Michelle Martin

No atheists in foxholes

Wednesday, July 19, 2023

If there are no atheists in foxholes, what about in Midwestern basements during tornado warnings?

We had a stretch of three days earlier this month with severe weather warnings in the Chicago area, including the evening we spent time in the basement, streaming the TV news on a laptop to see the weather reports. At one point, there were four active tornado warnings in the Chicago viewing area, one of which covered our home.

When that warning passed, we emerged into simultaneous sunshine and rain, took the dog outside and started dinner, only to return to the basement when the storm sirens started again. One of the remaining warning areas had moved to cover us.

The second stretch was shorter, only 20 minutes or so before the all-clear was issued.

Neither period in the basement as long as the stretch the week before, when record-setting rain started seeping into our unfinished basement. We don’t keep much on the floor down there after experiencing flooding in the past, but there’s always something that has to be put up. Then we put our rubber boots on, brought the buckets in from the garage and bailed in hopes of keeping the water away from the pilot light on the water heater.

At least now all the kids are big enough to help, instead of watching from the basement stairs.

This time, it never got deeper than a few inches before draining away.

Still, with that coming after several days of poor air quality caused by forest fires in Canada, it seems like a very unsettled summer, far from the sepia-tinged lazy days at the pool and beach that I remember from my childhood.

Our faith tells us that God who has counted each hair on our heads cares for us as individuals, with all of our petty problems and worries. Given that, it can’t be a bad thing to pray for help, even for something as simple as a few inches of water in the basement or for a funnel cloud to not descend and rip the roof off our home.

But our faith also tells us that we are supposed to care for the earth, which seems to be doing its best to convince us that its suffering, with dangerous heat waves across the southern half of the U.S. as well as in Asia and Europe. The heat waves in Europe now are being given names, much like hurricanes.

In his 2015 encyclical “Laudato Si’,” Pope Francis was clear about the suffering of the Earth, which “now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her” (Laudato Si’, 2).

This summer, that cry has become more difficult than ever to ignore. Maybe, while we are taking cover in the basement or bailing out the water, we can reflect on what we must do to help.


  • climate change
  • family life