The New York Times Sunday Book Review recently featured Walker Percy’s theory of hurricanes, that “people felt better in hurricanes” and other “bad environments” rather than in good ones.

This rings true for me.

I was depressed in 1987 after three years of work in inner city Chicago.  Then on an October Monday morning (19th) Pam Ferguson called me at home to say that the building next door had fallen on our Temple Corps.  It had indeed.  The court ordered demolition had gone bad and two-thirds of the eastern section, the oldest, of our building was destroyed by tons of bricks from the tall derelict being used for heroin fixes and prostitution.  My attention, focus, energies were now engaged.  It could be said that I was now living life to the full.

It was a slap in the face.  And it made me well.

Is this what it means to be living a ‘this-worldly’ life?

Keith Clements describes Bonhoeffer’s this-worldliness as a “theological perspective in which the created world, including the human, is a world that God loves in all its creatureliness, and to which God comes.”

How does God come?  The answer is “just as you did it to one of the least … you did it to me” (Matthew 25:40).  God comes to us.  We then have a choice.  Bonhoeffer’s poem Christians and Heathens makes this distinction even more clear.  All humans cry out to God for help.  But the Christian sees and goes to help those who hunger, thirst.  Who sit alone, unprotected, sick, alienated.  They cry out wordlessly and God comes to them, not in some mystical experience though I will not discount the rare occurrence.  God comes to them in us.  And we find God in them.  This is the message of Christians and Heathens.

True, ‘bad environments’ offer a therapeutic experience.  And, as Walker Percy suggests, such places may have universal appeal and effect on people.  You have experienced it if you’ve lived in a big city preparing for an approaching blizzard.  A theory of hurricanes resonates with Bonhoeffer’s call to the this-worldly life.

I’ll close with John Keble.  My Detroit days were an experience very close to my 1987 frame of mind, but they were days based on life experience which allowed me to balance dismay with engagement.  Two verses of Keble apocalyptically opened my view on the kingdom of God.

If on our daily course our mind, be set to hallow all we find,  new treasures still of countless price, God will provide for sacrifice.

The trivial round, the common task, will furnish all we ought to ask, room to deny ourselves, a road, to bring us daily nearer God.

Walker Percy