The Heavens Are Falling

December 15, 2012

As James Thurber recounts it, there was once a little red hen who, having felt something fall on her head, ran about the barnyard shouting, “The heavens are falling down!” much to the amusement of the other creatures. Yet even as they laughed and lampooned, “Suddenly with an awful roar great chunks of crystallized cloud and huge blocks of ice blue sky began to drop on everybody from above, and everybody was killed … for the heavens actually were falling down. Thurber’s moral? “It wouldn’t surprise me a bit if they did.” (Fables for Our Time, p. 71)

We’re not short on warnings ourselves. Whether it’s Ms. Hen and Associates or pronouncements from the Department of Dire Warnings (DDW), lots of folks are glad to tell us the sky is falling: professional fear-mongers, neighbors and friends, talk show hosts, advertisers, the Heavens-Falling Division of DDW.

Sometimes the heavens actually are falling. Relationships fall apart, finances go south, good health disappears, leaders speak power to truth, and trusted social structures seem to go to the nether regions in a hand-basket. And we sit, dazed and devastated, surrounded by chunks of sky, or in Martin Luther’s hymn paraphrase, by a “flood of mortal ills.”

The poets of Psalm 46 sing at the prospect of precisely such a disaster: “Though the earth give way, and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea.” (v. 2) From a Hebrew point of view, “The heavens are falling.” The world is in chaos and enemies are at the gate. Yet they sing, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear …” (vv. 1-2, NIV)

Why not? Delusional fears are one thing, but real calamity is quite another. Fear makes sense, unless we know what the psalmists know. God is ever-present (or “ever-ready”) to help in the face of trouble. The singers call on two powerful images from Israel’s faith, both of which point to God’s great power and loving purposes.

The first image pictures the great fortress city that is God’s dwelling place, the seat of God’s universal reign. At the center of the world and above all other mountains (see Isaiah 2), its Eden-like waters flow to give security against siege warfare, but also to give life to all that it touches. (We see this river again in Ezekiel 47 and Revelation 22, where abundance springs up constantly by its banks.) And the God who dwells in this city can melt creation with a shout as easily as establish it with a word.

The second image thrills to the marvel of God ending wars all over the world and piling their weapons on a bonfire. Certainly not all wars then or now have ended, yet God does end wars. Even more, God shares with us our longing for life and wholeness, shalom at its fullest, and God has the will and the power to carry it out. For this reason, we can know that no disaster can overmatch God’s power, no calamity can outstrip God’s love. George Fox knew this, too, in his confidence that “the power of the Lord is over all” and that “an infinite ocean of light and love flow[s] over the ocean of darkness and death.”

So when our worlds are falling apart, in the face of puzzlement and pain, the psalmists urge, “Be still.” (Psalm 46:10 NIV) Pause a while. Step back. Take a deep breath. Don’t panic. Don’t conjure up frantic contingency plans. Don’t alarm the whole barnyard. Remember who you’re dealing with. Let God be God, “a bulwark never failing.” Trust that the God over all is with us among the icy chunks. Lean into God. Be still.

[This has been a hard week for me and many of my friends. Though it’s not about humor, it seems right to share this piece I wrote some years ago for Quaker Life magazine, hoping that it might help. It is now collected in the book Stepping in the Light: Life in Joy and Power (Friends United Press).]




  1. Nate says:

    No I won’t be afraid, no I won’t be afraid, just as long as You stand, stand by me…..

  2. Thanks. I read this aloud to husband Doug, and we both breathed deeple and leaned into God. Release of breath….

  3. Thanks, Howard,
    I just read this out loud to Doug, and we both leaned back and rested into God’s stillness.

Living in Fun

"Walking Cheerfully" is place to think out loud about how to use and enjoy humor in positive, life-giving ways. We’ll explore how following Christ in all of life can shape, not scuttle, laughter and creative play. What might it mean to laugh with others as you would have them laugh with you?

Probably the other most common posts will be "Finds in Fun." I first learned the phrase “being in fun” from Tom Mullen’s Laughing Out Loud and Other Religious Experiences. He points to the playfulness of children, who are readier to laugh and to see the silly than most adults. Living each day “in fun” often makes us laugh as we slog through a nearly endless supply of things odd, silly, klutzy, and preposterous. The stories here are mostly from my own ordinary, “in fun” days.

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There’s “Humor in the Bible,” and these posts explore where it is, how to find it, and what to do with it. It’s one way of thinking about how to read the Bible well.

Since a lot of us spend big chunks of time at work, the “Humor at Work” posts will suggest ways to stay sane and happy, to get along with cow-orkers, and to use humor to do good work.

I’m a book-pusher at heart, and some of my best friends push books, too. I even know some folks who read. So “Fun Books” posts will tell about books that are funny and help us think about humor.

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