much moisture in the air. Our atmosphere is thick spiritually.

Lightning too is interesting. Satan is associated with it: he fell as a bolt of lightning. But also associated with lightning and certainly thunder is the Hand of God. Lightning destroys, at the same time that it benefits (causing atmospheric nitrogen, which nourishes plants). Lightning caused the microphone to go dead when a former "Catholic" mayor of New York was speaking (in contradiction to a bishop) about abortion (during presidential primaries). The timing caught everyone's attention. There was also lightning a year ago when Pope Benedict announced his abdication. (How do we interpret that; is there anything to interpret?) In Western New York tremendous displays of lightning occur near a community of spiritualists, as it does to near an offshoot group in the Orlando area. Is it that lightning purges? In the special Marian state of Louisiana, the Madonna Chapel gets hit. What to make of that? Is there not simple (unfortunate) happenstance?

"For just as the lightning comes from the east and flashes even to the west, so will the coming of the Son of Man be." (Matthew 24:27).

Do not spirits go "in appearance like a flash of lightning" (according to Ezekiel)?

It will be, perhaps, to repeat, the year for lightning. The atmosphere -- spiritually, meteorologically -- is dense. It is charged. Storms seem "bad" but it's how spring -- new life -- comes.

There are weeping images.

In Russia. In Ukraine.

What do they mean? (Will the crisis there redound to Iran or Syria or Korea and China?)

Does the Madonna weep -- as so many of us assume -- at the sins, the darkness, in the world?

One Orthodox scholar begs to differ. This was Archpriest Paul O'Callaghan way back two decades ago:

"One of the most frequently discussed aspects of this topic has been the question of what the weeping means. One common opinion is that the Virgin is weeping because of the  increase in the sins of the world. However, the concept that the sins of the world have greatly increased in modern times is questionable. Is the Theotokos sadder now than when thousands of Christians were being martyred by the pagan Romans? Do the sins of modern America eclipse the murderous persecutions of Stalin and Hitlerís genocide of the 1930ís and 40ís? Is there currently more cause for the Theotokos to weep than when millions of Orthodox Christians were oppressed by hostile Islamic rulers for centuries? Or by Communism in recent years? Or to focus again on the American scene, are our modern sins greater than when millions of African Americans were forcibly enslaved in our land, or when genocide was being waged against Native Americans?

"Certainly sexual immorality (with the resultant AIDS epidemic) has become increasingly acceptable in recent decades, but the other sins mentioned above were no less vicious. Perhaps the only other phenomenon that one could argue has uniquely grieved the heart of God and the Holy Theotokos in our time is the wholesale apostasy in many of the churches. This indeed should cause anyone who loves Christ to weep. The immediate association connected with tears of course is sorrow. However, the fact that what comes from the eyes of the Theotokos is not a watery, tear-like substance is worthy of note. The tears are of an oily type and consistency generally referred to as 'myrrh' in the tradition of the [Orthodox] Church. This myrrh is considered a healing balm: the fact that the Virgin weeps myrrh would then mean she is pouring out mercy and compassion for the human race in need of healing and grace. So, in this line of interpretation, the weeping is not so much a statement that the world is in a uniquely evil condition, but a reminder that the mercy, grace, and healing power of the Holy Spirit are still with us in the Church, by the intercessions of the Theotokos.

"A general examination of the phenomenon of weeping icons leads to the conclusion that it is a manifestation of Grace within the Church. The acceptance of weeping icons (and, one must add, many other miraculous phenomena associated with icons), by the tradition of the Church indicates this is a Divine activity and should generally be received as such. However, this is not to endorse every absurd and superstitious opinion that may be offered concerning each particular instance of the phenomenon. The Scriptures warn us to 'test all things and to hold fast to what is good' (1 Thessalonians 5:21). Ultimately, the significance of weeping icons must be measured from within the perspective of the entire tradition of the Church."

We'll take that under advisement. There are good points.

The question: while a few nations had turned evil under Hitler (very), and while certainly pagan Rome was incredible, not to mention the demonic worship and mayhem through Old Testament times (Jesus came specifically to break the hold of incredible evil), we have our own issues in the current era, with flagrant deviant sexuality, so vastly transmitted (with media not available centuries ago), and wanton materialism (everyone in the West eats like an emperor). The lust is spectacular. You can't read a news story without a lewd advertisement or caustic comment popping up. You can't drive without being smacked by a billboard (advertising everything from adult shops and accident attorneys and plastic surgeons to vasectomies). And when it comes to infanticide (which was practiced in Rome, and which recalls too Nazi extermination), we still have the tremendous sin of abortion, which causes dozens of millions to die each year (decade after decade; not just one holocaust). Has any era, even along the Nile, in 2500 B.C., even Babylon, been more concupiscent?

Factor in those who succumb to synthetic chemicals, to plastics, along with drugs, the degradation of Creation, all in the name of prosperity, plus the brand new blasphemy of genetic engineering: and, well, one can argue that this era is as dark or getting there or even darker than any previous ones.

Here's the so-called bottom line: we are destroying God's handiwork (hear the thunder; hear the rumbling ground), something we don't usually associate as a "sin," and (as if to attempt, as did Lucifer, an ascent to His Throne) trying to re-create His Creation. If we keep it up we will fall as fast as he did, at the speed and with the suddenness of what flashes east to west and west to east above.

[resources: Sent To Earth, Fear of Fire, and Michael Brown retreat, Virginia]

[see also: Signs and more: giant dust storm 'swallows' swath of Texas and Dead fish cover lake]

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