This past weekend, I turned on the TV searching for news from Japan. As I clicked through channels trying to find the news station, I passed game after game of basketball, including games on three sequential channels. In an odd juxtaposition, each of the three happened to have players shooting free throws at the moment I clicked through. Each player was at a slightly different point of release, making the overall effect like one slow-motion shot. The image of free throws lingered as I found the news channel and watched images of tragedy stream from Japan.
Although the sports we play are filled with uncertainty, they are not capricious. There is an orderly quality and an inherent regularity. There are rules. There are remedies. A foul is followed by a free throw. As I watched the news, I was thinking of those for whom there is no remedy, no one to blow a whistle and stop the action… those for whom the events of the past days have been anything but orderly, and nothing but capricious.
Collectively, the images from Japan are colossal in scale and mythic in scope. There are, of course, no adequate words – either to describe or respond, or even to pray. The words of the Psalms, though, have helped shape my prayer in recent days. These prayers of the ancient Hebrews express nearly every human emotion in their response to events that ranged from deep injustice to natural disaster to glorious triumph. The capriciousness of nature, and often of human behavior, is a recurring theme. A foul is not always followed by a free throw. Human remedies are not always forthcoming. And in the natural world, there is no whistle to blow to simply stop the action. Always, though, there is trust in God’s presence, and ultimately God’s justice, mercy, and power prevail over the forces of chaos.
During these days of destruction and chaos, our life at the monastery has been one of order and safety. We have read the papers, watched TV reports, checked on-line news, and prayed. But as our panes rattle with the restless wind and nearby banks overflow from soaking rain, we read, watch, and pray not as spectators, but as witnesses, as ones who stand with and for our suffering brothers and sisters. We also watch as ones who behold, who see the whole of life – with its warp and weft of joy and tragedy, order and chaos – through the window of eternity.
Here in Alabama on a Tuesday evening, I am reading of Wednesday’s news in Japan. The geographical distance is great. The gap in experience is infinitely greater. But just as the prayers of the ancient Hebrews reach across continents and centuries to form the words of my own daily prayer, I will trust these same words to shape my prayers for all who suffer in the Land of the Rising Sun.
My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?
Why so far from my call for help,
from my cries of anguish?
My God, I call by day, but you do not answer,
By night, but I have not relief…
…Lord, do not stay far off;
My strength, come quickly to help me…From Ps 22