Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Praying for Japan

Watching the videos in which the cars, houses, and fishing boats were blown and carried away by the tsunami in Japan was like watching a horror movie. How could we fathom the huge loss brought by the biggest earthquake in Japan’s history? Thousands of people have died and many are still missing.

Where is God in this? And where can we find the manifestation of God’s love at moments like this?

It always seems cruel to me to find moral and religious lessons out of somebody else’s tragedy. At moments of loss and uncertainty, we rely on the ancient wisdom of people who have experienced and survived many tragedies throughout history.

I remember listening to a rabbi talking about the Holocaust many years ago. When asked, “How can the Jews believe in God after so much loss and suffering of the innocent?” The rabbi said, “We don’t know how, but as Jews, we have been questioning and demanding God for an answer for a long time.”

Throughout the Bible and especially during the exodus, the Jewish people had been calling out to God, demanding God to justify God’s own action. I found comfort and solace in that God allows us to ask these soul-searching questions.

It is not a lack of faith when we argue with God and demand God for an answer. It is precisely faith seeking understanding, a vocation for all of us who are learning and doing theology.

In the Jewish magazine Tikkun, there is a section called “Ask the Rabbi.” After the tsunami that hit Southeast Asia in December 2004 killing more than 220,000, a reader asked how could God have allowed the tsunami to happen. Rabbi Michael Lerner responded: “I don’t know and there are no answers, but only responses to the question. The difference is this: an answer seeks to dissolve the question, a response recognizes the ongoing validity of the question and seeks to remain in connection with it.”

The Rabbi suggested that we should stop thinking of God as a big man in heaven deciding our fates and controlling nature. Instead, he wrote, we should understand “God as the force of healing and transformation in the universe, the aspect of the universe that is the source of love, kindness, generosity, social justice, peace and evolving consciousness, and that this aspect of the universe permeates every ounce of being, every cell, and unifies all being.”

Last Sunday during worship, pastors in Japan tried their best to provide solace for the frightened and anxious people. My friend the Rev. Claudia Genung Yamamoto, a pastor of the West Tokyo Union Church, focused her sermon on Psalm 46: “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

Yesterday in my spirituality class, we used the ritual of “touching the earth” introduced by the Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. We bowed down, touching the ground with our foreheads, and remembered our ancestors and our spiritual teachers. We bowed and sent our loving energy to people in Japan.

After the disaster, we saw the outpouring of prayers, love, and compassion for the victims and for those who care for the injured, the sick, and people who have lost their loved ones. The orderliness and strength of people lining up for long hours for food, water, and basic necessities impresses us.

We pray for mercy that the nuclear reactors will not explode and spew a radiation crowd like the disaster in Chernobyl. We pray for strength and courage when the Japanese people need to muster their energy to rebuild their society for years to come.