Thursday, November 01, 2012

Life Interrupted

I am grateful that there has been a distinct lack of religious rationalization of Hurricane Sandy. That is, I haven't heard of any prominent religious leaders attempting to 'make sense' of the destruction and loss of life by portraying the devastation as "God's will" or "retribution for sin." In the Northeast, it seems, there is just a quiet numbness as people look out to see what the storm has wrought, sort out how it has interrupted their lives, and begin to pick up the pieces...if there are any pieces to pick up.

I use the word interruption deliberately. We have all had the experience of being deep in conversation when something - a phone call, a whining child, a stranger - intrudes upon the moment. When the issue is addressed and the two parties try to pick up where they left off, it is usually with the line, "Now, where were we?" Yet, we know, that in the wake of an interruption the conversation never resumes in quite the same way.

Perhaps no Old Testament figure captures this better than Job. Job - wholly righteous in God's eyes - suffers the calamitous loss of his livelihood, his family, and his health. His life interrupted, he consigns himself to a pile of ashes where he bemoans his life in the company of three friends. Again and again, his friends offer pious platitudes trying to make sense of Job's suffering, interrupting Job's speeches with their theories of God's justice and there efforts to conceal a disturbing reality: we live, all of us, in a world where very bad things can happen to very good people. Finally, God interrupts all of their speeches and addresses the gathered group: God's ways and human ways are not the same and our human minds cannot comprehend the whole of creation. God's interruption doesn't give Job answers but it does accomplish something: Job knows that God has heard his cries. Job - isolated amongst his friends who will not listen to him - knows that he is not alone.

After an interruption, it is impossible for affairs to "return to normal." The death of a loved one, the loss of a job, a child born with special needs, a cancer diagnosis, the breakup of a relationship: these are all interruptions which break up the normal flow of our lives and change forever life's course. Our temptation is to try to resume life as it once was, but this is impossible. At best, we can take note of the change and adapt, grow, and move forward.

As the rains subside and the full scope of the damage is surveyed, let us be careful not to imitate Job's friends. We needn't offer sweeping explanations (God's punishing us, It's a wake-up call) nor blame the victims (I told them to move from the shore, She never should have bought that condo). Indeed, we should be aware that when we try to explain away a tragedy, our efforts to impose our sense of order on things does nothing for the victims. As a society and as a Church, let us find the courage to listen to the silence and to respond not with formulas and reasons, but with open hands and receptive hearts. For those who are able to help, let them help. For those who having nothing to give, let them open their hearts in a prayer of solidarity that those whose lives have been interrupted and changed forever may know the grace of Job: they are not alone. 

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