Between Midnight and Dawn: The Deal With Pain

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The pain I feel now is the happiness I had before. That’s the deal.
C.S. Lewis

For thus says the LORD of hosts,
Once more in a little while,
I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land.
I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations,
and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.
Haggai 2:6-7

 

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the rubble piled on the beach at Tohoku, Japan, after the 3/11/11 tsunami

 

In March 2012, we stayed with our friends Brian and Bette Vander Haak at their cabin on a bluff just above the beach at Sendai, Japan, just a few dozen feet above the devastation that wiped out an entire fishing village below during the 3/11/11 earthquake and tsunami. We walked that stretch of beach, learning of the stories of the people who had lived there, some of whom did not survive the waves that swept their houses and cars away before they could escape. We walked past the footprints of foundations of hundreds of demolished homes, humbled by the rubble mountains yet to be hauled away to be burned or buried and scanned acres of wrecked vehicles now piled one on another, waiting to become scrap metal. It is visual evidence of life suddenly and dramatically disrupted.

This was a place of recreation and respite for some who visited regularly, commerce and livelihood for others who stayed year round and then, in ongoing recovery efforts, was struggling to be restored to something familiar. Yet it looked like a foreign ghostly landscape. Even many trees perished, lost, broken off, fish nets still stuck high on their scarred trunks. There were small memorials to lost family members within some home foundations, with stuffed animals and flowers wilted from the recent anniversary observance.

It was a powerful place of memories for those who lived there and knew what it once was, how it once looked and felt, and painfully, what it became in a matter of minutes on 3/11. The waves swept in inexplicable suffering, then carried their former lives away. Happiness gave ground to such terrible pain that could never have hurt as much without the joy that preceded it.

We want to ask God why He doesn’t do something about the suffering that happens anywhere a disaster occurs –but if we do, He will ask us the same question right back. We need to be ready with our answer and our action.

God knows suffering. Far more than we do. He took it all on Himself, feeling His pain amplified, as it was borne out of His love and joy in His creation.

Now five years later, on March 11,  beautiful Tohoku and Sendai, and its dedicated survivors are slowly recovering, but their inner and outer landscape is forever altered. What remains the same is the tempo of the waves, the tides, and the rhythm of the light and the night, happening just as originally created.

In that realization, pain gives way. It cannot stand up to His love, His joy, and our response.

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The beach at Tohoku, Japan where the tsunami hit 5 years ago today.

“When the oceans rise and thunders roar
I will soar with You above the storm
Father you are King over the flood
I will be still, know You are God”
from “Still”

During this Lenten season, I will be drawing inspiration from the new devotional collection edited by Sarah Arthur —Between Midnight and Dawn

Prepare for Joy: The Broken Image

 

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What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow
Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man,
You cannot say, or guess, for you know only
A heap of broken images, where the sun beats,
And the dead tree gives no shelter, the cricket no relief,
And the dry stone no sound of water. Only
There is shadow under this red rock,
(Come in under the shadow of this red rock),
And I will show you something different from either
Your shadow at morning striding behind you
Or your
shadow at evening rising to meet you;

I will show you fear in a handful of dust.

T.S. Eliot from “The Wasteland”

There is justifiable fear in and of this broken world —  as when a mountain blasts part of itself into the sky on a quiet Sunday morning or when a wall of water washes away everything in its path after an otherwise survivable earthquake.

I have seen the aftermath wasteland of Mt. St. Helens decades later as the land slowly rejuvenates from the ashes.  Now after four years (today) the villages surrounding the beautiful city of Sendai, Japan leveled in a tsunami of devastating power are rebuilding from the dust and mud.

Fear is never the end of the story.  It is part of the story, but dust that is breathed upon becomes Love that heals.  Only a handful of dust, but it has come to repair this broken world.

