Finding God in the Ottawa Dark


“For more details of where to get help go online to…”

That’s when I want to throw my tiny battery-powered radio out the window.

This is written in that old-fashioned manner, using ink, paper, and candlelight on day three of life in Ottawa after the actions of two tornadoes.

It’s another day without power.

Of course, prayers are directed to those still in hospital and all those whose houses and businesses have been scattered by the spiralling destruction of the tornadoes.

Without light, I notice the stars anew. You delight in the rare gift of moon shadow.

Without light, I ask everyone: “Do you have power?” and “Are you okay?”

With light, strangers ask me, “Do you need anything?”

A remarkable machinery of disaster relief has taken over the communities most affected. A school and a community centre become temporary homes for hundreds of home-destroyed, home-damaged, possessions lost forever survivors.

The Salvation Army brings its canteen truck. The Red Cross is the default referral service. A cluster of city departments brings regular updates, though the details can only be slight.

And people share scraps of precious information –

“There’s still gas at the station on ….”

“You can take a shower at …”

“At … they’re giving out hot coffee. Free!”

After this morning’s service, the church across the street sets up an impromptu community barbecue. Unannounced and open to all.

The church I attend is 4 kilometres west of here. On my bike ride there this chilly 9-degree morning (the first real hint of fall so far) I pass four survival suburbanite homes. Each one sports a portable basketball hoop at the end of the drive. Each has a large black truck also on the drive. And protected by a hockey goal net on the porch is an aggressively noisy generator, asserting “At least we were prepared!”

At the intersection where bikers and pedestrians must cross four lanes of busy traffic, we look imploringly at drivers to consider stopping momentarily. These lights, like 300 others across the city, are not working and have become, in theory, as traditional four-way stops.

Instead, they have become the crucible where the elements of trust, goodwill, patience, and aggression are brought into an experimental mix. Fortunately, once one driver chooses to stop, others follow the example.

Wireless-free and unplugged, news no longer from a foreign country comes.

Amidst such silence, routines fail.

No matter how many times I flick the switch in the bathroom it still remains dark.

There’s a forced change to habit when the lights go out.

And there are many ways to exercise the muscle of powerlessness.

After three days, I sense a less-used muscle is being encouraged into action: light or dark, to find God in all things, and enter that transformation that St. Ignatius says occurs “when persons go out of themselves and into their Great Creator and Lord … and enjoy continuous instruction, attention and consolation.” That’s when I can become more aware of “how the fullness of our eternal God dwells in all created things.”*

Even in the dark.

Even in the cold.

And especially when, from the warmth of a wired studio, unthinking news readers invite me to learn more by go somewhere I can’t because of the very news item they have just read!


(*Letter 101, p. 160-1, Personal Writings of St. Ignatius of Loyola, Penguin, 1996)

Ottawa-based author and editor, Kevin Burns is a frequent contributor to igNation. His latest book, Impressively Free – Henri Nouwen as a Model for a Reformed Priesthood and co-authored with Michael W. Higgins, has just been released by Paulist Press in the United States and by Novalis in Canada.

  • Peter Bisson, SJ
    Posted at 03:51h, 24 September Reply

    Thank you Kevin!

  • Joan Levy Earle
    Posted at 05:26h, 24 September Reply

    Awesome piece of reality Kevin. Sorry you had such a bad storm but pleased you wrote this account of accepting God in all things. You witnessed many caring hearts and shared that good news. Thank you.

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