Monday, March 14, 2011

Gratitude Journal - Day 6

Today I am grateful for the health and safety of myself and all of my loved ones.
This morning's news is full of stories of the continuing devastation in Japan.
2,000 bodies washed ashore, another 10,000 people missing, and that's just in one city. There's a continued threat of a nuclear meltdown as a damaged reactor is rocked by a second explosion. And the pictures documenting the damage are surreal. Upturned cars sitting on top of three story buildings. A full-size yacht perched on top of another building. Airplanes and boats stacked on top of each other like scattered toys. Entire towns wiped out of existence.

We've seen this kind of devastation before. In Haiti, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, China, and numerous other countries that have been rocked by earthquakes, tsunamis, hurricanes, fires, and floods.
Those of us watching the stories unfold thousands of miles away in the comfort of our living rooms may feel the urge to change the channel. There's only so much devastation that we can take. We may cross ourselves and say "there but for the grace of God go I" but other than donate to the Red Cross and other disaster relief funds there's not much else we can do. As human beings we have a limited capacity to absorb the pain and suffering of others. When we're bogged down in the worries and concerns of our family, friends, neighbors, communities, cities, states, and country, it's hard to make room on our plate for the worries and concerns of an entire world.
Especially when we're faced with the devastation of natural disasters.
These tend to throw us off-kilter. There's no one to blame, no one to hate, no one for us to shake our finger at and say, "You're going to pay for this!"
We like to have an enemy that we can see, that we can keep track of. We don't like the fact that the very ground we walk on can in an instant rise up and tear our lives apart.

One of my professors here at seminary proposed an interesting theological understanding of natural disasters. No...they are not restitution for the sins of humanity (sorry Pat Robertson) but rather they are examples of the chaos that God allows to exist in creation. These seemingly random events don't fit into our grid of "how things are supposed to work" so we're naturally puzzled by them. Why would a God who professes to love us allow an event to occur that wipes 200,000 people off the face of the earth in one fell swoop? Because God gave creation the gift of free will....and when you allow for free will you have to allow for chaos.

We get stuck here because we think that only human beings - and some animals - have the ability to exercise free will, but God built free will into the entirety of creation.
God has a covenant with humanity: We do our best to follow the rules - including the commandment to love God, self, and neighbor - and God gives us the leeway to express ourselves via free will.
Well, what if God has a covenant with all of creation?
The tectonic plates that we walk upon are covenanted to follow the laws of physics, but that means every now and then they're allowed to slip, releasing the pressure that has built up from years of holding themselves still.
Just as we have the God given will to express ourselves, the created world has the will to express itself - and reshape itself - through fires, floods, earthquakes, and other natural events. We call them "disasters" only when we happen to find ourselves caught in the middle of it.

But is this any different then when we decide to leave the marked path and kick through the tall grass, disturbing hundreds of ecosystems and wiping out the carefully built structures of insects, perhaps killing untold numbers of them with each footfall?
Just as we step on an anthill with no thought given to what we have done, the earth shakes itself with no thought given to the welfare of the tiny creatures perched on its back.

There's no one to blame, there's no divinely hatched plan to make us pay for our iniquities.
Part of living in creation is living with the unpredictability of creation.
And in the aftermath, we shed our tears, bury our dead, lift up our neighbor, pick up our lives, rebuild our homes, and go on living, while all along expressing gratitude to God for giving us the gift of life. 
Because that's all that we can do.

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