I Peter 3:15: “Be prepared to give an account of the hope that is in you.”
The “new normal”–it’s an expression I’ve heard lately from people who have experienced traumas, or disasters where life is utterly changed, and what was once true will never be true, or the same, again. It is a phrase that expresses the aftermath of a crisis, whether it’s a personal one, or a communal one. This morning, I thought of that phrase as I watched images of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan.
My first response to news of disaster is prayer, and mostly have spent the day praying for Japan, and other areas around the Pacific affected by the tsunami waves. Thankfully our church is part of a global community, and I’ve learned to take comfort from that. Even though we’re not there, we can pray, and give, and support those who are. I was struck again by the truth expressed sometimes in Luther’s writings on penitence: we don’t have to invent penances to cry out to God in our need; life brings our need home to us.
Wednesday’s ashes reminded us of our frailty. Today’s news brought it home. My heart goes out to the people of Japan, and to all who were harmed today, including other living creatures and the land itself. One of our prayers for the aftermath of a disaster includes the petition that God’s presence be revealed in the midst of such events. I’ve been thinking about that all day. It’s the promise of the incarnation–that God is present, with us, nevertheless.
Lent asks us to open the eyes of our hearts: to be willing to face the suffering of life, to tell the truth about our lives, rather than living in denial of it. Pedro Arrupe, S.J., Jesuit priest, and one of the most beautiful Christian spiritual teachers of the 20th century, lived in Hiroshima when it was bombed. He survived the bombing and went on to care for hundreds of victims. He practiced a kind of compassionate stance that one of his biographers, Kevin Burke, SJ, called “a mysticism of open eyes.” I thought of Pedro Arrupe’s open eyes, and open heart, this morning, while watching the waves wash over the Japanese landscape in another kind of devastation. Arrupe’s faith came from a well of compassion, and a willingness to face what was real, what happens, what is historical, and not from a flight inward away from the world.
The phrase “mysticism of open eyes” comes from theologian Johann Baptist Metz, who believes that openness to reality is the way Jesus lived. Here is what he said:
“In the end Jesus did not teach an ascending mysticism of closed eyes, but rather a God mysticism with an increased readiness for perceiving, a mysticism of open eyes, which sees more not less. It is a mysticism that especially makes visible all invisible and inconvenient suffering, and –convenient or not–pays attention to it and takes responsibility for it, for the sake of a God who is a friend to human beings.” (Metz, Passion for God, quoted in Pedro Arrupe, Essential Writings, p.33) Such faith gives us courage to not be overwhelmed when faced with devastating events.
In addition to prayer, we may want to give material relief. The ELCA was quick to respond to Japan’s need, along with many other relief agencies. Information on the Lutheran church in Japan may be found here.