Posted by Mark Beckwith on March 16, 2011
I was two days into my two-year sojourn in Japan when the country paused to honor the 50th anniversary of the Tokyo earthquake. The country mourned the 120,000 lives that were lost on September 1, 1923 -- and took the opportunity to showcase the importance of public safety (every Japanese school kid knew that they were to get under a desk whenever the ground shook); and the progress made in mandating stronger building codes. The entire country invested a lot of financial and social capital in being prepared for seismic activity. That helped last week, but not enough. The perfect storm of earthquake, tsunami and potential nuclear meltdown has brought a level of devastation that reverberates with us, a half world away. We don't know what the ultimate financial and human cost will be, but it is more than our psyches can absorb. But it will not be as much as the aggregate cost of the Haiti earthquake last year, or the South Asia tsunami several years ago. The world can be a dangerous place, often through no fault of our own -- even though there are those who attempt to ascribe blame and responsibility for what otherwise would be called a natural disaster. And often couch it in theological language. Hurricane Katrina was divine punishment, some said. Still others maintained that the earthquake in Haiti was a direct consequence of forsaken destiny. On the 50th anniversary of the Tokyo earthquake, I remember reading stories of vengeance against Korean people who were thought -- by some, to have caused the disaster. There is a deep human temptation to respond to violence with violence. Tit for tat. We may be able to mitigate some of the geological violence-- but we can't control it. But we can -- and should, stand up to the physical, verbal and theological violence that flares in reaction. Even --and especially, if it means standing up to yourself. And then there is the temptation to just get away from the violence of the earth gone wild. There is just too much misery. It either hurts too much -- or we become steeled against it. There is another way to respond to the world's pain. Take it to the heart of God. That's what Jesus learned to do in his sojourn in the wilderness, which we commemorate each Lent. Jesus brought himself to the heart of God -- and by doing so he was then able to better see the divine in everyone else. Take it to the heart of God -- through prayer, through giving, through whatever means available that will keep your heart open in the face of overwhelming misery or the temptation to respond with some sort of violence. That can be a part of a Lenten discipline. Henri Nouwen used to say that the shortest distance between two people is God. At a time when so many have literally been swept away, may we resist the temptation of being swept up in attempts to spiritually escape (which is its own form of violence) or come down with pernicious explanations -- and instead stay grounded in God. Take it to the heart of God -- which mysteriously keeps us in closer relationship with one another. And can contribute to the binding of the world's brokenness.