I have just finished putting together a liturgy for common prayer tomorrow morning - it is Lent, we will be praying for the people of Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam, focusing on the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance's Fast for Life campaign. We will of course also be praying for the people of Japan. What to say?
I have framed what I have put together tomorrow with verses from Psalm 46 and Psalm 90
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth should change, though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea; though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble with its tumults.I learnt today that the quake has shaken the earth slightly off its axis, moved Japan by a couple of metres. Enormous seismic change. I heard about the psychological support and counselling being prepared and offered to people caught up in this desperate trauma and tragedy. And I watched yet more pictures of the destruction and heard the worrying reports of a second nuclear power plant at risk ...
Psalm 90 says: "For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past, or like a watch in the night."
If there were no earthquakes, no volcanoes our fragile small plant would not have survived even this far - nor would it have been such a green and fruitful planet. What seems merely like brutal meaningless arbitrary tragedy is perhaps rather more part of our beautiful planet's correction mechanisms. A big earthquake now or the whole earth exploding long term? Not much of a choice. Yet this shifting and quaking in the earth's crust is hard for humans to comprehend or accept. How can counselling, psychoanalysis or therapy offer credible frameworks for massive change on this scale? In the end though each of us is just one, limited human life trying to make sense, trying to make our way through, trying to show solidarity, to understand. So hard for us to have the long view, to think of the needs of our planet in 10,000 or a million years ... by then we will be less than dust.
And yet alongside the dust motif of Psalm 90 I want also to hold out the promise of Isaiah 43
Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine ...
Because you are precious in my sight, and honoured, and I love you.
We are nothing but dust and faded grass, and yet we a very deeply not nothing, but intimitely loved and named by God.
As I pondered the fragile restless crust of the earth, the terrible tragedy of huge irrevocable change, I thought about Julian of Norwich and her visions and understanding. Tonight, as often, I returned to her vision of God holding "a tiny thing", all that has been created, like a hazlenut in his hand. In the face of trauma and pain, offering love is perhaps the only viable and sustainable option. So somehow I hold on to faith, almost wordlessly.
At the same time, our Lord showed me in a spiritual manner, how intimately he loves us. I saw that he is everything that is good and supports us. He clothes us in his love, envelops us and embraces us. He wraps us round in his tender love and he will never abandon us. As I understand it, he is everything that is good. He also showed me a tiny thing lying in the palm of my hand, the size of a hazelnut. I looked at this with the eye of my soul and thought, "What is this?" And is this is the answer that came to me. "It is all that is made" I was amazed that it managed to survive. It was so small that I thought it might disintegrate. And in my mind I heard this answer, "It lives on and will live on because God loves it." So everything owes its existence to the love of God. The first is God made it; the second is God loves it; and the third is God preserves it.