by J. Randal Matheny, editor
Driving east on U.S. Highway 412, I’d hoped to scoot across the Missouri Bootheel and cross into Tennessee ahead of the storm. But well before I reached Hayti and I-55, I saw the winds coming up the Mississippi Valley from the south. It was hard to tell what were clouds and what was dust whipped up from the flat, open fields. I would not have been surprised to see a tornado dip down out of the darkness to my right. Whirls of topsoil danced and twisted as high straight-line winds swept northward across the highway, downing road signs and threatening to rip the the wipers from the windshield.
The northern edge of the storm had reached me. To my left, blue skies pretended the calm reined forever. I decided to keep going, thinking that in another five minutes I’d be in the clear.
As 412 skirted south of Hayti, about a quarter mile ahead of me a tractor-trailer truck started up the overpass over the railroad tracks. Just beyond, the highway ended underneath I-55 and ran seamlessly into I-155 and on to the Mississippi River bridge.
I was driving about 45 mile per hour, but I couldn’t gauge the truck’s speed. As he got almost to the top of the overpass, the strong wind coming from the right hit him broadside and lifted him up on his left wheels. For a moment the 16-wheeler seemed suspended in its tilt. Whether by the driver’s maneuver or a drop in the wind, suddenly the truck came back down to settle on all its tires.
Reaching the underpass under I-55 a half-mile ahead, the driver pulled over, no doubt to recover from the shock of his near accident. I decided to keep driving, since there seemed to be no protected place to pull over.
But I would not cross the Mississippi River bridge if the winds were still blowing.
By the time I reached the bridge the winds had abated, though leaves and limbs scattered the interstate. But lightning was falling on every side of me. Now I was in the middle of an electrical storm. Every few seconds a streak of intense light would fall within my field of vision, always within a few miles of me.
I inched up the bridge’s western incline, barely glancing at the river before descending to the Tennessee banks. The electrical storm commanded both sides of the river. From the built-up interstate above the river plain, I watched vast shards of bluish white stab through the roiling clouds.
Then, about a mile away, one of those tongues of fire struck the ground before my eyes. A huge white dome formed at the point of contact. As a child, I had seen black circles in the cotton and bean fields where lightning had hit, but never had I seen it lick the ground. The white dome seemed unworldly, the concentrated energy resisting dissipation into the earth.
People call wind and lightning “forces of Nature.” I prefer to take them as tokens of God’s power, signs of the Creator who spoke nothingness into being by a word. Those images of invisible winds setting a heavy truck on its edge, of a rain of rays, of lightning pouring its voltage into a field will remain with me no short time. And they will remind me of the God who gives life, transforms darkness into light, brings joy out of suffering, and changes hearts of stone into throbbing instruments of praise.
The forces of Nature are tokens of God’s power.