This post is modified from a part of my book Return to Our Senses. In the book the disaster I talk about is the earthquake in Haiti but with the storm on the East Coast of the U.S. so much on all our minds I have changed it to reflect our current concerns.
Like many of us, I am feel as though I am drowning. The overwhelming images of devastation and suffering that we see bring us to despair. Relief workers struggle relentlessly to handle the unimaginable onslaught. Deprived of sleep, subsisting on an inadequate diet, confronted by unimaginable horrors, some quickly break down and many both workers and victims will require trauma counseling and professional help.
In these last couple of days, I have also been working on my yearly Advent video meditation. It has been a tremendous comfort. It reminds me of the enduring faithfulness of God. I has shifted my focus away from the images of devastation and suffering to where it should be, firmly anchored in the loving presence of God.
My prayers for those impacted by the storm, as for any situation of trauma and suffering needed to begin in a place of rest and quiet, a space of upward intimate communion with God, where I touched and felt God’s surrounding love. I have many friends on the East Coast whose lives have been impacted by this storm. Many of them doing wonderful work amongst the poor and the marginalized. This disaster has reminded me to pray for them and express my gratitude for the work they already do to help those at the margins. I am so glad they are there, God’s love already ready responding even before the storm began.
I am also praying for those who are driving and flying in from across the U.S. and from around the world to be a part of the relief efforts. In a situation like this strangers become neighbours, the parable of the good samaritan is lived out in our midst. This too brings out prayers of gratitude and thankfulness for those God has prompted to respond and I prayed for their strengthening. I know that in the midst of devastation like this God’s heart aches too. So much about why disasters occur that we don’t understand, but this I know God’s love and compassion flow through everyone who responds.
I think that it is only when our responses come out of our connection to the heart of God who is busy making all things new, that we can be sustained in our outpouring of love, compassion and resources. In the place of prayer we don’t just pray for the needs of those impacted by this storm we connect to the heart of a God who aches for the pain and suffering of this and every country. And we connect to the One who calls us to be hands and feet of compassion.
Another tool that I find particularly effective when I am grieving and not sure how to express what I feel is the writing of prayers . A couple of days ago I wrote down this prayer that was already resonating in my heart and mind. Writing and reading through the prayer several times comforted me in a way that just saying the words out loud never could have.
The prayer continues to reverberate in my mind keeping me focused away from the unanswerable “why” questions to the far more important “What would Jesus do”? type of questions. It has comforted me and I know that others have found it comforting too. Prayers like this seem to do more than comfort us however. They bring into being that which has not yet existed. They stir us to respond as we imagine a new future for those whose lives have been devastated.
I have not been able to play an active part in responding to the devastation of this storm, but I have friends who will be on the ground helping for a long time to come. The prayers that resounded in my heart when the storm hit will I know still rise towards God on behalf of my friends and the many others who work in this devastated area.
This kind of prayer has consequences not just for our advocacy and outward engagement, but for every aspect of our lives. One of the hardest steps of prayer which we all like to avoid, is listening for the places that my own decisions and lifestyle have contributed to the tragedy we are hearing about. Decisions about how to dress, what to eat and where to spend my money can all have unintended consequences that devastate the lives of others.
Sometimes listening at this level calls us to prayers of repentance and inner changes that transform the way we view our world and the ways we interact with it. In the process hopefully our hearts too will be changed as we move from upward to inward prayer, searching our own hearts to seek forgiveness for those things that have made us slow to respond in the past. Perhaps there is unconfessed sin of greed or covetousness that makes us hold onto resources that God intends us to share. Or there may be self-centeredness that makes us blind to needs beyond our own comfort.