COMMENTARY: The end is near; pack an umbrella

c. 1999 Religion News Service

(Dale Hanson Bourke is publisher of RNS.)

UNDATED _ The weather this summer has been just plain weird in most of the country.

Even some of the weather forecasters have had the good sense to stop predicting and start scratching their heads like the rest of us. It seems the La Nina they expected became the El Loco.

If my Grandma Hanson were still alive, she would not be surprised."It's the end times,"she would say.

By the time Grandma died at 96, I'd heard her predict the end more times than I could count. When I was very young, I took her literally and believed we were in the final countdown.

As I got older, I realized Grandma used the phrase to sum up anything that was unusual, strange or just plain weird. It was her way of saying that humans could not explain everything God was doing and we should just stop trying.

On the other hand, Grandma would have no patience for all the Y2K predictions going on.

She would see all the hubbub as just one more indication that humans were being human."Foolishness,"she would pronounce it.

Grandma lived her life secure in the belief that God was God and humans were humans. The problems started when humans thought they were God or thought they could explain God.

On the other hand, Grandma did believe if a human believed in God the possibility existed for him or her to be just a little less human. Not godlike. Just a little less human.

Grandma's philosophy was honed on the prairie of South Dakota where nature is an awesome and often deadly force. It was fine-tuned on a farm in Indiana where she and my grandpa raised crops and livestock.

I have always been a city girl, but on my regular visits to my grandparents' farm I learned a great deal about life. Most of what I learned hasn't been proven wrong by advances in technology or my own accumulation of years.

It seems despite all our gadgets and gizmos, we can't predict the weather much more reliably than the Old Farmer's Almanac. Maybe we should stop trying.

Forecasters tell us hurricanes may come with sudden force or stall and pound away for days. Seismologists know earthquakes could occur in dozens of regions and take thousands of lives or simply offer us a friendly tremor or two.

We are no more in control of these occurrences for predicting them. But being human, we want desperately to do something about them.

I understand now that Grandma was saying we should all live believing it is the end times. Because even if we aren't in the path of a hurricane or living on a fault line, there's no predicting what may happen. Even if there is no power outage or mass chaos on Jan. 1, we could still fall down the stairs.

And even if we could predict with godlike accuracy, wouldn't we still act like humans? Don't people build million-dollar houses on the San Andreas fault or refuse to evacuate even as a hurricane hurdles directly at them?

We might as well spend our energy on doing good and getting our house in order just as if we believed the world would end tomorrow. Because for some of us, it will.

After a summer of false starts, I've stopped listening to the weather report. I go outside in the morning, hold out my hand and look up at the sky. I keep an umbrella in my car and a watering can near my garden. I'm as prepared as I was when I watched the weather report every morning and read the forecast in the newspaper.

I don't care much anymore whether we are expecting a La Nina or an El Nino. I'm confining my expectations to ``que sera, sera.'' So far it seems to be the only truly reliable system around.