A lesson from New Orleans: Soul is waterproof

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Members of a rescue team in Laplace, La., help evacuate people Aug. 30, 2021, after Hurricane Ida made landfall. (CNS photo/Marco Bello, Reuters)

I am presently sitting in a car charging my phone after riding out Hurricane Ida yesterday afternoon into this morning, and I can’t help but have the same emotions I had 16 years ago when we were hit by Hurricane Katrina. As I fulfill the request to write this article, I am overcome with feelings of anxiety about what awaits as I head outside.

I am still unsettled from last night’s restlessness caused by the hurricane wind and rain that shook the house throughout the night. I even worry about my home church that we rebuilt after the flood following the levee failures 16 years ago. I am also reminded why I hesitate to make plans to celebrate my birthday (Aug. 31), because I am always overcome with some sort of grief and anxiety during this time of year due to the height of hurricane season.

Auxiliary Bishop Fernand J. Cheri of New Orleans, left, and Dr. Ansel Augustine clear debris after Hurricane Ida struck New Orleans. The object in the photo is the top of one the steeples of a church that flew off in the wind gusts produced by the hurricane. Photo courtesy of Dr. Ansel Augustine.

A couple of days ago, my family of fellow culture bearers released a new song as part of the 16-year anniversary of Hurricane Katrina. This hauntingly beautiful melody was in my head all day yesterday and into this morning as I listened to wind and rain howl through a pitch black city. This song became my prayer in connection with the Scripture I was reflecting on by candlelight: “When you pass through waters, I will be with you; / through rivers, you shall not be swept away. / When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned, / nor will flames consume you” (Is 43:2).

Despite the fact that there is no power in the city because one of the main towers that provides electricity fell into the Mississippi River, we, as a Gulf Coast community, have continued to overcome due to our faith.

We believe that our soulful sounds will play again. We believe that the aroma of our unique culinary arts will fill the air again. We believe that our parishes and various other sacred spaces will once again fill us with hope so that we can share that hope with others. We believe, as the Scripture that was referenced earlier says, that no matter what we face, God is with us.

We are a people of soul — soulful music, soulful food, soulful attitudes, soulful art. But most importantly, a soulful faith that reminds us that, through the waters of our baptism, we are made waterproof to the challenges that try to flood our lives. As hard as these past few days have been, I remember: We have been here before, and we will overcome again!

Dr. Ansel Augustine has served the Church in various capacities for over 20 years. He presently serves as the area director of Vagabond Missions.

Ansel Augustine

Ansel Augustine earned his D. Min from the Graduate Theological Foundation. He is the director of the office of Black Catholic ministries for the Archdiocese of New Orleans, and his website is www.holyhotboy.info.