When the flood came for Noah, he was prepared. He was able to take his family and animals into the safety of the ark in an orderly way. When the floods came to Moorland on the Somerset Levels and Yalding in Kent, there was no time for such preparations. I have been particularly touched by the plight of both communities because I used to be Vicar of Moorland and I am now a bishop in the diocese in which Yalding is located.
It is heartbreaking to see people evacuated from Moorland for fear of their lives and to see people forced out of their homes in Yalding. Our homes are extensions of ourselves – we organise our homes around us and enjoy them with those whom we love and when we are forced from them, we leave part of ourselves behind.
It is hard to watch farmers on the Somerset levels having hastily to transport their distressed animals away from their farms to safety. A friend who is a farmer in Moorland, whose house and farmyard have escaped flooding over the years, told me that the water had not yet reached her but it was getting closer. She was worried about the herd of cattle currently in the barns. When people are forced out by flooding, the waters of chaos invade both their homes and their lives leaving them bereft. Becoming refugees because of the unstoppable waters of a flood touches a deep and primeval fear within human beings. It is not surprising that people are devastated and often overwhelmed by their experience.
There will be many contributing factors to the flooding. Silted up river-beds which are in urgent need of dredging. Flood planes nearby which have been built upon. Farming methods which have rendered the soil sterile so that it can no longer hold water but is washed into rivers and on to roads. Climate change which interferes with the usual weather patterns and brings extreme winds and rains. A combination of all these factors can bring disaster to many lives. Human nature encourages us to look for some person or some factor to blame. Lessons can always be learned to try to ensure that such disasters are not repeated, but at the end of the day, no matter how many precautions are taken, we can never have complete control of our lives or of nature. There will be times when the forces of chaos and death will invade the lives of us all and this can happen unexpectedly. What we need most on these occasions is immediate, practical help, the support and presence of community and the love of friends and family. At the end of the day, while demanding an answer to questions may alleviate anger and frustration, it is presence and love which will help us through the trauma.
In Moorland flood-water has reached the top of the gravestones in the Churchyard. Even the dead are not spared. In Yalding, the Church, built on high ground, became a place of warmth and welcome for both rescued and rescuers. There have been moving stories of self-giving and heroism from both communities and the Church has been deeply involved. When the floods eventually subside and people return to their homes and places of work, there will be a lot of work to be done both in making homes habitable and in making lives habitable. There will need to be opportunities for people to tell their stories and for communities to laugh and cry together. Then, just as Noah, his family and animals would have celebrated as they left the ark to begin new lives, so, too, in due course, there will be a time for communities to celebrate new beginnings.