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Listening to Lent — Out of the Ashes

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It was the day the world went wrong
I screamed till my voice was gone
And watched through the tears
As everything came crashing down

Slowly panic turns to pain
As we awake to what remains
And sift through the ashes
That are left behind

But buried deep beneath all our broken dreams
We have this hope

Out of the ashes
Beauty will rise
And we will dance among the ruins
We will see it with our own eyes
Out of these ashes
Beauty will rise
For we know joy is coming
In the morning

In the morning
Beauty will rise

So take another breath for now
And let the tears come washing down
And if you can’t believe
I will believe for you

‘Cause I have seen the signs of spring
Just watch and see

Out of these ashes,
Beauty will rise
And we will dance among the ruins
We will see it with our own eyes

Out of this darkness
New life will shine
And we’ll know joy is coming in the morning

In the morning,
I can hear it in the distance
And it’s not too far away
It’s the music
And the laughter of a wedding and a feast

I can almost feel the hand of God
Reaching for my face to wipe the tears away
You say “It’s time to make everything new
Making it all new”

This is our hope
This is a promise
This is our hope
This is a promise

It will take our breath away
To see the beauty that’s been made
Out of the ashes
Out of the ashes

It will take our breath
To see the beauty that He’s made out of the ashes
Out of the ashes
Out of the ashes
~Steven Curtis Chapman

Three years ago today
the unthinkable happened
off the coast of Japan
the earth moved
and waters swelled
and swept thousands away.

Whole villages leveled
to nothing but rubble,
even a year later
as we stood within the foundations
of former homes filled with sand
and broken crockery
there could be no response
but tears.
Life interrupted.

When will beauty rise
out of the ashes of such trouble?
When will the joy return
with hope and promise?

The only answer:
it already has.
Out of the deepest trouble
and darkest night
came life.
Death interrupted.

Time to take another breath
and then another.

Everything Sad To Come Untrue

photo by Josh Scholten

“Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead! Is everything sad going to come untrue?”
J.R.R. Tolkien, Samwise Gamgee waking to find his friends all around him in The Lord of the Rings

“The answer is yes. And the answer of the Bible is yes. If the resurrection is true, then the answer is yes. Everything sad is going to come untrue.”
Pastor Tim Keller’s response in a sermon given in an ecumenical prayer service memorial in Lower Manhattan on the fifth anniversary of Sept. 11.

In our minds, we want to rewind and replay the events of a tragedy in a way that would prevent it from happening in the first place.   We want to bring the dead and injured back to health again.  The major devastating earthquake becomes a mere tremor, the flooding tsunami is only one foot, not over thirty feet tall, the terrorist hijackers are prevented from ever boarding a plane, the shooter changes his mind at the last minute, lays down his arms, disables his booby trap bombs and calls someone for help with his distress and anger.

We want so badly for it all to be untrue.  The bitter reality of horrendous suffering and sadness daily all over the earth is too much for us to absorb.   We plead for relief, beg for a better day.

Our minds may play mental tricks like this, but God does not play tricks.  He knows and feels what we do.  He too wants to see it rewound and replayed differently.  He has known grief and sadness, He has wept, He has suffered, He too has died.  And because of this, because of a God who came to dwell with us, was broken, died and then rose again whole and holy, we are assured,  in His time, everything sad is going to come untrue.

Our tears will be dried, our grief turned to joy, our pain nonexistent, not even a memory.  It will be a new day, a better day–as it is written, trustworthy and true.

May it come.

Quickly.

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.  Revelation 21: 4-5

Lenten Meditation: Once More in a Little While

Oarai City, Ibaraki Prefecture, northeastern Japan, March 11, 2011. (REUTERS/Kyodo)

For thus says the LORD of hosts,
Once more in a little while,
I am going to shake the heavens and the earth, the sea also and the dry land.
I will shake all the nations; and they will come with the wealth of all nations,
and I will fill this house with glory,’ says the LORD of hosts.
Haggai 2:6-7

This could have been anywhere on the earth–and it has been at one time or another over many millennia.  We happen to live on uneasy soil.  Most recently the devastation has been in Chile, Haiti, Sumatra, Philippines.   It could have been right here in the earthquake prone and long overdue Pacific Northwest. I tread carefully across the yard, wondering if with the next step, the earth will rise to meet my foot, alive and seething.

This time it happened near one of the largest cities on earth, right where people most precious to me in all the world live and work.  It just happened, whisking away thousands of people in a matter of minutes.

There are many interpretations about what this might mean.  Some imply it is judgment.  Some dismiss it as simple relief of seismic pressure, building since the last major earthquake in the area in 869 A.D.

I believe it happens “once more, in a little while.”  It is a reminder we are only along for the ride;  we don’t do the steering, and we’re not in control of the itinerary or the timing of the destination.  We are shaken awake, not out of judgment (which has already convicted us all), but with the shattering realization that our rescue is at hand.

We must reach out and hang on tight, once more, in a little while.